Matthew Flamm
May 26, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Ridley Scott’s smash hit Gladiator is sparking another kind of revival: the sword-and-sandal book. Billing it as ”the original Gladiator,” ibooks is reissuing a mass-market paperback edition of Howard Fast’s Spartacus, which publisher Byron Preiss calls ”the mother lode of the whole gladiator epic field.” Fast, who is still going strong at 85 (his latest novel, Greenwich, has just been published by Harcourt), is happy to see his 1951 novel make a comeback but thinks there’s a world of difference between his slave uprising story and what he’s read of the stylized violence of Gladiator. ”In my story and the film [Spartacus] we tried to understand and be true to history,” he says. ”Gladiator is just confused butchery. It has no inner message, no purpose.” Those looking for an inner message from the movie could skip the novelization (just published by Onyx) and the illustrated companion (Newmarket Press) and go straight to The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius, which HarperCollins is promoting as a rather high-minded Gladiator tie-in (the Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor is played in the movie by Richard Harris). ”The tie-in is a product of cosmic synergy that we actually had nothing to do with,” admits Marjorie Braman, HarperCollins executive editor, who acquired the modern reinterpretation, by Monty Python producer Mark Forstater, long before Gladiator was in the news.

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