Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Chelmsford 123: What's Your Poison?

The second episode of Chelmsford 123 is sadly devoid of Latin, which will not appear again until the very last episode. It is set before and during a banquet held by new governor Aulus Paulinus for the local tribal chieftan Badvok and guests. There's a misunderstanding involving Aulus' slimy brother-in-law Grasientus trying to poison Badvok, while Aulus thinks Badvok is planning to poison him and Badvok think Aulus is trying to poison him (using the fast poison, not the slow one that takes five years...).

Aulus hires an epic poet calling himself Cicero who says he can recite 10,000 lines of Virgil (author of the Aeneid, often considered the best Latin epic poem, though I also like Flaccus' Argonautica and Lucan's Civil War). No one looks terribly enthusaistic about this - the product of writers who were forced to do Latin at school no doubt. Personally, I think it would depend which 10,000 lines of Virgil it was - if it was extracts from Books 2, 4 and 6 of the Aeneid (the Fall of Troy book, the Dido book and the underworld book) then I would happily listen to the lot, but if it was from Books 7-12 of the Aeneid, I'd be falling asleep 10 lines in (these are the books that are supposed to emulate the Iliad, but the Iliad, catalogue of ships aside, is much more exciting - the second half of the Aeneid is, I find, deathly dull). Cicero also has his own 50-verse epic poem about Aeneas, which Aulus is even less enthusiastic about.

Meanwhile the feast proceeds, with Badvok unable to remember the jokes he was told the week before and the food tasters everyone has brought either dropping dead or eating all the food. There's also the obligatory 'what's your poison?' line, meaning 'what alcoholic beverage would you like?' Eventually the truth comes out when Grasientus is forced to eat one of the olives he poisoned, only for the poison not to work. The episode ends with Cicero the epic poet being offered a host of poisoned drinks, produced by both sides under the belief that they were about to be poisoned themselves, thus saving everyone from 10,000 lines of the exploits of Aeneas.

I don't find this episode quite as funny as the first one - no Latin! no Doctor Who! - and it is all rather predictable, but it's not without its laughs. When I saw this as a teenager, I seem to remember being even more underwhelmed, since I didn't get any of the jokes about epic poetry, Virgil or Aeneas - now I find that these are the highlights of the episode. In a way it's a shame that they imply that Virgil and Aeneas are so boring, as a lot of the Aeneid is really very good and well worth a read. On the other hand, this is one of those situations where you can't help wondering if a lot of Romans felt the same way too... And any episode that poisons someone called Cicero (I can't stand the famous Cicero - sexist, priggish, dull) can't be all bad.

1 comment:

  1. I've always found the [i]Aeneid[/i] to be a very poor work, with the exception of the underworld and possibly the fall of Troy. (The Dido episode just doesn't work for me. Things seem to happen because they are supposed to happen and nobody's motivations and actions really make sense, even acounting for divine intervention.)

    Of course, Vergil also thought it was terrible. He wanted it destroyed when he died, as it was unfinished and he wasn't really happy with any of it. His literary executors disobeyed his wishes and cobbled the finished work together out of his notes and drafts. But that sixth book. Ooooh, it'll make your hair stand on end.

    And I'm guessing there's some sort of joke about the name Badvok, but I'm not seeing it.


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