Here’s a re-posting of a classic HE essay titled “Friends of Varinia.” It originally appeared on 2012, and was reposted on 3.14.14 — almost exactly seven years ago. HE will probably re-post again in 2028.
“Nobody and I mean nobody in the history of film criticism has mentioned what I’m about to bring up. It’s about a hidden aspect of Spartacus, although it’s really a question for Howard Fast, who wrote the original 1951 “Spartacus” novel. But Mr. Fast is long gone so let’s just kick it around. It’s about sex and territoriality and rage that would have been unstoppable.
“The issue would have been about the animal anger and resentment that Kirk Douglas‘s Spartacus would have felt over the fact that Jean Simmons‘ Varinia, the love of his life, had been forced to have relations with several of his fellow gladiators, as was the custom during captivity in Lentulus Batiatus‘s gladiator school in Capua. The result would have been heavily strained friendships between Spartacus and his slave-revolt comrades after they’d broken out and become free men.
Tony Curtis, Jean Simmons, Kirk Douglas during filming of Spartacus.
“If Spartacus was anything like Detective James McLeod, whom Douglas portrayed in William Wyler‘s Detective Story (’51), he would have been an intensely jealous guy and no day at the beach. No matter how he intellectually rationalized what had happened — all slave women at Capua were ordered to have weekly sex with gladiators at the direction of Peter Ustinov‘s Batiatus and Charles McGraw‘s Marcellus, the sadistic gladiator boss — he still wouldn’t be able to handle it in his gut.
“Any ex-gladiator who had ‘known’ her would be on Spartacus’ shit list, and he would have given them dirty looks and subliminal attitude and maybe even put them into forward skirmishes with Romans in the hope that they’d get killed.
“Matrimonial relations between Spartacus and Varinia wouldn’t have been very pleasant either. Every time Spartacus looked at her he would see Heironymous Bosch fantasies that would torture him to no end. He would see John Ireland‘s Crixus or Nick Dennis‘s Dionysus or Harold J. Stone‘s David thrusting and groaning like lions.
“Remember when Warren Beatty‘s Ben Siegel said to Annette Bening‘s Virginia Hill, ‘I was just wondering if there was somebody you haven’t fucked?’ That’s how it would be almost all the time between Spartacus and Varinia.
“Don’t give me the movie version with Spartacus and Varinia consumed by perfect blissful love and rolling around the grass — that was put in for the tourists. Everybody knows how guys get when they’re jealous. They just can’t get the sight of their wives or girlfriends pleasuring other men out of their heads.
“Notice that Spartacus’s best friend was Tony Curtis‘s Antoninus, the one guy in his inner circle who hadn’t been at Capua and therefore had never ‘had’ Varinia.”
Nine year-old comment #1 (“Ponderer”): “I’m intrigued by this line of thought, but would it have REALLY bothered him? Spartacus was a barely literate slave all his life. If he ever HAD sex, it was probably with some other prostitute. Arguably he may never have even met a woman who hadn’t done lots of favors with men. Treated and bred like an animal, he may not have even understood a concept of purity. (And yeah, best friends with Tony Curtis who hadn’t ‘done’ Varinia, but you know, it probably wouldn’t have loved to think about Antoninus possibly having lollipopped his hated Roman slavers.)”
Nine year-old comment #2 (“hviper”): “Varinia told Spartacus he was the best lay in the whole gladiator school, and she was just faking it with the other 70 or 80 guys…I don’t see a problem here.”
Nine year-old comment #3 (“Disconap”): “He would have been advised by the scribe Wellsius that if he manned up and stuck it out with her, he’d have a get out of jail free card.”
Nine year-old comment #4 (“Captain EO:): “Perhaps he got it all out of his system when he drowned Marcellus, the chap responsible for her relentless despoilings, in the hot stew…that seemed like a pretty cathartic moment to me.”