Rome: Stealing from Saturn

“I wish to buy their allegiance outright, not lease it.”

This episode is about money. The big sum in question is Rome’s treasury, which went missing in the previous episode.

The hour opens with a torture scene in Pompey’s camp and Pompey’s faction discussing the whereabouts of the gold. They determine the last men with the gold were Julius Caesar’s scouts (our two heroes, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo). As Pompey knows that Caesar himself does not have the gold, he assumes that Caesar’s scouts took it. Pompey sends a group of men, headed by his son, Quintus, to Rome to locate these scouts and to get the money from them.

In Rome, Caesar is shoring up his position, by requesting a blessing from the gods for his treasonous acts, while his slave, Posca, warns how low their funds are. He also arranges for a party at the house of his niece Atia to repair relations with city’s remaining nobles. Vorenus is likewise planning a party, because he’s starting a business whose opening must be celebrated with a feast. We can see the difference between the upper and lower classes as preparations proceed at both levels. Both levels grumble about the expense, not surprising, as they have chosen to entertain when people are insecure and supplies uncertain.

Mark Antony tries to get Vorenus to sign back up in the legion, and offers a substantial bonus and promotion. Vorenus, deeply offended by Caesar’s march on the city, and currently with other means of support, declines. But when Caesar and Antony bribe the Chief Augur at Atia’s party, the augur is not offended but negotiates for more. This shows another difference between the patricians and the plebs: those who are elevated know when to bend and to accept bribes, while those lower down do not. Antony basically calls Vorenus a fool for holding on to principles that are obsolete.

Vorenus’ party is marred by the behavior of Niobe’s sister Lyde, who resents the affair between her husband and her sister. Lyde drinks, dances, and breaks the Janus statue – an appalling omen that abruptly ends those festivities. As Vorenus and Niobe sweep up the shards, Quintus and his men arrive, demanding the treasury money. Vorenus does not know what is going on. While knives are held to their throats, Pullo, who has the money, shows up. He causes a distraction by throwing a handful of coins into the air (another use of money). This gives Pullo and Vorenus the opportunity to fight off the attackers and to take Quintus hostage.

Vorenus tells Pullo to go to Caesar and return the treasury money. Pullo argues, but Vorenus points out that they would never get away with it. So Pullo takes Quintus to Atia’s house, and explains to Caesar about the gold. This is the opportunity Caesar needed – without it, he would have to murder and confiscate the fortunes of rich men, something that would cost him his popularity. Caesar sends Quintus back to Pompey with an offer of truce.

As sometimes happens with parties, some people feel more alone and sad than ever. Already depressed, Lyde and Octavia drink. Vorenus and Niobe are horrified by the ill omen. Caesar sends his wife Calpurnia home by herself. Atia weeps, despairing about how alone she is; her son Octavian attempts to comfort her. The one person who is satisfied after the party is Servilia, visited by her long-absent lover Caesar.

The episode contains several other critical threads. Octavia wonders if her mother arranged for her ex-husband to be killed. Caesar has an epileptic fit, and is assisted by Posca and Octavian both to get him through it and to keep the condition secret. Pullo witnesses Evander trying to sweet-talk Niobe and senses a threat to Vorenus. Pompey and Cato are against the truce offered by Caesar, but the others (Brutus, Scipio and Cicero) are sorely tempted. The Chief Augur earns his bribe by arranging for birds to fly in the right spot so that Caesar’s deeds are deemed blessed.

The episode shows how inconvenient it is to have no money, but how having too much is also dangerous. Some people are better placed to handle more. The reward Caesar gives to Pullo is what Pullo can handle.

Title musings: Saturn is the father of Jupiter. Saturn was a wretched father, as he swallowed Jupiter’s siblings to keep them from taking power. Anyway, the Temple of Saturn housed the Roman treasury and was only to be used in the direst of emergencies.

Caesar accuses Pullo of stealing, but of course Caesar is doing the same – not only more deliberately, as he knows where the money came from, but far more successfully. In theft, as in rebellion, much is forgiven when you succeed.

Bits and pieces

In the credits, the episodes alternate between listing Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson first.

Pompey had no son called Quintus, but he’s a useful addition to the plot. The actor is also small enough for Ray Stevenson (Pullo) to carry without difficulty.

Love the meeting between two slaves, Posca (who belongs to Caesar) and Castor (who belongs to Atia).

The same newsreader continues crying out the edicts in the Forum, despite the change in leadership. Either that position was apolitical, or he’s too great an actor to replace. Or both!

Naked body count: Mark Antony, being scraped down with a strigil, and a dancer at Atia’s party.

Atia has a fabulous collection of wigs!

The poetry Octavia recites is from Virgil’s The Aeneid, composed as an homage to the alleged ancestry of the Caesars. However, it was not written until at least two decades later.

According to history the treasury was left behind by Pompey when he fled from Rome, and Caesar did use the money to secure his position.

Quotes

Pompey: We are not refugees. We are maneuvering.

Cicero: Screaming makes poor sauce.

Pompey: Without the gold, he (Caesar) will have to use violence. Once he starts spilling blood, the people will turn on him with a vengeance. Without the people, he has nothing.

Posca: Slave of a rebel!
Castor: A successful rebel, at least.

Posca: A very fancy guest list. Every aristo and optimate left in the city.
Castor: He’s not planning on killing them, is he?
Posca: I should not think so.

Mark Antony: Things change. Life is water, not stone.

Servilia: What did I look like eight years ago?
Eleni: Eight years of leathery Gallic trollops. When did he last see a real lady, hmm?

Posca: We must kill some rich men and take their money very soon or else the well will run dry.

Caesar (to Atia, Octavia and Octavian): Please, you mock me, it’s only your Uncle Gaius. Lift your heads. All of you – lift your heads!

Erastes: Handy to have cash in these uncertain times. A man can’t flee with his house and fields.

Posca: Thinks he’s Midas, the loon.

Vorenus: An omen is an omen. This is as bad as they come. No point in throwing money at it.

Vorenus: An order! Damn you, my house was invaded and my wife near killed on your account.

Caesar: I do not like to quarrel with Fortune, and clearly she’s taken you for a pet.

Caesar: By the by, Antony, never question my judgment in the presence of our enemies.

Pompey: I must disarm? I? I am lawful Consul of Rome. He is a criminal.

Overall rating

This episode is excellent, with a good pace, crisp dialogue and clear themes. Unlike the first episode, Octavian’s precociousness as he analyzes how Caesar’s offer of truce will divide Pompey’s men, is far more reasonable. Three 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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