The Robe

The Robe;

Story: A Roman officer “wins” Jesus’ robe by gambling under the cross. Soon, it seems that the robe is making him crazy. A woman’s love can’t cure his inner pain, but his slave seems to have found a solution. As the soldier sets out to destroy the robe, he discovers the truth behind its strange power. This classic epic is especially popular at Easter time. (1953; 2 Oscars plus 3 nominations; Richard Burton, Michael Rennie, Victor Mature; 20th Century Fox; drama; 135 minutes; first movie released in CinemaScope format) (For a detailed summary of the story, scroll down to “More information”.)

SettingFirst century Rome, Capri and Palestine [巴勒斯坦].

Note: In the first century, Rome ruled the western world. Many of the people they conquered had been enslaved, and those fortunate enough to live in Rome lived in great luxury (at the expense of those elsewhere). The film says that, by this time, “there are more slaves in Rome than citizens,” so there was always fear that the slaves would join together and revolt against their Roman masters. Furthermore, a Roman describes Palestine like this: “It is the worst pest-hole in the Roman Empire; home of a stiff-necked, riotous people, always on the verge of rebellion. For an officer to be sent there is like a death sentence.”

People and proper nouns:

  • Caligula: the son of Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar; Caligula is known as a violent leader and he was probably mentally ill (in this movie, we see him both before and after his father died)
  • Capri: an island in the Mediterranean Sea that was a second home for Tiberius Caesar (and Diana)
  • Centurion: a middle-level leader in the Roman army (under officers, but over the enlisted soldiers)
  • Demetrius: Marcellus‘ slave; he was strong willed and ran away from his master while they were in Palestine
  • Diana: she loves Marcellus and is a ward of Tiberius Caesar (a ward is like an adopted daughter—a young person who is under someone else’s protection)
  • Jerusalem: [耶路撒冷] the ancient capital of Israel; this is the place where Jesus was executed
  • Justus: an elderly weaver [织布家] in Cana of Galilee (northern Palestine), who is a kind, community leader
  • Marcellus Gallio: the main character in this film; he is a Roman officer (Tribune) and the son of an important senator (government official)
  • Messiah: In this movie, a Roman officer offers this description: “The Jews’ king, savior, redeemer, Son of their God…and general troublemaker”; to many Jews and Christians, the Messiah (or “Christ” in Greek) is one sent from God to restore God’s rule on earth by first saving people from sin and then being their king
  • Miriam: a singer who has a very pleasant personality, even though she is crippled (can’t walk)
  • Palestine: [巴勒斯坦] a part of the middle-east; at the time shown in this film, and for over a thousand years before that, this was the home of the Jewish people (the Romans forced Jews out in AD 70, and Jews did not win the right to return until the UN granted part of this land to Jews as a homeland in 1947)
  • Passover: a major, annual Jewish festival that commemorates (celebrates) the time when millions of Jews were released from slavery in Egypt (a great movie about this is called The Ten Commandments)
  • Pontius Pilate: the Roman governor of Palestine, who lived in Jerusalem (1st century)
  • Simon Peter (the Big Fisherman): the disciple [门徒] considered to be the first leader of Jesus’ followers after he died
  • Tiberius Caesar: the elderly Roman Emperor at the time Jesus was killed (1st century)
  • Tribune: an elected and respected Roman official; sometimes Tribunes also served as leaders in the Roman army


(underlined words are vocabulary terms; *key terms)
  • *to betray: [出卖,背叛] [vt] to bring harm or be disloyal to someone who trusts you (your family, country, co-workers, etc.), often by helping an enemy
  • *a bid: an offer to buy or rent something (normally sth that many people want, so the highest “bidder” gets it)
  • *connotation: the feeling or idea suggested by a word
  • crucifixion: to kill someone by nailing or tying his hands and feet to a wooden cross as a cruel form of public punishment (common in Roman times)
  • dagger: a small knife, often hidden in your clothes or kept handy on your belt
  • *to execute (an execution): to kill someone with the authority of a ruler, government, gang leader, etc.
  • gladiators: slaves who were trained and then forced to fight to the death to entertain an audience
  • *looter: someone who steals things in a time of disaster or disorder (such as right after a flood or during a war)
  • *mad: in this film, mad means crazy (not angry); “During the journey a guiding star became my one link with sanity; I’m mad.”
  • martyr: (positive connotation) someone who dies for religious or political beliefs and thus worthy to be admired (such as Qu Yuan, or Marcellus); (negative connotation) someone who complains a lot about how hard their circumstances are, seeking to get other people’s sympathy
  • *merchant: a business man; someone who buys and sells things to make money
  • *nails: [钉子] small pieces of metal, hammered into wood (etc) to join things together (also see crucifixion)
  • sedition: words or actions intended to bring about rebellion against government authority
  • *shame: the uncomfortable feeling you have when you feel guilty and embarrassed because you (or perhaps a family member or close friend) did something wrong
  • sorcery/sorcerer: magic or one who uses magic (such as to “cast a spell” or curse others). Historically, magicians/witches/sorcerers, etc. have almost always been feared as evil people, whether the things they do bring bad results or good results (such as healing people of sickness).
  • *superstition: [迷信] irrational but strong belief in magic, good/bad luck, omens, etc.
  • to torture: to intentionally give extreme pain or physical punishment to a victim (human or animal)
  • *traitor/treason: someone who acts in a disloyal way, especially if disloyal to his government or other leaders (which is called treason)
  • tribute: after a country was conquered, it sent tribute (gold or precious things) to the new government every year to prove that they were still loyal

