Rome: The Ram Has Touched the Wall

“In return for my generosity, Lucius Vorenus, I expect loyalty. Loyalty until death.”

The phrase “the ram has touched the wall” is attributed to the historical Mark Antony. He means a battering-ram, used to break through a wall or a gate of a city during war. The idea is that by the time they're ramming down the wall, city dwellers can no longer expect mercy. It’s too late (it may have always been too late). And in this episode we see Julius Caesar, and others, refusing to show mercy.

The episode opens with Pompey writing back to Caesar, with edits suggested by Cicero and others. Despite Caesar’s prediction at the end of the last episode and Pompey’s distaste, Pompey and his men are essentially accepting all of Caesar’s terms. This is because Caesar’s legions have been hounding the Pompeian faction. Pompey, without the gold that was lost in the previous episode, lacks the funds to raise armies.

Caesar, however, is displeased by the capitulation because he wants to crush Pompey. Given their acceptance of terms, continuing after Pompey would make Caesar appear a tyrant (of course, Caesar is a tyrant, but he does not want to look like one). So he uses an excuse, acting as if Pompey’s refusal to meet with Caesar is a gross insult that warrants war. In other words, no mercy. There’s one catch: while Caesar’s legions pursue Pompey and his men, Caesar himself remains in Rome to be with his mistress Servilia, to the annoyance of Mark Antony (who wants to fight) and Atia (who wants to be the first woman in Rome).

We move to household of Lucius Vorenus, with Titus Pullo sleeping on the stairs in the courtyard. Vorenus discovers that nearly all the slaves he brought to sell have died and that he’s broke instead of wealthy. He does a stint as a bodyguard for Erastes, the local mafia don, but is disgusted and quits. Broke, the ram having pierced the wall, Vorenus returns to Mark Antony. Antony can still use Vorenus but says that if Vorenus accepts his offer, Vorenus must remain loyal until death.

Atia hires Pullo as a male tutor for Octavian, deepening the bond between the two. Pullo asks for advice about Vorenus as he has no facts, only suspicions regarding the relationship between Vorenus’ wife Niobe and Niobe’s brother-in-law Evander. Pullo and Octavian track down Evander, determine that there was an affair, and that the child is theirs. They torture and kill Evander, again showing no mercy.

Calpurnia, borne on a litter as she and her husband Caesar traverse the city, is humiliated by obscene graffiti depicting her husband’s affair with Servilia. This is another example of the ram touching the wall – but in this case there are actual walls, while the ram can be interpreted as the freely depicted male genitalia. Calpurnia is angry and tells her husband to break off the affair or prepare for divorce. As the support of Calpurnia’s family is necessary Caesar cannot divorce her and breaks off the relationship with Servilia in the cruelest manner. 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' is apt for Servilia. Servilia discovers that Atia is behind the graffiti that ended her relationship with her lover. She curses both Caesar and his niece, showing that she also plans harsh punishment.

Caesar finally departs from Rome, leaving Mark Antony (against his will) in charge of the city, along with the 13th (so our heroes remain too). Pompey, however, evades Caesar’s wrath, for he and his men have fled to Greece. The ram may have touched the wall but Pompey has escaped through a secret passage, so that he (and the story of Rome) live another day.

Bits and pieces

Atia, when speaking of Titus Pullo, remarks on the strange names of the plebs. Her reaction makes sense as Pullo means chicken in Latin and Titus is giant – so the rough translation of Titus Pullo is giant chicken.

Naked body count: a couple unnamed male nudes at the baths, and lots of pictures of Servilia and Caesar.

Quotes

Cato: We are not men. We are worms.
Cicero: Worms is harsh. Worms cannot run away as speedily as we do.

Pompey: This is not surrender. Pompey Magnus does not surrender.

Caesar: Judicious use of mercy is worth 10,000 men. And if my last coin buys me a throne, it’s a fair price.

Caesar: They say slaves talk of bravery the way fish talk of flying.

Atia: It is high time you learned the masculine arts. How to fight and copulate and skin animals and so forth.

Octavian: The graveyards are full of middling swordsmen. Best to be no swordsman at all than a middling swordsman.

Octavian: It seems to me that suspicion alone is not reason enough to speak. Once spoken out the suspicion of such depravity is real enough to do the work of truth.

Pompey: How happy, eh, to be a slave. To have no will. To make no decisions. Driftwood. How very restful it must be.

Cicero (to Brutus): I do not have a grand shining old name like you. I must keep my name well-polished, else it looks very dull.

Vorenus: I’ve sold myself to a tyrant.
Niobe: Thank you.

Servilia: Gods of the inferno, let me see him suffer deeply and I will sacrifice to you.

Overall rating

This episode is intense as people reach their breaking points. In fact, in some bits I have reached my breaking point. I cannot re-watch Vorenus break the arm of the fellow who owes Erastes money, and I can neither re-watch nor re-listen to Octavian and Pullo torture and kill poor Evander. But I have a squeamish spirit, and perhaps the fact that I find those scenes so difficult is a testament to their authenticity. Life can be harsh and people can be cruel. I give the episode three spears out of four, but perhaps it merits more.

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

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