This holiday season found me stretched out in front of the giant TV at my parents’ house watching Stanley Kubrick’s first movie Spartacus, a fictionalization of the Third Servile War of 73 BC with Kirk Douglas in the eponymous lead, on cable one evening. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I was reminded of the last time I saw the movie, which was 17 years ago, at Westwood Junior High, in my Freshman Latin class. I cannot for the life of me remember the teacher’s name, but although I disliked her at the time, looking back as an adult I recall her as a patient and diligent instructor.
We watched the movie, Spartacus, in her class, including the famous climactic scene in which the defeated slave army refuses to identify their leader to the conquering Romans in exchange for leniency and, as a consequence, is crucified en masse along the Appian Way.
Some days later, Ms. What’s-Her-Name was conjugating verbs on the chalkboard, with her back to the class, while my friend Lee, who sat beside and slightly ahead of me, was practicing spinning, tossing, and juggling his pen a la David Letterman. The pen slipped out of his control and flew toward the chalkboard, impacting just beside the teacher and falling into the chalk-tray. She picked the pen up, turned slowly, and presented it to the class.
“Who threw this?” she asked quietly.
There was a long pause, pregnant at least with triplets. Lee squirmed in his seat.
“I’m Spartacus!” I cried, suddenly.
A wicked grin spread across Lee’s face. A second later, he echoed, “I’m Spartacus!”
“I’m Spartacus!” called an unknown voice from the back of the room.
And then the whole class joined in: “I’m Spartacus! I’m Spartacus! I’m Spartacus!”
She was beaten, and she knew it. Her anger melted into an amusement she tried, unsuccessfully, to conceal from us, and class went on with a wonderful feeling of light good humor.
It is one of my fondest memories from that otherwise-traumatic period of my life.