More information:

(a synopsis to help you understand what you will see; underlined words are defined above)

Marcellus is a Roman officer and son of a powerful Senator; Caligula is the son of Tiberius Caesar. But first we meet Demetrius, who is being sold as a slave. Caesar’s son wants to buy him to become a gladiator (one who fights to the death for sport), but Marcellus bids more money for him (to make Demetrius his personal assistant—but mainly to irritate Caligula, and it does make Caligula angry). Caligula then has Marcellus sent to the worst place in the vast Roman Empire: Jerusalem, Israel. One of his duties is to supervise crucifixions. While thus executing Jesus, he gambles for his robe, and wins—and soon after starts to act crazy/insane. Diana intercedes for Marcellus (whom she loves), and Tiberius sends for Marcellus, only to find him insane or bewitched. After deciding that it was Jesus’ robe that bewitched Marcellus, Tiberius sends Marcellus back to Israel with these instructions: “Go, find the robe and destroy it, and for Rome, seek out the followers of this dead magician. I want names of every man and woman who subscribed to this treason.” But once Marcellus gets to know some of these “followers”, he begins to think that theirs is a force for good, not evil or treason. Marcellus (and eventually Diana, too) becomes a Christian, seeking to spread and defend his new faith.

Of course, the movie also features fights, death, love, honor, bravery, confusion, rebellion, compassion, and all the other things that make a story great, leading up to a memorable and surprising conclusion. The film was so popular that it led to a sequel called Demetrius and the Gladiator.

Historical note (according to, 2012): The Roman Emperor Caligula is depicted in this movie as persecuting Christians. However, he reigned from AD 37 to 41, while Christianity was still a very “new” religion with most of its followers in the eastern Mediterranean. The first mention of Christians from the perspective of the Roman government, according to the Roman historian Suetonius, wasn’t until the reign of his successor Claudius (reigned AD 41-54). The first major incidents of persecution of Christians did not occur until the reign of Emperor Nero (reigned AD 54-68).


  1. From the way Marcellus’ family lived, how would you describe their financial situation? If you had a lot of money, what would you do with it?
  2. Look at dialog 8. In every century and in every culture, people betray and disappoint other people. Why?
  3. Look at dialog 16. What is more important for the progress of civilization: love, power or hope? Power has built many of history’s great civilizations, but like Rome they never last. Why not?
  4. Caligula calls a group: “A secret party of seditionists; the riffraff [流氓] of the plebeian class[人民]; a party of conspirators [阴谋家].” Who is he talking about, and do you agree with this description?
  5. Look at dialog 14. What does it mean to “be cheated”? If a shopkeeper gives you too much change when you buy something, do you keep it or tell her about the error? In the movie (when the people accepted too much money from a stupid merchant), who was being cheated (do you agree with Justus)? Explain. What are some ways that people “cheat themselves”?
  6. At the end, Diana made a difficult choice. Tell us about a difficult choice you had to make, and tell us where you found the strength to make it.
  7. It is said that “If you don’t have something to die for, then you don’t really have anything to live for.” Do you agree with this saying? Why or why not? Did Marcellus and Diana believe it? Tell your partner about someone (you know, or in history) who “had something to die for”–and the difference that made to the way people think of them.

Sentences/dialogs from the movie:

(blue indicates a key dialog or sentence)

Say these dialogs out loud with your friends; it will help you prepare to watch the movie. The underlined words are defined in the vocabulary section above.

