VICTOR’S VILLAGE STUDENT SERIES: Hunger Games History

We’re back with another installment of the Student Series! This time, HGBC’s class is digging into the historic events that likely inspired the series!

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I can hear Caesar Flickerman doing a “Whoo whoo whoo!”

I can hear Caesar Flickerman doing a “Whoo whoo whoo!”

If you haven’t noticed the correlation between ‘The Hunger Games’ and history… well, my friends, you’ve missed some of the whole point of how Suzanne Collins wrote the books. Not only did she intentionally write the reaping as a version of the “Theseus and the Minotaur” Greek myth, and Katniss’ story a reinvention of the real slave-turned-gladiator-turned-rebel Spartacus, but so much of the setting of the books is from your Roman history book. The tributes, the arenas, most of the names of Capitol citizens, and the Capitol’s excess: it all comes from Rome. In the following post, one of my high school students explains the connection of Roman gladiators to ‘The Hunger Games’.

From cactus: When you are first reading or explained the concept of the Hunger Games, the first word that will spring to mind is “Gladiator”. But the Games are even more similar to Roman gladiators than you might think. Here are the examples:

Roman inspired with a twist of sci fi

Roman inspired with a twist of sci fi

The easiest similarity to find (which is mostly based off of stereotypes and assumptions we make about Roman gladiators, which is actually a relatively small part of their culture, concerning their gladiatorial games) is probably the tributes fighting to the death in an enclosed arena.

Best scenario: to be attacked by a Mutt or a lion?

Best scenario: to be attacked by a Mutt or a lion?

What a lot of people don’t know is that the Gladiators were living in poverty, like 90% of the tributes, before they were chosen or forced into the arena. Many of the gladiators were, in fact, prisoners of war, or slaves, which can also be related to the people of the districts. But if and when a gladiator is victorious over his or her opponents, they are showered in riches, much like the victor of the Hunger Games. The only difference is that a lot of the time, even the victorious gladiator is sent back into the arena to fight again for the audience’s amusement, but even then, ‘Catching Fire’ can slightly relate to that when all of the tributes are former victors.

In Rome, they also had people fight animals, like lions for entertainment, or publicly executed Christians or “Pagans” in the arena. So whatever dystopian vibe ‘The Hunger Games’ emits, ancient Rome was far more corrupt and violent.

What about Rome and reality television? Tag, you’re it.
Hunger Games Bookclub

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8 comments

  1. You actually don’t have to go as far as to read the books (okay, I did and wad really caught by them) to get the connection to ancient Rome. The triology is also known as “panem” which reminded me right from the start of “panem et circenses” (yeah, I had nine years of Latin lessons). This is even mentioned in the books and brings it more to the point than only focusing on gladiotors, which is only a part of it. Because it summarizes the way the realm was contolled though many had to suffer under Rome’s superiority.

  2. You apparently got much further in Latin than I did! I didn’t understand the Panem reference until S.C. finally described it in ‘Mockingjay’.

    This particular assignment was one of several on the historical connections to Rome, including one to research the “panem et circuses” quote; however, I didn’t include any of those papers in this little VV guest post series.

    1. I’ve always enjoyed the parallels between Panem and Ancient Rome, and I think this essay did a good job of picking up on that. I think it’s also a good insight that some of the similarities are based on “stereotypes and assumptions we make about Roman gladiators”. (Also, from my understanding of Roman history, the “vomitoriums” were not actually places they went to binge and purge, but were actually architectural elements used for crowd control in arenas, theaters, etc — so the scene in CF referring to this was actually not historically accurate.)

      I do recall, though, that some gladiators did moonlight as prostitutes, and SC likely drew on that as well when devising Finnick’s backstory. Also, even if the Victors were not ordinarily forced to actually go into the arena, certainly, their mandate to participate as Mentors certainly did little for their mental health, and it seems obvious that even the Victors were essentially slaves to the Capitol in many ways, much as gladiators, even successful ones, were.

