by Bill Nye
Public Domain Books
Spartacus, whose given name seems to have been torn off in its passage down through the corridors of time, was born in Thrace and educated as a shepherd. While smearing the noses of the young lambs with tar one spring, in order to prevent the snuffies among them, he thought that he would become a robber. It occurred to him that this calling was the only one he knew of that seemed to be open to the young man without means.
He had hardly got started, however, in the “hold up” industry, when he was captured by the Romans, sold at cost and trained as a gladiator, in a school at Capua. Here he succeeded in stirring up a conspiracy and uniting two hundred or more of the grammar department of the school in a general ruction, as it was then termed.
The scheme was discovered and only seventy of the number escaped, headed by Spartacus. These snatched cleavers from the butcher shops, pickets from the Roman fences and various other weapons, and with them fought their way to the foot hill where they met a wagon train loaded with arms and supplies. They secured the necessary weapons whereby to go into a general war business and established themselves in the crater of Mount Vesuvius.
Spartacus was a man of wonderful carriage and great physical strength. It had always been his theory that a man might as well die of old age as to feed himself to a Roman menagerie. He maintained that he would rather die in a general free fight, where he had a chance, than to be hauled around over the arena by one leg behind a Numidian lion.
So he took his little band and fought his way to Vesuvius. There they had a pleasant time camping out nights and robbing the Roman’s daytimes. The excitement of sleeping in a crater, added a wonderful charm to their lives. While others slept cold in Capua, Spartacus cuddled up to the crater and kept comfortable.
For a long time the little party had it all their own way. They sniffed the air of freedom and lived on Roman spring chicken on the half shell, and it beat the arena business all hollow.
At last, however, an army of 3,000 men was sent against them, and Spartacus awoke one morning to find himself blocked up in his crater. For a time the outlook was not cheering. Spartacus thought of telegraphing the war department for reinforcements, but finally decided not to do so.
Finally, with ladders made of wild vines, the little garrison slipped out through what had seemed an impassable fissure in the crater, got in the rear of the army and demolished it completely. That’s the kind of man that Spartacus was. Fighting was his forte.
Spartacus was also a good public speaker. One of his addresses to the gladiators has been handed down to posterity through the medium of the Fifth Reader, a work that should be in every household. In his speech he states that he was not always thus. But since he is thus, he believes that he has not yet been successfully outthussed by any body.
He speaks of his early life in the citron groves of Syrsilla, and how quiet and reserved he had been, never daring to say “gosh” within a mile of the house; but finally how the Romans landed on his coast and killed off his family. Then he desired to be a fighter. He had killed more lions than any other man in Italy. He kept a big crew of Romans busy, winter and summer, catching fresh lions for him to stick. He had killed a large number of men also. At one matinee for ladies and children he had killed a prominent man from the north, and had done it so fluently that he was encored three times. The stage manager then came forward and asked that the audience would please refrain from another encore as he had run out of men, but if the ladies and children would kindly attend on the following Saturday he hoped to be prepared with a good programme. In fact, he had just heard from his agent who wrote him that they had purchased two big lions and also had a robust gladiator up a tree. He hoped that he could get into town in a day or two with both attractions.
Spartacus finally stood at the head of an army of 100,000 men, all starting out from the little band of 70 that cut loose from Capua with borrowed cleavers and axhandles. This war lasted but two years, during which time Spartacus made Rome howl. Spartacus had too much sense to attack Rome. But at last his army was betrayed and disorganized. With nothing but death or capture for him, he rode out between the two contending armies, shot his war horse in order to save expenses, and on foot rushed into the thickest of the fight. This was positively his last appearance. He killed a large number of people, but at last he yielded to the great pressure that was brought to bear upon him and died.
Probably no man not actually engaged in the practice of medicine ever killed so many people as Spartacus. He did not kill them because he disliked them personally, but because he thought it advisable to do so. Had he lived till the present time he would have done well as a lecturer. “Ten Years in the Arena, with Illustrations,” would draw first-rate at this time among a certain class of people. The large number of people still living in this country, who will lay aside their work and go twenty miles to attend a funeral, no matter whose funeral it is, would, no doubt, enjoy a bull fight or the cairn and refining joy that hovered over the arena. Those who have paid $175,000 to see Colonel John L. Sullivan disfigure a friend, would, no doubt, have made it $350,000 if the victim could have been killed and dragged around over the ring by the leg.
Two thousand years have not refined us so much that we need be puffed up with false pride about it.