Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Comparative Literature

Document Type



My project, “The Exemplary Spartacus: Reception, Adaptation, and Reconstruction,” focusses on various representations of the gladiator Spartacus. I assert that Spartacus has almost exclusively been and continues to be an exemplary figure, with an extensive and connected literary tradition, working as an empty signifier in differing temporalities and localities. I draw specific attention to a core issue in the study of Spartacus, namely, the plethora of modern representations of Spartacus in various genres, and the continuing influence these representations exert through their blurring of the historical figure with local themes and ideologies. Each draw from the same ancient sources, infusing the information with contemporary social issues creating an updated retelling of Spartacus. Recently, scholars have emphasized the essential difference between the historical Spartacus and the sociological impact he had on Rome, and Spartacan literature, which focusses on the subsequent recreation of several “Spartacuses,” supposedly in a manner entirely different from the ancient sources. My dissertation engages with this distinction through its two-fold aims: first, I demonstrate how ancient authors invoke Spartacus as an exemplum, relating how each author uses Spartacus for differing political, literary or philosophical aims, constructing a Spartacan narrative similarly to later authors; second, my dissertation addresses the socio-political nature of Spartacan literature, demonstrating how modern authors also use Spartacus as an exemplum for their own ends, similarly to the ancient authors. My dissertation moves the discussion of Spartacan literature into new directions by drawing on both ancient and modern texts often overlooked and neglected and introducing new Spartacan Literature produced in recent years. I have chosen to discuss several adaptations to demonstrate Spartacus’s use in contrasting exemplary functions, which allow Spartacus to remain part of a common cultural memory. Methodologically, I incorporate both exemplarity and reception theory, to show how each of the adapted texts, regardless of geographical or temporal space, relies upon the exemplary function of Spartacus established in the ancient world. I conclude that each adaptation builds on the inherited social memory of previous Spartacan literature in different geographical and temporal spaces, in different literary genres, and in different political ideologies.



Committee Chair

Stone, Greg