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  • In the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar, the minor character of "Cinna the poet" is brutally killed by an angry mob who mistake him for Cinna the conspirator. When he protests, "I am Cinna the poet", they respond, "Tear him [to pieces] for his bad verses" - his works of art. (Disclaimer: I don't know how faithful this is to any surviving stories of the real Cinna.)

  • In the second novel of the Hunger Games series, the supporting character Cinna is brutally killed by a group of thugs. His death has been ordered because the dress he made for Katniss - a work of art with hidden symbolism - is deemed to be a sign that he's part of a conspiracy.

I'd always thought that "many of the characters have names used in Shakespeare's play[s]" was a bit of a silly observation, since the obvious naming connection between many of the characters from District 2 and the Capitol is that they have Roman-sounding names, not specifically Shakespearian ones. But after noticing this maybe-too-much-for-coincidence Cinna connection, I began to wonder.

How many of the Roman-named Hunger Games characters have similar character arcs to their namesakes, either Shakespearian or real-life ancient Roman? ("Character arcs" could cover their deaths, their roles in the story, or anything else about them.) Is there enough evidence to say that the name choices were more than just a way of giving a general ancient-Rome vibe to Panem, or have I just stumbled upon a coincidence?

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    Although Suzanne Collins is surely familiar with Shakespeare, she and Shakespeare were drawing from the same source. Shakespeare didn't invent Cinna; he took the character from Plutarch's Life of Caesar. Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 20:03
  • @JoshuaEngel I know that many of the characters in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar were real historical figures, but that play might still be the place where a lot of people nowadays know them from. Is Cinna's death as described in Plutarch (another name that appears in HG, btw) similar to the way Shakespeare portrayed it?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 22:58
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    I wonder if I should rephrase the question to ask about comparisons between the HG characters and their real historical namesakes, rather than their Shakespearian namesakes. Thoughts on this, anyone?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 22:59
  • I believe that would be appropriate. Collins was clearly drawing on a lot of classical sources, and it's interesting to take note of the way she's informing readers. I think she's setting up her readership to make a lot of discoveries over the rest of their lives: "Ah, Seneca, I get that now!" I personally find that kind of thing really helps me connect to history. Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 15:52
  • @JoshuaEngel OK, done.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 19:04

1 Answer 1

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There are certainly some parallels that can be drawn from characters in The Hunger Games to historical/Shakespearian namesakes, but most of them seem subtle enough that they could conceivably just be the product of general usage of those names.

The following are a bunch of parallels, some more convincing than others. All quotes are taken from the linked Wikipedia pages.

  • Coriolanus Snow

    In The Hunger Games he is the president/dictator. His historical counterpart was a Roman general, and in the Shakespearian version he seeks the highest elected office (consul) in Rome. Coriolanus is known for his disdain for the common people:

    Rome was recovering from a grain shortage. A significant quantity of grain was imported from Sicily, and the senate debated the manner in which it should be distributed to the commoners. Coriolanus advocated that grain should be provided only upon the reversal of the pro-plebeian political reforms arising from the first secessio plebis in 494 BC.

    And in the Shakespeare account:

    Faced with this opposition, Coriolanus flies into a rage and rails against the concept of popular rule. He compares allowing plebeians to have power over the patricians to allowing "crows to peck the eagles".

    This seems to fit well with President Snow's character. Additionally, the part about the grain allowance may be the inspiration for the tesserae in The Hunger Games, whereby Snow uses a grain allowance to force children from poor families to take additional entries in the tribute lottery.

  • Plutarch Heavensbee

    In The Hunger Games he is the Head Gamemaker. This corresponds to the historical Plutarch:

    Plutarch was epimeletes (manager) of the Amphictyonic League for at least five terms, from 107 to 127, in which role he was responsible for organising the Pythian Games. He mentions this service in his work, Whether an Old Man Should Engage in Public Affairs (17 = Moralia 792f).

  • Seneca Crane

    He fell out of favor with with President Snow and was killed, much like the historical Seneca fell out of favor with Emperor Nero and was killed:

    Seneca's influence over Nero declined with time, and in 65 Seneca was forced to take his own life for alleged complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate Nero, of which he was probably innocent.

