History vs. Hollywood: Ancient Rome

Students should fill in the appropriate sections----

Ben Hur

Film Synopsis

The Chariot Race – This is one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history and serves as the climax of the film. In the scene, Judah Ben Hur and his enemy Messala are pitted against each other in a chariot race in a Circus in a Roman province. The scene begins when the governor drops the flag. Throughout the scene, the camera pans to the Roman governor of the province and one of the gamblers who is betting on Ben Hur. This scene is known for its realistic portrayal of chariot racing in ancient Rome. In the end, Judah is victorious and Messala is near death after being run over by another quadriga. Students reviewing this film will read an account of chariot races and compare the description to the depiction in the film. They will point out the different elements of racing (e.g. gamblers, charioteers, the rules, when races occurred, who was allowed to attend, etc.) and explain its significance in the culture.

Historical Synopsis


Critique of Accuracy



Quo Vadis

Film Synopsis

Great Fire of Rome – This scene represents the dichotomy between history and legend that surrounds the Emperor Nero and the Great Fire. The beginning of the scene begins when Marcus Vinicius enters the burning Rome. Destruction is swift and terrified citizens are in a panic and searching for safety. Marcus attempts to save as many people as he can by opening the sewers, but he is also searching for Lygia, his beloved. He and Lygia try to cross to safety in the Palatine area of Rome, where the Emperor lives, but Roman soldiers are holding a line to prevent the mob from going there. The scene jumps to the Emperor Nero with his wife Poppaea and his court poet Petronius. He believes he is a great musician and declares that he started the fire in Rome for inspiration. He compares himself to the great poets who were inspired by the burning of Troy. He starts singing and playing the lyre until citizens storm the Palatine. Inside the palace, Poppaea convinces him that Rome needs someone to blame for the fire; to turn the blame away from himself, Nero decides he will blame the Christians and punish them so harshly they will be an example to Rome. Students reviewing this film will read primary accounts of the fire and differentiate between the historical version and the legend. Students will discuss the origin of the saying “Nero fiddled while Rome burned” and what it means. They will also explain why the legend came to be.

Historical Synopsis

Critique of Accuracy



Gladiator

Film Synopsis

This scene will introduce students to the ideas of slavery, the concept of the Roman Empire, and the Colosseum and public entertainment. The first scene shows Proximo and his gladiators before they are about to perform in an amphitheater in a Roman province. The scene then cuts to the new emperor Commodus entering Rome in a glorious triumph. He and the senators immediately meet to discuss Rome and the condition of its citizens. Commodus and the senators seem to disagree about the proper way to rule. Next, two senators discuss the fact that Commodus is going to sponsor a series of public games in the Colosseum. One senator states that this is a good idea because the Colosseum is the “beating heart of Rome.” The scene shifts back to a conversation between Proximo and Maximus discussing their upcoming journey to Rome and their participation in the games. Proximo discusses is life as a gladiator when he was younger. The gladiators travel to Rome and are amazed at the size and glory of the city and its architecture. Students reviewing this film will discuss the importance of the games to the popularity of the Roman government. They would also address these questions: Would Commodus really have received a triumphal procession? Who were gladiators? Who built the Colosseum and why? Does this portrayal of Rome support or contradict your ideas or stereotypes about ancient Rome?

Historical Synopsis

Critique of Accuracy



A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Film Synopsis

Roman Comedy – Students will watch the opening number “A Comedy Tonight” and the first scene of the film. In the scene, the main character Pseudolus is introducing the characters and plot of the play and singing about the characteristics of comedy. This scene is intended to reflect the idea of entertainment in Roman society and how their comedies showed an inversion of societal roles. Students reviewing this film will discuss the history of Roman comedy, for whom it was intended, and some common plot points and stock characters. They will also compare this version of Rome and slavery to the version represented in the other films. How does it relate to many stereotypes or opinions people hold about daily life in ancient Rome?

Historical Synopsis

Critique of Accuracy