Rome, the series

Mr. Bookworm and I just finished watching the second and last season of Rome, the series.  At the IMDB link I just gave, 7,600 viewers gave it a staggeringly high rating of 9.2 out of 10 — and, I think, deservedly so.  Zhombre suggested that I start a thread on the show, and I think that’s a good idea.  To get it going, here’s his original comment, and my response:

[Zhombre]  We ought to start a thread on Rome, the series.  I watched every episode.  It was a Sunday night ritual.  Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus (who actually do make cameo appearances in the historical record) were vivid characters as portrayed by Ray Stevenson & Kevin McKidd.  The problem I had with the series is that it departed from historical accuracy, acceptable for a drama, but veered into the lurid, even misogynist.

[Bookworm]   I think it kept to the big picture, Z. I also think it did a very good job of showing how similar and yet how different Rome was. We know so much about it, and we trace so many Republican ideas to Rome, and yet, as the historical expert said on one of the first season discs, they were completely amoral as we understand morality. Indeed, to the extent they were driven by honor, they were closer to the Arab or Eastern societies, where “face” matters, more than doing the right thing. Also, even though Roman women had more rights than any other ancient women but for Jewish women, it was a misogynistic society.

Having said that, by the second season, I think the producers/directors/writers were getting carried away with depicting how lurid it was. Stamp, the historical expert, did say, though, that the Egyptian court as Antony and Cleopatra declined was an exceptionally debauched place, and that Caesar Augustus used the effeminacy of Antony’s new sensuality (as opposed to just being a Roman stud), as part of the justification for turning on him.

My friends, take it from here….


13 Responses

  1. We don’t get HBO, but a few months ago I found the entire first season in the library. It was in demand, so we could only keep it for one week. We watched several episodes per night – total immersion. Will do the same when the library gets season two.

  2. I can’t say I am attracted to the debauchery. True, it sounds like Hollywood partying all night or whatever, but I was always more interested in the battlefield tactics, strategy, political intrigue, and historical wars, Book. How much of that, is in it?

    It’s funny. If people give so high a rating to Rome, why then don’t they study classic Roman and Greek history rather than waiting for movies like 300 to come out? 75% of the reason I didn’t enjoy that movie is because I knew 99.9% of what happened and what would happen. Even the un-historical parts.

  3. 300 was fun, but not as fun as I think others who didn’t know jack about the history, saw it as. Which I found strangely regretful and not.

  4. Thank you, Book. Wow, and I’d decided to be courteous and let BW have the last word. Well, I have to agree that the series did convey the otherness of an ancient society (as I think Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto did too), even though we are indebted to Roman civilization. I’ve always tried to keep in mind that the Western world we live in is, in its roots, as much Graeco-Roman as Judeo-Christian; that the origin of words like democracy and republic is Greek and Latin, not Aramaic. But I digress. I thought Rome the HBO series did a fine job of capturing the unpoliced, disorderly yet vibrant streets of plebian Rome (imagine no zoning, no street signs, no city planning, no police force, no mayor, no BCE Rudy Giuliani to enforce zero tolerance on petty crime), and also the elegance of patrician homes too. What was problematic for me was the dramatic license taken with the historical record, especially in depicting the female characters (Atia, though played well by Polly Walker, was not the venal and promiscuous alpha bitch portrayed in the series) and those depictions tended toward the lurid and misogynist, more tabloid than Tacitus. And yeah, Y, in the last few months I’ve finished bios of Cicero and Augustus and a book about Thermopylae by Paul Cartledge, and I enjoyed the movie 300 too with unabashed pleasure. Go Spartans!

  5. Hey Y, did you ever see Spartacus, 1960 movie direct by Stanley Kubrick? As I recall it had a climactic battle scene near the end that showed the Roman legions maneuvering for battle like a force of nature.

  6. Z, I think so. At least I keep remembering watching a technicolor production of “I am Spartacus” covering such. I also watched the 1962 version of Thermopylae, which had some interesting tid bits. More realistic tidbits perhaps.

    Z, did you watch 300 before or after reading the historical account?

    And if people are wondering why I’m hitting on history, it is because of VDH. I know for a fact that most people are told anything about ancient times. In point of fact, what most people learn is the Dark Ages and the European age of feudalism. Without learning of the Ancients, folks won’t know anything about where logic came from or where the Enlightenment came from, and if they don’t know that, then they sure as heck won’t understand what the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence were based upon. Instead, most people will regress back to “feudalism”, like the scientific patronage system we got over Global Warming at this time, if all they know of the past is dark, damp, and despair.

  7. Tacitus… wasn’t he the guy that went on and on about how the wife of Belisarius would have orgies and what not?

  8. Y: I read the book after watching the movie. And wasn’t Don Belsarius the TV producer who was married to Linda Evans?

  9. Z, you’re absolutely right about both Atia and your criticism could be expanded to cover Servilia (Brutus’ mother) who was also a model of Roman feminine virtues and, if I recall correctly, died peacefully. The really ragingly bad Roman females came after Caesar Augustus and my goodness were they awful: duplicitous, violent and murderous. The TV show took liberties by transferring the characters of those later females onto the early ones, which was a disservice to the good memory of Atia and Servilia, but did make for more soap opera-y (and more audience attractive) story lines.

    Y, your point about people watching the shows without caring about the history is an interesting one. If I watch a historically based show or read a historical novel, and don’t know about the history, the first thing I do afterwards is get a history book. That is, the first piques my interest, so I check out the second. Perhaps that is what others are doing. As it is, if I know the history going in, I tend to be very critical of TV/movie recreations. With Rome, I don’t know if it’s that I’ve forgotten a lot of my Roman history (studied in college) or if the series was so good I was willing to forgive deviations from history — either way, I enjoyed it without being too jaundiced a viewer.

  10. Yes, Book, couldn’t agree more. The series transposed the excesses of later imperial Rome in those female characters and thus trashed republican virtues of earlier Rome. But it made for good TV! I suppose the idea of faithful and dignified Roman wives and mothers aren’t as exciting as presenting nasty she-wolves, which may be more a comment on contemporary tastes than about Roman history.

  11. Y, your point about people watching the shows without caring about the history is an interesting one.

    No, rather my point is that people are obviously interested by such things, yet their disadvantage is that they were never educated in such. Which shows that deleting classical education was not a choice made by individuals, but by those seeking to prevent individuals from wielding the tools that might endanger the educators. (re-educators)

    There may be some people that don’t think much about the history after watching such movies, but nothing could help those in the first place. I am more concerned with those that are interested but don’t think to find out because they were taught never to find out what went on historically.

    My hostility is not directed towards people who choose to remain ignorant, as those who indoctrinated people to choose to remain ignorant.

  12. If soap dramas didn’t make for good tv, then surely it would have passed into history by now.

  13. Book, did you have any luck with Serenity or Babylon5 movie: In the Beginning?

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