When the Australian Ballet premieres its new production of Khachaturian’s ballet Spartacus this week, it will be another moment in an extraordinary story of rehabilitation. Spartacus, a lowly barbarian slave whose rebellion ultimately proved a failure and whose followers died in the most ignominious of fashions, has become a modern symbol of the power of freedom and the dignity of humanity.
The contemporary popularity of Spartacus must be especially galling to the many Roman heroes of the Republic. These men paid a great price to defend the state at various times. Yet nobody remembers their names. The consul Lucius Junius Brutus was such a patriot that he sentenced his own sons to death when he discovered that they were guilty of treason. The Horatii brothers swore an oath to defend Rome as her champions. Only one came back alive.