Rome: Kalends of February

“So, you see, the tyrant is dead, the Republic restored and you are alone. Would you like some honey water?”

The episode opens with street actors showing the recent fight of Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus as the pair battled off Pullo’s would-be executioners. This is a great way to remind viewers of what happened at the end of the previous episode while letting us know how much Romans admire their deeds.

Pullo, unaware of his celebrity, is recovering in a hospital outside the city. He wakes to find himself being sketched by an artist, who informs him that he’s the talk of the town and guaranteed popularity with the ladies. Always ready for ladies, Pullo escapes the hospital, steals a horse and heads towards Rome, but collapses outside the walls. Strangers find him and take him to Vorenus’ house.

Vorenus and Niobe are outside the city, as their new land is consecrated via a ceremony that requires them to pretend to make love in a field. They return to find Pullo in their house. Pullo’s tied firmly to the bed to prevent him from running off again. Eirene, Pullo’s former slave, considers murdering him because Pullo killed her lover in a fit of jealousy. Pullo tells Eirene that he deserves it – but when she hesitates, she says it’s OK with him if she doesn’t kill him too. I admit I rather like this bit: Pullo's a violent criminal but also a charmer with his own sense of honor.

When he’s a bit better, Pullo tries to find himself some fun by escaping from Vorenus – but he sees Eirene when he comes back and turns away the woman who he was planning to bed.

The nobles are dealing with their own problems. Julius Caesar is now dictator for life with plans for Rome: public works and a whole bunch of new senators - the latter step is particularly degrading for most of our patricians. Caesar is aware that his real enemies are mostly other senators, so he chooses Vorenus as one of the new senators, to keep the ferocious soldier at his side.

Those planning to assassinate Caesar consider this development. The assassins do not want to kill Vorenus, as he is popular with the people, a fearsome warrior, and because their principles dictate that they kill only Caesar. They are at an impasse until Servilia recalls that Vorenus’ wife cheated on him and decides to use this fact, finally paying off an earlier plot thread that I still dislike - the liaison between Servilia and Octavia.

The Ides of March arrives. Pullo decides to go into the country to ask forgiveness from a particular goddess; he invites Eirene to accompany him. Caesar heads to the Senate, accompanied by Vorenus and Mark Antony. In separate moves, both Antony and Vorenus are pulled aside. Vorenus learns that Niobe is the mother of his grandson and he heads home to confront her. She admits the truth – after all, she thought Vorenus was dead. She backs out of the window before he can kill her and dies when she hits the ground. The last sight of Vorenus for the season is of him holding his dead wife, while his wife’s son looks on.

Servilia invites Atia to her house; Atia goes with Octavian. In a menacing scene, Servilia finally triumphs, telling Atia that Caesar has just been murdered. I appreciate the show’s following two threads simultaneously: Atia being threatened by Servilia while we see parts of the assassins’ plan being executed.

The murder of Caesar and the aftermath is bloody and a little awkward. It’s funny how sometimes you can feel that what you're watching is real and other times you are aware that you're observing actors on sets. I kept thinking "actors on a set" during this, so either the writing, acting or directing must have been a little off.

After the stabbing, Mark Antony enters, sees what has happened and backs out, aware that his own life is in peril. So for many of our characters – the Caesar faction and Vorenus and his family – life has taken terrible turns. Caesar is dead and so is Niobe.

But for Pullo, life is improving. He makes an offering at a shrine and afterwards Eirene takes his hand, indicating that she has forgiven him.

Title musings: The title “Kalends of February” evokes the phrase “Ides of March” – the latter being the day on which Caesar was stabbed to death by senators. February is the month before, and the kalends (also written calends, and the source of the word calendar) is the first day of the month, originally having been the day of the new moon. (The ides were the 13th or the 15th of the month, the actual number depending on the month itself.) The kalends were the day on which a new phase began – a new moon. Also the day that debts were to be paid. Idea in the episode is that the decision to assassinate Caesar gathered force about six weeks before it happened: with Caesar being declared dictator for life and with the addition of so many foreign senators. It's an awkward title, though, as we can tell with all the extra syllables and necessary explanation.

Bits and Pieces:

Love the map rug. Don’t know whether or not they actually had these.

We see some happiness chez Vorenus: Pullo and Vorenus laughing, and that being appreciated by Niobe and Vorena the elder. Also the parents counsel their daughter about love and marriage.

Calpurnia has bad dreams. So does Niobe.

Thought the death masks of the Junii were fantastic, very eerie.

Naked body count: did not notice any.

In the background at some point, the Romans are installing one of the obelisks taken from Egypt. This was a tremendous engineering feat.

Have always found it interesting that Cicero was not one of the assassins, but history tells us that he was not. Why was he excluded, even though his sympathies were with the assassins? Perhaps the assassins did not consider Cicero competent with a blade, or perhaps they wanted him to be clean, so that he - the cleverest lawyer of his time - could work to clear their names afterwards.

According to the autopsy report - perhaps one of the first - Caesar was stabbed as many as 23 times and took a long time to actually die. Only one wound was considered fatal. The word "forensic" comes from this particular autopsy. It was delivered before the Forum and the word "forensic" means before the Forum.

Quotes:

Artist: If you were in the city I don’t think there’s a lady wouldn’t open her doors for the mighty Titus Pullo.

Caesar: If I were to punish you I would make the people extremely angry. I do not want to make the people angry, ergo I cannot punish you. If I cannot punish you, I must reward you, else I would seem weak.

Cicero: Build another temple! Kill someone! The people are so easy to please.

Caesar: I wish the Senate to be made of the best men in Italy, not just the richest old men in Rome.

Caesar: Guards can keep my enemies away, they can do nothing about my friends.

Caesar: All these years together and it still surprises you that I can tie my sandals.

Brutus: This is not some cheap murder! It is an honorable thing that we do and it must be done honorably. In daylight. On the Senate floor. With our own hand. With my hand.

Vorenus: Dresses and jewels are not trivial. They show others that your people are rich and powerful and that you are loved and protected and valued.

Niobe: Love doesn’t come unbidden, you have to work for her. Strange marriage it would be if you loved him from the start.

Calpurnia: There’s always more to be done. To what end?

Pullo: You think she might? Forgive me?

Newsreader: Senate in session today. No assemblies in the vicinity. No gaming. No prostitution. May all the gods bless our sacrosanct father: Gaius Julius Caesar.

Overall rating:

Everyone knows what is going to happen: Caesar will die. But how it happens is well done. When Servilia threatens Atia I actually get chills, and my hackles rise, as do Mark Antony’s, as he enters the chamber and discovers what has happened. There are also excellent exchanges between Pullo and Eirene as well as a heart-rending exchange between Niobe and Vorenus. I like, too, how Rome reminds us that lesser-knowns impact the course of events as well. If Vorenus had stayed by Caesar’s side, Caesar would not have been assassinated. Of course, Rome is fiction and Vorenus was not acting as a bodyguard and senator. But who knows what trivial events played roles in things that took place – and prevented others from occurring? Three and a half out of four spears.

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

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

Congratulations on finishing season one, Victoria!