Swords and Sandals Forever guest post by David Tindell
During my grade school days down in southern Wisconsin in the mid-60s, one of my favorite TV shows was Colossal Theater. Every Saturday it featured what we now call âsword-and-sandalâ movies, usually Italian-made B-pictures featuring a strongman like Steve Reeves as Hercules. The same films inspired a certain Austrian teenager to become a bodybuilder, but I wasnât as ambitious as Arnold. To me the films showed brave, powerful men fighting the forces of evil, and that was good enough to inspire me to learn more about them, a quest that continues to this day.
In the seventies, with the notable exception of the Dirty Harry films, Hollywood went in a different direction, with movies about conflicted anti-heroes grappling with social issues. In the eighties the pendulum began to swing again, and action-oriented guys with names like Arnold and Sylvester, Jean-Claude and Chuck ruled the screens, large and small. When Russell Croweâs Gladiator premiered in 2000 the sword-and-sandal epic was back. Modern special effects allow for digital creations of things like the Roman Colosseum and massed armies that would be far too expensive to use otherwise. Two of these works caught my eye, not just because of their swordplay and heroism, but because of the stories they told.
The Return of the Epic
300, director Zack Snyderâs interpretation of the story of Leonidas and his Spartans at Thermopylae, was a surprise hit in 2006. In 480 BC, the king of the Greek city-state led a small force of his own elite soldiers and allied Greeks to confront invading Persians at a narrow seaside pass in northern Greece. The mighty Persian Empire was intent on subjugating them as it had countless other nations, snuffing out the budding concept of democracy that was taking root in Greece. The movie was somewhat stylized; a better version is the novel Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. Both works show men at their best: banding together, putting aside differences to reach a common goal, and fighting hard against overwhelming odds because itâs the right thing to do. Also it shows them at their worst: the Persian king used any means, including deceit and senseless slaughter, to extend his autocratic power. Behind the lines, Leonidas had to worry about conniving, cowardly politicians who thought collaboration would be safer, and more profitable, than resistance.
More recently, the Starz TV series Spartacus told the story of the Roman slave who led a revolt that nearly toppled the Republic. Around 73 BC, a Thracian warrior was captured, along with his wife, and he was sold to a gladiator school near Rome. Thrust into a brutal environment, the man who would become Spartacus fought to survive as he sought to be reunited with his wife and escape. Ultimately he led the gladiators in a revolt that spread throughout Italy, bringing him thousands of followers. For two years Spartacus roamed the peninsula, defeating one Roman legion after another. The final season found Rome turning to the wealthy, ambitious Crassus to raise an army and destroy the rebels. In Crassus, Spartacus faced an opponent who was equally cunning and determined, leading to a final, epic confrontation.
The show was on premium cable so there were generous amounts of blood and skin, but you had to get past that and focus on the story. In Spartacus we saw, like Leonidas, a man of honor who maintained it against all odds. Surrounded by treachery and danger, Spartacus never gave up, and with a group of like-minded men and women took on the mightiest military force in the world and battled it to a standstill.
Why do these true stories resonate over the centuries? Perhaps because they show that even under the worst of circumstances, a man of principle can prevail. Leonidas died at Thermopylae, but the Greeks rallied and eventually defeated the Persians. Spartacus did not survive, but his rebellion has inspired those fighting for liberty ever since. Pressfieldâs novel is taught in military academies as an example of honor and leadership, perhaps because we often donât find much of that anymore. Whether theyâre real men like Leonidas and Spartacus, or fictional creations like Superman and the Lone Ranger, heroes teach us that courage and integrity are timeless.
About the Book
"I love the name of honor, more than I fear death." Julius Caesar
Jim Hayes lives a quiet life in Wisconsin, training in martial arts and studying the warrior ethos. Unable to prevent the murder of his wife six years earlier, Jim is determined that the next time he is called upon to act, things will be different, and he can restore the sense of honor he believes he has lost.
His estranged brother Mark, an Army colonel commanding a firebase in the mountains of Afghanistan, sees his career winding down and wonders what lies in store when he comes home. After years of dedicated service to his country, he fears nothing else will measure up when he removes the uniform for the last time.
In lawless Somalia, al Qaeda chieftain Yusuf Shalita, tired of endless jihad, has decided to defect, in one last attempt at redemption. But Shalita has only met one American he has ever trusted, so he tells the CIA he will surrender himself to Jim Hayes, his old friend from their college days in Wisconsin. That demand will bring the Hayes brothers back together in a way they never imagined, as they fight to prevent a new and devastating terror attack on the very heart of America.
David Tindell was born in Germany and grew up in southern Wisconsin. Today he lives up in the northwestern corner of the state, in a log home on a lake with his wife Sue, their Yorkie and two cats. After a career in radio broadcasting, Tindell went to work for the US Government and resumed the writing career he'd started in college. His first novel, "Revived", was published in 2000, but after that he put the pen aside for a time to train in the martial arts, earning a black belt in the Korean art of Taekwondo and instructor status in the Russian art of Systema. He currently trains in ryukudo kobujutsu, an art that combines karate with Okinawan weaponry. Like his protagonist in "The White Vixen", Tindell is a linguist, although not as accomplished as Jo Ann Geary; he's conversational in German and has also studied Italian and Russian.