  • 1.   Diana: Then all the tales I’ve heard of you are true.
  •      Marcellus: Every man makes enemies.
  •      Diana: All your enemies seem to be women.
  • 2.   Diana: It’s good to see you, Marcellus.
  •      Marcellus: It’s ah – good to see you – again.
  •      Diana: Then you do remember me?
  •      Marcellus: Ah – yes, of course. Let me see now, it was the – was the…
  •      Diana: And your promise, have you forgotten that too?
  •      Marcellus: What promise?
  •      Diana: To marry me.
  •      Marcellus: Was I drunk?
  •      Diana: That’s not very flattering, Marcellus.
  •      Marcellus: Oh, I – I mean, if you’d tell me when I was supposed to have said this – the circumstances…
  •      Diana: Oh, I remember them perfectly. I’d cut my finger, and I cried. And then you took the dagger and cut your own finger to show that it didn’t really hurt, and then you kissed me, and I stopped crying – and then you promised to marry me when we grew up.
  •      Marcellus: Diana! Where have your freckles gone?
  •      Diana: I lost them.
  •      Marcellus: Oh, I loved every one of them.
  •      Diana: Then I’m sorry I lost them.
  • 3.   Diana: Perhaps you don’t believe that a girl of eleven could fall in love, and stay in love all these years…
  •      Marcellus: Don’t cry, my love. Lucia thought I was in love, and I laughed at her, but women are wise in these matters.
  • 4.   Demetrius: Make Pilate understand that if he stains his hands with his blood, he’s worse than a murderer.
  • 5.   Pontius Pilate: Give me water to wash my hands.
  • 6.   Jesus Christ [dying on the cross, under Marcellus’ supervision]: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
  • 7.   Demetrius [awaking to darkness]: Is it night?
  •      Jerusalem woman aiding Demetrius: No. It’s the middle of the day. This isn’t like other days.
  • 8.   Demetrius: Why was he betrayed by one he loved and trusted?
  •      Judas: Because men are weak; because they are cursed with envy and cowardice. Because they can dream of Truth but cannot live with it. So they doubt. Why must men betray themselves with doubts? Tell them they must keep faith! They must keep faith! [walks away]
  •      Demetrius: Wait, tell who? Who are you?
  •      Judas: My name is Judas. [Judas was talking about himself; he is the disciple who betrayed Jesus.]
  • 9.   Demetrius: [to Marcellus] You crucified him. You, my master. Yet you freed me. I’ll never serve you again, you Roman pig. Masters of the world, you call yourselves. Thieves! Murderers! Jungle animals! A curse on you! A curse on your empire!
  • 10.  Marcellus [waking up from a nightmare of Jesus being nailed to the cross]: No! No! Stop it! Stop it! [he runs out on deck] Stop it! Why don’t you stop it!
  •      Ship’s captain: Stop what, sir?
  •      Marcellus: Were you… out there? [this is a repeated line, used as a sign of his maddness]
  • 11.  Emperor Tiberius: Tell me, what was your impression of [Governor] Pilate?
  •      Marcellus: It’s not my place to…
  •      Emperor Tiberius: I’m asking you. Did you find him capable?
  •      Marcellus: Yes sire, he’s considered a good administrator.
  •      Emperor Tiberius: Stern, as befits a Roman governor?
  •      Marcellus: I’m sure of that, sire.
  •      Emperor Tiberius: Just?
  •      Marcellus: I – I can’t say.
  •      Emperor Tiberius: Why not? Surely you can give me some sort of an answer? Tell me, tribune – what happened out there?
  • 12.  Emperor Tiberius: Tribune Gallio, you are a Roman officer. I command you to gain control over yourself.
  • 13.  Marcellus: I lost my wits when I put on the robe.
  •      Doctor: The clue to this man’s sanity is… in the robe that bewitched him.
  •      Caesar: Go, find the robe and destroy it, and for Rome, seek out the followers of this dead magician. I want names of every man and woman who subscribed to this treason.
  • 14. Marcellus: A man is not cheated when he’s satisfied with a price.
  •      Justus: But you weren’t the real loser. They were only cheating themselves.
  • 15.  Miriam’s song (notice the use of old English words like “spake” for spoke and “ye” for you): “…we came unto the sepulcher [坟墓] and found the stone rolled away… and a voice spake to us saying ‘why seek ye the living among the dead?'”
  •  16. Miriam: He asked us to build our lives on love; to build a new world.
  •      Marcellus: Worlds are built on force. Power is all that counts.
  •      Miriam: Perhaps we have something better than power. We have hope.
  • 17.  Marcellus: Surely you don’t believe he rose from the dead.
