"In 73 B.C., the slave Spartacus escaped from the gladiator school where he was trained and went on to lead an army of former slaves from town to town, crushing the Roman leaders and stirring fear along the way. Author Peter Stothard followed the path that Spartacus took in Italy and writes about it in his new book, Spartacus Road: A Journey Through Ancient Italy. Host Guy Raz talks to Peter Stothard about his journey."
GUY RAZ, host:
As regular listeners will know, we usually talk about books and music towards the end of the program, and the book we're about to feature shouldn't exist. Its author, Peter Stothard, was supposed to die of terminal cancer 10 years ago.
Stothard is a well-known editor in London. He now heads up the Times Literary Supplement. But after he miraculously survived, he wanted nothing more than to forget about his struggle with cancer. But he couldn't.
And while traveling in Italy, he began to compare his own battle with cancer to a war that took place over 2,000 years ago, a slave uprising that shook the Roman Empire to its core.
Peter Stothard's new book is called "Spartacus Road," and it mixes his personal battle with the battle led by the slave Spartacus.
Mr. PETER STOTHARD (Author, "Spartacus Road: A Journey Through Ancient Italy"): I started writing it like a historical diary, but what I was actually writing on the "Spartacus Road" was my story of Spartacus, which I knew very well, but it was seen through this extraordinary filter of pain and chemical from about a decade before. And that's the unusual nature of this book, and that's the strangeness that many people have seen and appreciated in it.
RAZ: In 73 B.C., Spartacus and a small band of warriors take on a much larger contingent of Roman forces at Mount Vesuvius against impossible odds. You took that battle and relived it in your mind when you were being treated for cancer, almost as if that battle was happening inside of you.
Mr. STOTHARD: Yes. Somehow, that story, which is a powerful, emotional, evocative story in itself, it was almost as though I was seeing it in a kind of distorted bubble screen around me. It was very strange. And I can see why I wanted to forget about all that as soon as I went back to my proper job. But obviously, I couldn't forget about it, and when I was on Mount Vesuvius, it came roaring back.
RAZ: I just want to read a bit from that. You can almost picture those Roman soldiers and those slaves with their swords and shields. You write, inside of you, there was an assault of iron on the upholstery of my stomach, ribs grasped like ladders, alien objects left behind, broken glass, blunt knives, wave upon wave of pain.
And you can see that wave upon wave of soldiers attacking, and it's such an evocative image.
Mr. STOTHARD: Yes. In this particular case, I was writing about Roman history and telling the story of Spartacus in this way that I had really never expected to do.