November 16, 2014


The Classical Roots of 'The Hunger Games' (BARRY STRAUSS, Nov. 13, 2014, WSJ)

At the heart of the story are three beautiful, heroic young people: Katniss Everdeen and her male romantic interests, Peeta Mellark and Gale Hawthorne. They form a love triangle, but they also represent, from the point of view of the ancients, an aroused citizenry banding together and fighting for freedom against an evil empire.

Katniss, played by Ms. Lawrence, is "an updated Theseus," according to the books' author, Suzanne Collins. In Greek myth, Theseus and other young people from Athens were sent as tribute--human sacrificial offerings--to King Minos in Crete. The king turned them over to the Minotaur, a murderous beast who was half-man and half-bull and lived in a maze or labyrinth. The intrepid Theseus killed the Minotaur and saved his countrymen.

Like that ancient Greek hero, Katniss defies an oppressive empire and sparks a revolution. But it's an update with a twist. Today's Theseus is female, which calls to mind not only modern girl power but also ancient lore. Her character is inspired by the famous Amazon warriors and Atalanta, the great female runner of Greek myth. Katniss also recalls Artemis, goddess of the hunt--Diana to the Romans--because her preferred weapon is the bow and arrow.

Like imperial Rome, the country of "The Hunger Games" is a once-free society now dominated by a corrupt and rapacious capital city. A president exercises, in effect, the power of an emperor. He lives in a grand city called the Capitol, and his government feeds off its provinces, much as ancient Rome did. The people of the Capitol radiate a baroque and overripe luxuriousness, like the lords and ladies of imperial Rome, while the provincials are poor and virtuous.

This pattern goes back to the great Roman historian Tacitus (ca. 56-117), who drew a contrast between the primitive but free Germans and Britons and the decadent Romans who had lost their republican virtue under the Caesars. 

Posted by at November 16, 2014 8:32 AM

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