Rome: Egeria

“Now the cat barks at the dog, and Pompey is chasing me.”

Most of this episode is set in Rome, where our heroes, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo have been forced to stay, along with a discontented Mark Antony. In general, people are not as happy as they expected to be. The house of Vorenus is disturbed by the grief of Niobe’s sister, whose husband is missing. Niobe, who feels guilty, will not make love to her own husband while Lyde is so desperate – and this bothers Vorenus (who even gets drunk).

Mark Antony is administering the city, a task that bores him and compels him to behave outrageously. He forces the most senior remaining senator to enact a bill for Caesar’s benefit, giving more employment to freed people, instead of just using slaves. We can view this as an attack on the one percent; income inequality was as great a problem in ancient Rome as it is today.

Pullo tells Lyde (and Niobe) that Evander is dead (Pullo, having killed Evander, should know). Afterwards Lyde leaves, cursing Niobe. Afterwards Niobe takes Pullo’s advice and makes love to Vorenus. It is lovely to see them content together.

Pullo has been engaged by Atia to train Octavian in manly arts. In addition to teaching sword fighting, he escorts Octavian to a high-class brothel where he chooses a young slave for his first sexual encounter.

News finally comes from Caesar, who is anxious about his position in Greece. While avoiding a fight, Pompey was raising legions in the east, so now Caesar’s army is badly outnumbered. Caesar seems destined to lose, and the allies of Caesar could face severe retribution. Mark Antony is not sure whether to take the 13th to Greece or to remain in Rome and save his own neck. Vorenus, of course, is troubled by Antony's lack of loyalty.

Atia, too, is terrified for her family’s safety; she proposes to Mark Antony that they marry. She wants protection; in return she offers him money and rank. He’s pretty insulting considering that he was considering not going to Greece. Afterwards, Atia is in despair. Certain that Antony and Caesar will lose, Atia appeals to Servilia for protection – using Octavia as her emissary – and sends her son out of the city. Mark Antony leaves with his legion. The episode ends with a terrible storm at sea, Pullo and Vorenus about to be washed overboard.

Title musings: Egeria, the title of this episode, is the name of the young prostitute with whom Octavian first has sex. The name also means female advisor. I can’t find much in the episode emphasizing feminine counsel, although Atia does her best to protect herself and her children. And the fact that Octavian has sex for the first time is entertaining but not very important. However, the few words that Egeria utters are interesting: “Rome take me very young. Kill mother, father, brother. Take me.” Her words exemplify Rome’s tendency to consume just about everyone: from the slaves and plebs to the patricians and Senators. Octavian briefly feels pity for her, but what she describes is the way of the world; he penetrates her anyway.

Still, I’m not sure about this interpretation of the title; I feel as if the writers could not find anything better and settled on the name of an obscure character. As she appears nowhere else, using her name as the title distinguishes this episode from others, but is that enough?

Bits and pieces

Mark Antony did have a stint administering Rome, but the writers are sometimes loose with timing.

Naked body count: an enormous, red-painted Bona Dea, Lucius Vorenus being washed by Niobe, Niobe and Lucius coupling, a few scantily clad prostitutes, Egeria, Antony and Atia, and a completely nude but highly decorated male slave as a present for Servilia.

Ancient Rome had enormous problems with wealth inequality (though some studies maintain that it is worse today).

Egeria resembles Octavia.

The real Mark Antony had other wives, excluded from this series. And the real Atia was married to another.

Octavian really does not like to be touched, which can explain his reluctance to penetrate someone. This fastidiousness feels right for his character.

Quotes

Vorenus: You shouldn’t thank slaves. It’s bad for discipline.

Mark Antony: Left me here to quibble and scribble like a damned civilian.

Lyde: It’s too late for sorry, isn’t it?

Niobe: The calendar is correct if you’d like to have me tonight. (This was how a woman could offer herself to her husband.)

Atia: What’s the point in plain? We shall take it.

Atia: You will penetrate someone today, or I will burn your wretched books in the yard.

Octavian (speaking of sex): If there is nothing to it, then why is such a fuss made of the thing?

Pullo: First timer. Nothing too savory.

Vorenus: I have sworn loyalty to a man of no honor.
Niobe: Thank you.

Antony: Arithmetic has no mercy.

Atia: A large penis is always welcome.

Overall Rating

The theme is not as focused during this episode, which may be why I had trouble understanding the choice of the title. I’m also not particularly interested in the marital troubles of Vorenus and Niobe – although I acknowledge they are necessary for the future of the plot. What I do like is how fortunes keep changing. In the last episode, Julius Caesar was supreme; now he appears about to be vanquished in Greece, and that can affect everyone associated with Rome. Two and a half spears out of four.

Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

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