Friday, 23 April 2010

Rome: Stealing from Saturn

The bulk of this episode is built around the return of Caesar to Rome, which is odd, as I'm pretty sure Caesar shouldn't be anywhere near Rome at this point. He should be attacking Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (an ancestor of Nero) at Corfinium and beseiging Pompey at Brundisium. However, there is not nearly enough sex in such a storyline for Rome, so instead, he poddles back into Rome to go to a party.

We open with some people being tortured. Of course.

We are with Pompey, Cato, Cicero and Brutus, and Pompey's (fictitious, possibly a blend of his two real sons) son has just come up from 'Brindisi' - interesting use of the modern name rather than the Roman 'Brundisium'. Pompey is trying to find out what happened to the gold he lost last week. Apparently this gold will be completely vital to Caesar.

Caesar has entered Rome and goes to the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus to ask for auguries in his favour. He is planning a fancy dinner with a woman who is Not His Wife (Atia of course) and insisting that she also invite Servilia. Atia is shagging Mark Antony, which means we get to see more of James Purefoy without his shirt on, which is always nice. She is also trying to force Octavian to go and shag someone himself (she's not fussed who). I know Romans expected young men to run a bit wild in their pre-marital youth and didn't mind who they slept with, but I think a mother trying to force her young son (who, I'm pretty sure, has yet to put on his toga, i.e. become a man, socially speaking) to go and have sex with something is going a bit far. Octavian isn't quite up on everything yet either, as he still thinks Atia had nothing to do with Glabius' death.

Boring Currently-Ex Soldier is also planning a feast, to mark the setting up of his new business, but is summoned to see Mark Antony, who is being cleaned in the middle of a courtyard instead of in the bathhouse for reasons best known to himself. And woah! Yep, he's totally naked. Absolutely butt-naked and viewed from all sides, albeit from what the cameraperson obviously thought was a tactful distance. But there's nothing left to the imagination. You'll be unsurprised to hear, dear reader, that this was one of the scenes I remembered particularly clearly in the years between my first viewing of Rome and my getting the DVD for Christmas last year. On the one hand, here we have James Purefoy in his birthday suit. Yummy. On the other hand - they're not even in a military camp or something (where, presumably, bathhouses might be in short supply), they're in the middle of the city of Rome! For crying out loud, could Mark Antony not have himself cleaned in the bathhouse like everyone else? And yes, I know this is Mark Antony, lover of sex, booze and the fun things in life, but really, even he had his limits.

I'm sure he and Boring Ex-Soldier talked about some stuff in this scene, but, well, I was distracted. I think Boring, still determined to commit suicide-by-politician, continued to whinge.

Servilia is worried that she doesn't look as good as she did eight years ago, while Atia, not bothered but such self-doubt, chooses a wig from a bunch of wige that look just like her hair.

Boring is worried no one will come to his party (probably because, firstly, he's very boring, and secondly, the city is under martial law in the middle of a civil war and people may not feel like partying). People do come though, unfortunately including Niobe's ex-lover, her brother-in-law. Boring wants to be a slave-trader, which seems a rather seedy trade for someone so obsessed with honour and so on. Niobe's sister is sulking at the sight of the baby and starts threatening to tell Boring everything, screaming that she loves her husband - funny way of showing it, dobbing him in to a trained killer. The sisters start fighting and break a pot. I'm pretty sure that's a bad omen of some kind.

Ceasar and Mark Antony are busy bribing an augur through the subtle means of suggesting they want to get his wife a birthday present (combined with some threats involving choking on oysters) - this does not impress Caesar's slave, who seems to feel the money is running out.

The pot breaking was indeed a bad omen, so bad that Boring has decided that the sister and her husband must never come again (this is fine by Niobe, of course). Pompey junior interrupts to call poor Niobe a trollop (does anyone just say hello to that poor woman?) and demand Pompey's money, which of course, Boring knows nothing about. Just as they're about to tortue Niobe to make him give it up, luckily for him, Dodgey Soldier turns up, splashing the very money about all over the place. He and Boring fight Pompey's men off but Boring insists that Dodgey must give the money to Caesar and orders him to do so, and Dodgey leaves in a huff with Pompey junior and the money (which was stolen from the treasury apparently, hence Boring feels it belongs to Caesar and Pompey thinks Caesar needs it).

