Post #17: Joseph LoDuca’s Musical Quotation of ‘Hercules: the Legendary Journeys’ in ‘Spartacus: Blood and Sand’
By Vincent Tomasso
Originally published Tuesday February 10 2015
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a spoiled princess to meet who needs to learn some manners.” --Hercules in “Mummy Dearest” (Hercules: the Legendary Journeys 3.4)
The composer behind the music of the Starz network’s Spartacus: Blood and Sand (2010) was Joseph LoDuca, who is most famous, at least in my mind, for scoring every episode of Hercules: the Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess from 1994 through 2001. A small part of LoDuca’s score for the Spartacus episode “Party Favors” (1.10) stood out to me as a quotation of his musical work on Hercules. In the abstract this might sound like LoDuca has pulled a Michael Mann--resting on his laurels--but nothing could be further from the truth. LoDuca has in fact carefully crafted this musical moment as a meditation on his diverse work in the ancient world on screen.
In “Party Favors” Spartacus and his fellow slave-gladiators are made to entertain Roman nobles at a party thrown by their master Battiatus and his wife Lucretia. About four minutes into the party, a brief scene between Solonius, a local rival businessman, and Ashur, Battiatus’ accountant, reveals that the two are conspiring against the house of Battiatus, even as the man basks in his new-found social capital. Solonius has justbeen insulted by Battiatus and is looking for revenge, while Ashur desires to overthrow his master. The score to this scene (all 36 seconds of it!) is recognizable as the track “Anakit’s Chambers” from the Hercules episode “Mummy Dearest” (3.4). That episode has the Egyptian Princess Anakit requesting Hercules’ help to stop a malevolent mummy unwittingly re-animated by grave robbers (figure 1).*
In the Hercules episode, the “Anakit’s Chambers” cue plays when Anakit and Hercules meet for the first time in Anakit’s tent. Throughout this episode Hercules and Anakit butt heads over the issue of slavery: Anakit sees no problem with the practice and insists that her slaves are happy, while Hercules proclaims that slavery is barbaric. Hercules eyes disdainfully western popular culture’s stereotypical indications of “eastern decadence” in Anakit’s quarters--dancing girls, slaves offering grapes, imperious bodyguards, luxurious material goods (figure 2). (Never mind that the ancient Greeks practiced slavery too!) In a famous episode the ancient Hercules killed the Egyptian priest Busiris and his followers because the latter defied Greek values and sacrificed any and all strangers who came to Egypt (figure 3). Sorbo’s Hercules similarly asserts (modern) western values in the face of Egyptian “barbarism.”
There are no mistakes in soundtrack production in this era of nostalgia-inducing musical scores like Guardians of the Galaxy (see post #14) and Boyhood. Given a 36-second musical cue, it doesn’t follow that LoDuca quoted his previous work because he was lazy; it would’ve been a relatively easy matter for him to compose a little ditty for this scene and be done with it. Rather, LoDuca is implicitly comparing the Spartacus scene to the Hercules scene. The squeaky-clean Hercules, who refuses Anakit’s sexual “advances” and is disgusted by Egyptian slavery, couldn’t be more different from the characters in Spartacus. “Party Favors” in particular showcases the inhuman treatment of slaves in the Roman Republic; Solonius and Ashur conspire in a party room with a nude female slave serving as a living platter of edible delicacies (header image), and in the climax of the episode Spartacus is forced to kill his fellow gladiator and comrade Varro. The first use of “Anakit’s Chambers” in “Mummy Dearest” highlights underscores Sorbo’s Hercules’ western difference from the eastern decadence of Anakit, and its appearance in Spartacus re-contextualizes LoDuca’s work in a narrative that is far closer to the reality of ancient Greek and Roman slavery.
The effect of LoDuca’s musical quotation is accentuated by the number of alumni from Hercules and Xena involved in this episode (and the series generally): Lucy Lawless (Xena) plays Lucretia, Craig Walsh-Wrightson (“Captain”, Lysis, and King Lynaeus in Xena) plays Solonius, and the executive producers of Hercules and Xena, Sam Raimi (also fan-favorite Joxer on Xena) and Rob Tapert (incidentally Lawless’ real-life husband), exec-produced Spartacus.
*: I love that LoDuca named the first cue of “Mummy Dearest” “Raiders of the Lost Tombs”; the Indiana Jones reference is enhanced by the Temple of Doom-esque exchange between Hercules and Anakit at the beginning of the episode:
ANAKIT: It was the only way for me to make sure you were the right one.
HERCULES: The right one for what?
ANAKIT: To find my mummy.
ANAKIT: Not my mommy, my mummy.
Now that I think of it, Anakit and Willie Scott might not be as different as they seem at first blush...