  •      Justus: He lives more surely than we do.
  •      Marcellus: He’s DEAD! And no moonstruck girl can sing him to life again!
  •      Justus: How do you know that he’s dead?
  •      Marcellus: The soldier told me. The soldier who saw the lance thrust into his side. The soldier who was – out there!
  •      Justus: What’s wrong?
  •      Marcellus: Were you out there?
  • 18.  Caesar: “…miracles, disciples, slaves running away, Roman legionnaires fraternizing with the natives… [These are big problems, but] the real danger is man’s desire to be free.”
  • 19. Emperor Tiberius [counseling Diana to forget about Marcellus]: For your sake I interfered, when my wife wanted to give you to Caligula. For your sake I brought your tribune back from Palestine. For your sake, I now free you from him.
  •      Diana: Sire, I have no wish to be free.
  •      Emperor Tiberius: Have you gone mad too?
  •      Diana: He had everything then. He could have had me too. I wanted him, but I wasn’t sure that I loved him. Now I am sure.
  •      Emperor Tiberius: I see it my duty to forbid you to see him again. As a child you were wise, but now you reason like a woman – foolishly.
  • 20.  Emperor Tiberius: After forty years with Julia, my approaching death holds few terrors for me.
  • 21.  Emperor Tiberius: When [the end of the empire] comes, this is how it will start. Some obscure martyr in some forgotten province, then madness. Infecting the legions, rocking the empire, then the finish of Rome.
  • 22.  Demetrius [to Marcellus, after Marcellus finally finds the Robe again]: You’re afraid, but you really don’t know the reason why. You think it’s his robe that made you ill. But it’s your own conscience, your own decent shame. Even when you crucified him you felt it.
  • 23.  Demetrius: Until now you only remembered what you did to a man. The wrong, and your shame. But now – you remember the man.
  • 24.  Peter: Let me tell you of the burden I bear. Justus told the others I was steadfast. He didn’t know. The night Jesus needed me most, I denied him… not once… but three times. I swore I never knew him. Now…
  •      Marcellus: [stammering, pointing to himself] I… crucified him.
  •      Peter: I know. Demetrius told me.
  •      Marcellus: [shocked] And you can forgive me?
  •      Peter: He forgave you from the cross. Can I do less? Now, is there anything stopping you? Can you become one of us?
  •      Marcellus: [new strength in his voice] From this day forward, I am enlisted in His service. I offer Him my fortune, my sword, and my life. And this I pledge to you on my honor as a Roman.
  • 25.  Caligula [telling the guards to stop torturing Demetrius; they want him to reveal where Marcellus is hiding]: Enough for now. He’s no use to us dead.
  • 26.  Diana [after meeting Marcellus after a long absence]: Are you still ill?
  •      Marcellus: No, I’m well. Really well, for the first time in my life.
  • 27.  Diana: No, Marcellus, they’ll kill you!
  •      Marcellus: You must have faith…
  •      Diana: Faith in what? This new God of yours? How can he help you? He couldn’t help his own son, they crucified him!
  • 28.  Caligula: You put him to death? Then why are you risking your life for him?
  •      Marcellus: I owe Him more than my life.

 If you don’t want to know the end of the movie, stop reading here.  

  • 29.  Diana [Marcellus has just been sentenced to execution; Diana leaves the podium to stand at his side]: Sire, Marcellus is my chosen husband. I wish to go with him.
  •      Caligula: Stand back! You’re not on trial! There’s no evidence against you!
  •      Diana: Then if it please you, sire, I’ll provide evidence. I have no wish to live another hour in an empire ruled by you! You dare to call yourself a Caesar. Once the Caesars of Rome were noble, but in you, noble blood has turned to poison. You corrupt Rome with your spite and malice.
  •      Caligula: Stop! Stop it!
  •      Diana: That you should be Caesar–vicious, treacherous, drunk with power, an evil, insane monster posing as emperor.
  •      Caligula: STOP IT!
  •      Diana: As for me, I have found another king. I want to go with my husband into his kingdom.
  •      Caligula: Then, by the gods, you shall! Go, both of you, into your kingdom! [(i.e., “I sentence you both to die immediately;” then soldiers take Diana and Marcellus away] They’re going into a better kingdom! They’re going into a better kingdom! They’re going to meet their king! They’re going to meet their king!


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