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Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle

Posted January 21, 2011 to photo album "Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle"

The Eagle explores a part of ancient Roman history rarely seen on stage. But the history of Rome changes throughout history as well.

Slide 1: Exploring New Territory
Slide 2: Rome - The Eternal, Ever-Changing City
Slide 3: Rome and the American Imagination
Slide 4: Ben Hur, the great American/Roman Novel
Slide 5: Ben Hur (1907) in Silent Film
Slide 6: Ben-Hur (1925) and the Epic Grandeur of Rome
Slide 7: Scipio Africanus: The Defeat of  Hannibal and the Fascist Italy
Slide 8: Quo Vadis - Nero’s Rome as a Totalitarian State
Slide 9: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1959) and the Race to Freedom
Slide 10: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1959) and Making Rome Gay
Slide 11: Spartacus (1960) and the Return of the Opressed
Slide 12: Cleopatra and American Excess
Slide 13: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Rome turned Jewish
Slide 14: Satryicon (1969), Ancient Rome through Fellini’s Eyes
Slide 15: Caligula (1979): Rome Goes All The Way
Slide 16: Monty Python’s The Life of Brian - Rome as Parody
Slide 16: Gladiator (2000), and the Return of Rome
Slide 9: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1959) and the Race to Freedom

Slide 9: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1959) and the Race to Freedom

Charlton Heston as Ben-Hur

In a short intro to his 1956 epic The Ten Commandments, Cecil B. De Mille pushed his cold war politics by stressing our connection to the ancient Jews in having to fight “the whims of a dictator.”  Three years later, William Wyler’s epic remake of Ben-Hur shifted the historic meaning of the Jewish people and ancient Rome so as to touch on themes of loyalty and betrayal, concepts familiar to people living the Cold War. Wyler’s Ben-Hur features an altercation between Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) and his childhood best friend Messala (Stephen Boyd), when they meet again after years apart. Messala believes in the godly power of imperial Rome while Ben-Hur, a devoted Jew, wants freedom for his people. Messala, like a congressman at House Un-American Affairs Committee, asks Ben-Hur for names of Jews who criticize the Roman government. For his part Ben-Hur, an honorable man (like those men in Hollywood earlier that the decade who refused to advance their careers by ratting on their friends) declined to betray his friends to the authorities. For this act of rebellion, Ben-Hur earns Messala’s ire, and is subsequently enslaved (blacklisted). (Like a good citizen, however, Ben Hur advises his countrymen against revolution against the evil empire.) Not known for epics, Wyler (himself Jewish) often mentioned that the characters’ yearning for a Jewish homeland made the film relevant to him.