    (In the movies the parallel is even more stark, since Seneca's death scene is shown as him entering a room with nightlock, where presumably he had to kill himself.)

  • Claudius Templesmith

    He doesn't do all that much in The Hunger Games, but he is the official announcer/commentator of the games, which may loosely reflect the historical Claudius's interest in public games:

    According to Suetonius, Claudius was extraordinarily fond of games. He is said to have risen with the crowd after gladiatorial matches and given unrestrained praise to the fighters.[48] Claudius also presided over many new and original events. Soon after coming into power, Claudius instituted games to be held in honor of his father on the latter's birthday.[16] Annual games were also held in honour of his accession, and took place at the Praetorian camp where Claudius had first been proclaimed Emperor.[49]

    Claudius organised a performance of the Secular Games, marking the 800th anniversary of the founding of Rome. Augustus had performed the same games less than a century prior. Augustus's excuse was that the interval for the games was 110 years, not 100, but his date actually did not qualify under either reasoning.[49] Claudius also presented staged naval battles to mark the attempted draining of the Fucine Lake, as well as many other public games and shows.

  • Lavinia

    This one is almost certainly a stretch, but Lavinia in The Hunger Games is known for only two things – being an Avox and being a redhead:

    There were two Avoxes with me in prison. Darius and Lavinia, but the guards mostly called them the redheads.

    And the historical (mythological) Lavinia is known for having her hair catch fire:

    Lavinia has what is perhaps her most, or only, memorable moment in Book 7 of the '-Aeneid, lines 69–83: during a sacrifice at the altars of the gods, Lavinia's hair catches fire, an omen promising glorious days to come for Lavinia and war for all Latins:

  • Castor and Pollux

    They are brothers, and Castor dies while Pollux survives, much like their Roman counterparts (in some versions):

    Meanwhile, Castor and Pollux had reached their destination. Castor climbed a tree to keep a watch as Pollux began to free the cattle. Far away, Idas and Lynceus approached. Lynceus, named for the lynx because he could see in the dark, spied Castor hiding in the tree. Idas and Lynceus immediately understood what was happening. Idas, furious, ambushed Castor, fatally wounding him with a blow from his spear – but not before Castor called out to warn Pollux. In the ensuing brawl, Pollux killed Lynceus. As Idas was about to kill Pollux, Zeus, who had been watching from Mount Olympus, hurled a thunderbolt, killing Idas and saving his son.

    Additionally, in The Hunger Games, Katniss frequently notes their camera gear that they wear which resembles insect shells, which may be loosely related to:

    They can be recognized in some vase-paintings by the skull-cap they wear, the pilos (πῖλος), which was already explained in antiquity as the remnants of the egg from which they hatched.

    Finally, they are part of Katniss's task force to breach the Capitol, and they are the cameramen tasked with recording the events, which may be similar to:

    According to legend, the twins fought at the head of the Roman army and subsequently brought news of the victory back to Rome.

  • Cato

    In the first Hunger Games that Katniss participates in, Cato was a volunteer and considered one of the strongest, if not the strongest, of the tributes. His historical counterpart was also recognized for his warriorship:

    In 72 BC, Cato volunteered to fight in the war against Spartacus, presumably to support his half-brother Caepio, who was serving as a military tribune in the consular army of Lucius Gellius.[28] Although the army was defeated twice in battle, Cato's valour was recognised. Although the consul Gellius recommended Cato for awards, he publicly declined them and indicated that he thought Gellius' standards for military achievement too low; news of this implicit rebuke made its way back to Rome and buttressed Cato's reputation.

There are various other characters whose names derive from Roman/Shakespearian sources, but who don't really do enough of significance in The Hunger Games to draw any real parallels.

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  • Wow! These are much stronger parallels than I would have guessed. Clearly, Collins wasn't just using random Roman names, but actually putting some thought into naming her characters after ancient Roman figures who had some similarities to them.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 21 at 19:18

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