Caesar sends Pompey junior back to his father with an offer of a truce and, though he thinks Dodgey is an idiot, rewards him anyway, partly for his help and partly because he thinks he's lucky. Caesar is in a very bad mood, and even whinges at Antony for disagreeing with him in front of others. Octavian wants to know what's going on, but quickly works out that Caesar intends to offer a truce Pompey can't accept. Just at that moment, Caesar suffers an epileptic fit, and his personal slave gets Octavian to help him to rush Caesar off to somewhere no one will see them. A slave notices Octavian shutting the door, but luckily puts it down to sexual preference rather than epilepsy (Romans were always spreading rumours about the sexual preferences of their leaders, but a disease like epilepsy would be a severe problem for someone needing to win the loyalty of thousands).

Meanwhile, Atia is trying to win the Wooden Spoon award by going on and on about how much Caesar loves Servilia in front of both Servilia and Caesar's wife, Calpurnia, both of whom refuse to rise to the bait, even though Atia has got some sexy dancers out just to rub it in. As they leave, Caesar tells Calpurnia he won't be coming home due to business, which she doesn't believe for a second, and rightly so. Atia is rather disappointed too, and actually weeps on Octavian's shoulder about how alone she is. You'd feel more sorry for her if she hadn't been in bed with Mark Antony that very morning.

Pompey and the others argue about the truce, which Cicero is in favour of and Cato is emphatically not. Dodgey comes to visit Boring for reasons unknown and overhears Niobe refusing to take her brother-in-law back because she loves Boring. Luckily, Dodgey decides not to take anything out on Niobe - presumably, he feels that Boring is better off knowing nothing about it, if she really loves him - but the rather insipid brother-in-law is in big trouble.

The episode ends with good auguries for Caesar. Bet that didn't surprise anyone either, then or now.

This episode is enjoyable enough, though it suffers from almost totally leaving history behind. The best bit was the very short scene between Caesar, Octavian and the slave. We know that Caesar will eventually adopt Octavian as his heir, which the series often doesn't seem to give much time to, even though it's of vital importance. More importantly, we are pretty confident that Caesar was epileptic, and we know that there were rumours about his sexuality all his life, from when he was young and befriended Nicomedes. The idea that a young boy seen helping him through an epileptic fit could be misunderstood as a sexual relationship is a perfect explanation of how these things fit together. Even better, for once, Rome chooses not to go for the salacious option, but to imply that at least one character was actually less sexually active than was commonly believed. This makes a pleasant change!


  1. Since Antony is a lover of sex, booze and the fun things in life, that really would have been another reason to go to a bathhouse. Oh, and Antony is also an ancestor of Nero's. In fact, if you look at it in terms of family as a Roman might have, Antony won in the long run. Most of the Julio-Claudians are his descendants.

    Caesar's epilepsy is not quite as certain as you make it out to be. The only references that would seem to point to it follow his being wounded in Africa (or was it Spain?) during the Civil War. It's entirely possible that it was a consequence of that wound and thus somewhat anachronistic here. (Not that that would bother the makers of this at all.)

  2. Suetonius 'Life of the deified Julius' 45 says he had 'falling sickness', Plutarch 'Life of Julius Caesar' 17 says he had epileptic fits. While this clearly does not mean it is 'certain' that he had epilepsy, it does mean that 'we are pretty confident' that he did, which is what I actually said. It is entirely possible that actually he suffered the consequences of a head wound, but the ancients thought it was epilepsy.

    And yes, I am aware that Mark Antony was the ancestor of Caligula, Claudius and Nero. The point about Domitius Ahenobarbus is that he's not known for much else.

  3. Given that I've often defended Suetonius, and that he is most reliable when it comes to Julius and Augustus, I guess I'll have to accept that.

    The thing I've always liked most about Ahenobarbus is the way he kept getting captured during the Civil War, and Caesar would just pat him on the head and send him on his way. You have to wonder just how much the Pomepeians trusted him after all that.

  4. Julius Caesar and Mithridates? Nicomedes of Bithynia, surely?

    I suspect the reason for Rome not taking the salacious route here is that it is gay salaciousness rather than hetero salaciousness.

  5. The comment's disappeared for some reason but @RWMG - yes, I did mean Nicomedes. I appear to have had a temporary brain malfunction and typed the wrong name - doh!


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