  3. In my headcanon, going along with the Roman theme explains why there is no mention of religion (other than it perhaps being irrelevant to the narrative).
    In Rome, the reason Jews and Christians were so disliked wasn’t due to their faith itself; the Romans couldn’t care less what people believed in or lack thereof (though the idea of an iconoclastic faith was indeed utterly alien to them to the point of being unnerving) and allowed new beliefs/custums to come into the fold (which is why I’d probably take exception with the term “Pagan” for whom the gladiators executed; “barbarians” and “cultists” would be a more apt term). Rather, it was the Christians refused to go to the temples, which were government and civic institutions than just religious; to the Roman Empire, that was treason.
    So in the same idea, it could be postulated that the Capitol would be considered the only authority and philosophy to uphold (a cult of the state, if you will); religion, organized or spiritual, flies in the face of it. So it wouldn’t be surprising if, under a threat of execution or Avoxing, all beliefs are repressed.

    1. I think SC wisely left out explicit mentions of religion simply to avoid controversies of the type S.Meyer and even JK Rowling got involved in, as certainly both works show us a lot about their own beliefs. I have no idea what SC’s religious beliefs (if any) are and I prefer it that way.

      However, I’ve never assumed Panem was a completely secular world, just because religion isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean it’s non-existent. Katniss herself apparently has no concept at all of religious belief, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is a non-believer.

      Much as, just because no same-sex romantic relationships are depicted, doesn’t mean they’re non-existent. The closest we get is how the sex of Finnick’s “lovers” is never specified and hence it’s implied they were of all sexes, but of course the “lovers” weren’t real lovers — however, I certainly do NOT hold the headcanon that “the only gay people are in the Capitol and the only sex they have is exploitative quasi-rape involving prostitutes”.

      (Interestingly, I DO recall a fan theory that Finnick must have had an actual Capitol lover, not just a client, because he refers to his “true love in the Capitol” when he recites his love poem,
      but “Annie was in District 4 then, so he must have had ANOTHER lover too!” And V.Arrow postulated this unknown lover was Cinna. However, I seriously doubt, considering the way Finnick is depicted in MJ, that he had any real lovers other than Annie.)

      The “inconsistency” could be explained in many other ways; (1) As far as I recall, no one states exactly where Annie was when she was “arrested”, couldn’t she have been in the Capitol as “mentor”? (2) When writing CF, SC did mean for Finnick to be polyamorous, or at least the kind of man who is capable of having a “true love” and still indulge in casual sex on the side, and only later on made him a tragic monogamist forced to sell himself, or (3) SC wanted the reader to see Finnick as a promiscuous Capitol sellout in CF, and fudged a little with his “true love in the Capitol” line, planning all along to torpedo those assumptions.

      1. Agreed in terms of both homosexuality and religion that SC was smart in leaving those elements out.
        Still I think they are interesting ideas to expand upon; in fact, I like it that SC keeps things in Katniss’ narrative limited and sometimes flat-out unreliable as it gives the reader a chance towards critical and creative thinking.

        In any case, my point about religion is also very in-line with many fascist and communist regimes. On the flip side, orientation is probably one of the few things the Capitol is egalitarian about.

        The hypothesis I see the most is that Annie was at least one of Four’s mentors, which would have made her capture even easier (on that note, it’s something to consider what happened to the other victors in the mentor zone during Haymitch and Plutarch’s escape).

        1. On second thought, while there’s no reason to have a gay character just for the sake of filling a diversity quota, the simple presence of a sexual minority in a story shouldn’t be considered a controversy to avoid in the first place.

          1. Well, we don’t know if SC deliberately left out references to religion and/or homosexuality, or it just didn’t occur to her to address it. I tend to think she did purposefully leave out religion, but re homosexuality, or just sex in general, she does tell the story from Katniss’s POV, and she is established as being rather uninterested in sex at first. She doesn’t even know what’s going on with her own sexuality most of the time.

            Or, SC may be trying to depict a society in which homosexuality and bisexuality are so normative that no one even bothers to comment on it. Katniss finds Boggs’ joke about Finnick in his underwear to be funny, even though it implies Boggs himself finds men attractive, but doesn’t spend much time contemplating Boggs’ sexuality at all, either because she’s not interested in it, or because she finds it no big deal what it is.

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