Rome: These Being the Words of Marcus Tullius Cicero

“Please, go on. Make your threats. I don’t like to submit to mere implication.”

Lucius Vorenus is in a bad way. He's still haunted by the death of his wife, in which the haunting is so literal that the actor who plays Niobe gets to show up. When Vorenus walks onto the balcony overlooking the tavern, his presence is such a downer that everyone falls silent. And Vorenus can be vicious, as we see in his interactions with others. Members of another gang (Carbo and Memmio) meet with him and ask for permission to punish a fellow named Quintus, who used Carbo’s nephew. But as Carbo’s nephew took money for the deed, Vorenus categorically denies the request, despite Pullo’s attempt to find a compromise.

Octavia is learning to smoke hemp with a new friend, Jocasta, who has been introduced for some comic relief, a necessity as the rest of our characters are so serious and glum and Rome tries to leaven the mood. Jocasta bought the hemp in Macedonia; she describes the province to Atia, making the latter determined not to go there, even though Mark Antony was planning to become its governor after his consulship ends. Atia’s preference is not based just on the description of the boondocks of Macedonia, however, but on how it weakens Antony's position. He resists her argument at first but then decides he wants the governorship of Gaul.

This leads us to the best scene of the episode: the conversation between Antony and Cicero. Antony wants the province of Gaul to be awarded him by the Senate; Cicero resists because then Antony would be on Rome’s doorstep with his loyal legions, in position to invade Rome just as Julius Caesar did. Antony shows his contempt for Cicero by pissing in the potted plant and by finally threatening Cicero.

We have a few fragments of scenes: Castor buggering Duro; Timon discovering his brother Levi teaching his kids how to read Hebrew, and Lyde with her nieces and nephew in captivity.

Quintus is castrated by Carbo’s men, eventually leading to a rift between Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo. Pullo – a vicious killer, yes, but a man who loves his friend deeply – finally lets it slip that for Vorenus' sake he killed Evander, the man who once slept with Niobe. This means that Pullo knew all along that Niobe had been unfaithful, which upsets Vorenus terribly, and he even accuses Pullo of sleeping with Niobe. Eventually Vorenus attacks Pullo physically; the two warriors have a knock-down-drag-out fight which ends up with Pullo limping away leaning on his wife Eirene while Vorenus, the cursed man, lies alone on the floor, refusing all assistance.

Agrippa comes to Rome and visits Atia’s house to give messages from Octavian, now known as Caesar. He sees Octavia, who looks like a goddess, all draped in white playing a lyre. Atia realizes that Agrippa has come to Rome to deliver a message from Caesar to Cicero in order to get Cicero’s support.

Duro, a slave, grabs a snack in Atia’s kitchen, so we can meet the young cook, Althea. Then he sneaks off to Servilia’s where we learn he is a spy, actually an assassin, hired to murder Atia. The problem is that Servilia refuses to murder Octavia (her former lover) at the same time, so the project is taking a while. He demands a kiss from Servilia, which I suppose is meant to shock, but I think is really odd.

We finally get to see Brutus and Cassius in the east, trying to raise money for new armies. Brutus tries to convince himself that he has done nobly by helping to kill Caesar, but I do like how he is challenged – how much courage does it take to stab someone after a dozen others have done so? Brutus, like Cicero, cannot respect himself, and does not even have the respect of those around him. Eventually Brutus undergoes a sort of baptism. With the beard and the robes he looks rather Christ-like, a deliberate directorial choice, although Brutus is praying to a different deity.

Lyde escapes. Cicero leaves town in a sumptuous litter, but leaves a letter that insults Antony in terms so vile that Antony kills the poor fellow reading it.

Three months pass. The news reader informs us that Antony is now fighting in Gaul and that Caesar is fighting against him. Pullo and Eirene return to make peace with Vorenus. Pullo learns, however, that Vorenus went north with Antony - in an earlier episode, Antony demanded Vorenus’ loyalty for life – and wonders why the gods told him to go back to Rome when Vorenus was gone. Then Lyde shows up and tells Pullo that Vorenus’ children are alive. Pullo has a raison d’ĂȘtre after all.

At the end we see that the soup being served to Atia was poisoned.

Title musings. Cicero’s words, as he attacks Mark Antony in the most vicious manner possible, show him finally taking a stand. We must remember that Cicero fought with words, and by saying these things – or leaving them to another to say, but still putting his name on them – he is risking his life (not so much in this episode, but certainly in general). Others, also desperate, make moves that are bold for them: Brutus regains his courage, Pullo leaves but comes back, and Lyde when she sneaks out of the slave caravan and runs back to Rome for help.

Bits and pieces

Naked body count: Castor and Duro (implied), backside of Carbo. Implied Antony and Atia in bath. Brutus as he bathes while praying to Janus. Many male buttocks.

Rather like the Hebrew temple with the candelabra woven into the wall-hanging.

Love the large fan used to keep Mark Antony cool.

Mark Antony pisses into the potted plant next to Cicero. Now, that’s a way to show contempt!

Carbo gets taken down in a public toilet. Rome did a great job with these; they look very like the ones you can find in Pompeii. I’ve always wondered: did women use them too?

David Bamber makes a terrific Cicero.

Quotes

Carbo: Wrong fucking answer.

Vorenus: My man doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.

Jocasta: The men are overly fond of fucking their sheep. And when you meet the women, you can hardly blame them.

Atia: Once you’re gone from Italy, your enemies will not fear you and you will be powerless to strike at them.

Atia: You have a wolf by the ears; you cannot let go of him now.

Levi: Not everybody looks like what they are.

Mark Antony: You do not want to seem cowardly. Well, tell them I bribed you! Would you accept a bribe?
Cicero: I would not.

Agrippa: Your little brother has an army 10,000 strong.

Servilia: Address me by my name again and I’ll have your tongue nailed to a wagon wheel.

Atia: You’re late again.
Antony: Simply revise your expectations, my dear, and I will always be early.

Antony: Let us hear the words of mighty Cicero.

Senator: Please listen as if you were sober and intelligent and not a drink-sodden, sex-addled wreck.

Overall rating

Some of the episode feels fragmented, and there were a couple of scenes I did not like – Servilia and Duro kissing, really? – but others that I appreciated very much. Three spears out of four.

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

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