The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins contains many Classical themes and allusions. Suzanne Collins intended this by design, from the Roman names of characters in the Capitol to the themes of blood sacrifice in the form of games. It offers an interesting reflection upon the modern world.
The trilogy has three main Classical themes: the blood sacrifice of young people, the Capitol as Rome, and the Games as expiation for crimes against the state. Other themes, whether by design or accident, also appear. The idea of rebellion by those who are the victims recalls the Christian Persecutions during the Roman era, and Katniss Everdeen being an Avatar of Artemis.
Like an Ouroborus the themes cycle around again, the end being consumed by the beginning.
Blood Sacrifice of the Minotaur
In the myth of Theseus, the founder/reformer of Athens, the Athenians were required ever seven years to send seven young men and seven young women to Crete to be fed to the Minotaur in the Labyrinth. King Minos of Crete demanded the sacrifice because- in one version of the legend- the Athenians were defeated. In another version King Minos’ son, Androgeus, was assassinated at the Pan-Athenian games.
In the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, Theseus volunteers to be the tribute and slay the Minotaur thus freeing Athens from having to render further tribute.
The origins in this myth most likely have root in the sacrificial practices of the Minoans who- unlike the later Greeks who used altars in public view and burned the victim after the slaughter- sacrificed black bulls in a secret mystery ritual. Afterwards the head priest would display the bull’s head and say, “This deed was done by the gods, I did not do it.”
The element of human sacrifice may come from older practices or bullfighting games in which conquered territories were required to send youths.
The Capitol as Rome
Collins creates the imagery of the Capitol as Rome in its nature by specialization of resources: Rome was an Empire set up to facilitate trade of goods available in one place, much how Panem operates.
Even the name for the Capitol, Panem, is Latin for “Bread” an allusion to the line used by Juvenal, a first century A.D. Roman author to describe the games in Rome. “Panem et circenses“, “bread and circuses” has been a phrase to mean distraction through entertainment for the masses from the problems facing society.
As in The Hunger Game trilogy the Roman Gladiatorial Games had the same elements of a fight against animals, odds, and other combatants. The action in the Roman games was divided up throughout the day.
From Augustus’s time, official munera seem to have followed a standard sequence. A procession (pompa) entered the arena led by lictors bearing fasces that signified the magistrate-editor’s power over life and death. They were followed by a small band of tubicines playing a fanfare. Images of the gods were carried in to “witness” the proceedings, followed by a scribe (to record the outcome) and a man carrying the palm branch used to honour victors. The magistrate editor entered among a retinue who carried the arms and armour to be used; more musicians followed, then horses. The gladiators presumably came in last.
These official games usually began with venationes (beast hunts) and bestiarii (beast fighting) gladiators. Sometimes beasts were unharmed and simply exhibited. Next came the ludi meridiani, of variable content but usually involving executions of noxii (sometimes as “mythological” re-enactments) or others condemned (damnati) to the arena
The final event was the combat between the actual Gladiators. This was done because the Gladiators were trained professionals, expensive to train, feed, and give medical treatment, and provided the best show.
People in Ancient Rome during the Imperial Period would spend all day at the games, and the games themselves could often be multiday events. It depended on who the benefactors was, and the occasion celebrated.
The origins of the Roman Gladiatorial Games were as Etruscan sacrifices after a battle. This comes from the Ancient- pre-dating the Classical era of Greece and Rome- idea that spilling blood to the gods fed them. Or in the case of the Gladiator games, the blood fed the spirits of the dead.
Early literary sources seldom agree on the origins of gladiators and the gladiator games. In the late 1st century BCE, Nicolaus of Damascus believed they were Etruscan. A generation later, Livy wrote that they were first held in 310 BCE by the Campanians in celebration of their victory over the Samnites. Long after the games had ceased, the 7th century CE writer Isidore of Seville derived Latin lanista (manager of gladiators) from the Etruscan word for “executioner,” and the title of Charon (an official who accompanied the dead from the Roman gladiatorial arena) from Charun, psychopomp of the Etruscan underworld. Roman historians emphasized the gladiator games as a foreign import, most likely Etruscan. This preference informed most standard histories of the Roman games in the early modern era.
It is easy to see the time alluded to in The Hunger Games, a war of rebellion is put down. And as a reminder every year tribute is taken and slaughtered.
Other things recall Ancient Rome are the names of the characters in the Capitol:
President Coriolanus Snow, named after the R5th Century B.C. Roman Hero, Gaius Marcius Coriolanus.
Cato, named after members of the family Porcii, Cato the Elder and Cato the Younger.
Brutus, from the assassin of Julius Caesar, Marcus Junius Brutus.
Cinna, from Lucius Cornelius Cinna, a Roman Concul who stood against Rome’s first dictator, Sulla.
And many other including: Octavia, Venia, and Flavius, Lavinia, Portia, Plutarch Heavensbee, Seneca Graves, Claudius Templesmith, Caesar Flickerman.
Katniss as Artemis
Katniss Everdeen is a very good reflection of the Ancient Greek goddess, Artemis.
In the classical period of Greek mythology, Artemis (Ancient Greek: Ἄρτεμις) was often described as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She was the Hellenic goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and protector of young girls, bringing and relieving disease in women; she often was depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows. The deer and the cypress were sacred to her. In later Hellenistic times, she even assumed the ancient role of Eileithyia in aiding childbirth.
The parallels are interesting, Katniss is a young maiden Huntress who volunteers in place of her sister, protecting a young girl. Katniss is an archer and huntress, so was, according to myth, Artemis. Katniss has a cult of personality develop around her and Peeta, Artemiss was widely worshiped with many cults and celebrations through out the Hellenic world.
The Hunger Games trilogy does show that Ancient themes and ethics can permeate through to the modern. And in this serve as reflection on ourselves.