Or orgies, obviously, but I figured I'd be a bit cautious with the title - after all, I also review children's literature on this blog.
At the CA conference this week, Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, Jo Paul and Monica Cyrino delivered a fascinating panel on the history of orgies on screen. Lloyd pointed out that the tradition of the screen orgy started with Biblical films' portrayals of Babylon, but became part of popular culture's view of Rome through early films like The Sign of the Cross, focused on Nero's court. (None of the orgies popular culture is so fond of are really historical - there are some rumours about exciting goings-on during Bacchic rituals and some Greek vases depict scenes of group sex at drinking parties, but nothing to match the institutionalised orgy film and TV like to imagine existed in Rome. If there ever were that many orgies, they probably took place in Greece, that's where the pots come from).
These days the orgy is found most often, though not exclusively, in a Roman setting, and it's practically obligatory to include one in any film or TV series aimed at anyone over the age of fifteen (there are no orgies in The Roman Mysteries, I'm glad to say. Just a couple of people 'very kissing'). These five are some of the most interesting, extreme or plain funny.
5. Rome, 'Heroes of the Republic'
Context: While Octavian is busy taking over the world, his friend Maecenas and his sister Octavia are living it up at what is, perhaps surprisingly, Rome's only full-on Roman orgy.
Any historical basis to it? No, not really. Maecenas was pretty fond of poetry and probably of parties, but orgies is taking it a bit far.
No Sex Please, We're British! Romans usually speak The Queen's Latin, so the Roman orgy is in some ways an example of British characters engaging in all sorts of sexual naughtiness combined with excessive luxury, just without the need to pretend it didn't happen the next morning. In this particular case, however, although sex seems to be happening, it isn't really the main point of the scene. The focus is more on the orgy as a conduit for teenage rebellion, and rather than sleeping with the other guests, Octavia is indulging in drugs that seem to have a similar effect to LSD (the walls are melting). It's really more of a hippie vibe than the usual orgy - free love and sex is definitely happening, but the drugs and general air of letting go are more important for the development of Octavia's character.
Should I RSVP? It doesn't look that exciting a party, really. The best thing about this orgy, and the reason it makes the list, is the scene that follows, as Agrippa drags Octavia home and she has to admit 'I was at an orgy, Mother.'
4. True Blood, 'Shake and Fingerpop' and season 2 in general
Context: Maryann the several-thousand-year-old maenad exerts her influence over nearly everyone in the town of Bon Temps, causing them to put in black contact lenses and have lots of fully naked outdoors sex with each other.
Any historical basis to it? More than most, as there were various rumours about what maenads got up to and they had a bit of a reputation. The ancients probably exaggerated though, for the same reasons we do, and since the cult of Bacchus/Dionysus was a mystery cult, we'll never know for sure.
No Sex Please, We're British! These aren't British, they're American (though presumably Maryann was originally Greek). And they have lots and lots of sex. There's so much nudity you become immune to it pretty quickly and the whole thing has a rather nasty, cheap feel, made worse by the fact that, since they don't know what they're doing and haven't given consent, the whole town is essentially being raped together.
Should I RSVP? Depends on your preferences, really. If you'd like to have sex with several of your neighbours in someone's back garden, sure. Otherwise, no.
3. Chelmsford 123, 'Peeled Grapes and Pedicures'
Context: The Britons have heard about the feast of Saturnalia, and decide it's time to enjoy some of the benefits of being occupied by the Romans.
Any historical basis to it? The Saturnalia was an opportunity for drinking, feasting and giving the slaves a night off, but the Romans were no more likely to use it as an excuse for a sex party than modern Westerners are to decide to indulge in a key party for Christmas.
No Sex Please, We're British! Actually, lots of sex please, we're British! This episode exploits the other side of the British-Sex-Stereotypes coin, drawing on the tradition of drunken British louts and losers out to get some that comes from 1960s sex comedies, 1980s and 1990s laddish comedies and, well, the behaviour of quite a lot of British young people in Ibiza. This episode is as much about British tropes as Roman ones, which makes it quite a nice subversion of the tradition of the orgy, in a way. And a British sit-com set in ancient Rome could hardly avoid having an orgy at some point.
Should I RSVP? Not if you're a Roman, as Badvok will take advantage of the holiday to depose you and make himself King.
2. Spartacus Blood and Sand, 'The Red Serpent' onwards
Context: We meet Batiatus and Lucretia, in the middle of an orgy. The first of many.
Any historical basis to it? There's no evidence pointing to lanistas using their homes as party-houses/very cheap brothels in an attempt to get more sponsorship for their gladiators, no. On the other hand, there's not much evidence about lanistas' private lies at all, as the elite authors weren't all that interested in them, so who knows?
No Sex Please, We're British! There's lots of sex. Lots and lots and lots of sex. Interestingly, in the prequel series Gods of the Arena, we see a much more contained Lucretia and Batiatus, more likely to engage in a private threesome with only their slaves to watch, and Lucretia displays extreme reluctance when ordered to pimp out her slaves to rich callers as if she was a madam and they were prostitutes. The rape of her slaves is also depicted as thoroughly unpleasant. In this first season, though, the slaves are used all the time with little concern for their welfare and Lucretia and Batiatus seem quite happy for their home to resemble a brothel. This seems to be a combination of in-story character development (Lucretia and Batiatus are slowly increasingly corrupted in their desperate attempts to satisfy their ambitions) and external show-running (perhaps it occurred to the writers that they really ought to take the constant sexual abuse of the slave characters a bit more seriously).
Should I RSVP? Again, it depends on your tastes. If you're a slave, you're probably better off slaughtering Batiatus and his family and starting a rebellion.
1. I, Claudius, 'Hail Who?'
Context: Caligula, increasingly unbalanced, opens a brothel in the Imperial Palace. Attendance is mandatory.
Any historical basis to it? Suetonius says Caligula opened a brothel in the Palace to make money. But to be fair, Suetonius says a lot of things. He's a big old gossip.
No Sex Please, We're British! There's lots of sex (shown through kissing and the removal of clothes, because this is the 1970s, but you get the gist). Not everyone is happy about it though.
(Dis)Honourable mention: I haven't seen Caligula. I'm sure the orgies in that film are... quite something.
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