Plutarch, Cato, Octavia, Fulvia, Brutus, Castor & Pollux. You'd expect to see these names in history books, but as character names in the hottest young adult (YA) blockbuster? Not so much. And yet, Suzanne Collins, the author of the HUNGER GAMES trilogy, seems bent on making us think about the ancient world.
The most obvious classical connection in the trilogy, of course, is the story’s recasting of the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, which Collins read as an eight-years old.
“The myth told how in punishment for past deeds, Athens periodically had to send seven youths and seven maidens to Crete where they were thrown in the Labyrinth and devoured by the monstrous Minotaur,” she states on her publisher’s website. “Even as a third grader, I could appreciate the ruthlessness of this message. ‘Mess with us and we'll do something worse than kill you. We'll kill your children.'”
She also credits watching gladiator movies, which “dramatized the Roman’s flair for turning executions into popular entertainment.”
In many ways, Katniss is Theseus and Peeta is Ariadne (or tries to be in the early books—this is not a spoiler, I swear). Peeta’s love, like Ariadne’s string, is meant to save Katniss’ life and pull her out of the maze of blood-drenched, reality-TV destruction.
There are other classical references, of course, including the fact that the Capital city is called Panem and the Games, “Panem et circenses”—which, of course, means “Bread and Circuses,” Juvenal’s classic phrase for describing how the Romans surrendered political involvement/power in exchange for full bellies and coarse entertainment.
But one Roman name especially jumped out at me—President Snow’s. No, not the “Snow”-part (aside from its intended irony) but the president’s first name: Coriolanus.
Coriolanus was a Roman general whose downfall was his prideful rage against Roman society. To make a long tragedy short, Coriolanus clashes against the plebians who want a voice in ruling Rome. He gets so angry at their “audacity,” he ends up marching on Rome, and is later assassinated for his treachery.
Despite the fact that Coriolanus’ story has faded into oblivion (even though Shakespeare wrote a play about him), his name is a reminder, once again, of Collin’s depth and talent. Clearly, she thought through every character’s name and its symbolic meaning.
There’s so much to talk about with teens in this bestselling trilogy—the nature of power, the futility of war, the cost of violence, etc. etc. But making the classical connections gives you yet one more way to examine this fascinating work—through the prism of ancient history and its connections to how we live today. Clearly, Collins knows her history. And wants her readers to know it too.
How dare you imply this picture of Gerard Butler is simply gratuitous! Butler, as pictured here, plays a key role in the movie, Coriolanus, directed by Ralph Feines, which is currently in production.