Rome: Heroes of the Republic

“My boy gave your man a whipping. Expect he knows what he’s doing.”

This opens in an upscale Jewish temple, with both Timon and his brother Levi saying prayers. This, however, is all we see of the Timon thread; I assume Timon and Atia have broken off their relationship. The episode then moves to a pair of soldiers squatting in the cold and wet, the cool weather informing us that they are in the north; hence, we are looking Mark Antony’s men. Antony shows up with a dead deer for dinner – not a very large one, so the actor can carry it by himself.

Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo are driving a cart with the children in the rear, are returning to the Aventine. They get stopped by Caesar’s men, and learn that the legions have come back to Rome. We learn that the Vorena girls are planning to run away, as they have no wish to be with their father, as they think he killed their mother.

Cicero calls Octavian Caesar a hero of the republic, but refuses a triumph to Caesar on three bases: (1) the victory was over other Romans; (2) Hirtius and Pansa, both dead, did a lot of the work; and (3) victory is not really complete as they’ve had to send Marcus Lepidus north with a pair of legion to hunt down. This is the first time for us to hear the name Lepidus, the third, less well known member of Rome’s second triumvirate. Caesar negotiates a consulship for himself instead, which is what he actually wanted, and reminds us how the young Octavian in the first episode distinguished between real and symbolic power. Note, too, how Maecenas assists, by considering yielding with respect to having no triumph, which was the opening for Caesar’s move to demanding the consulship. Cicero consents but still has no idea how dangerous Caesar truly is.

Vorenus and Pullo return to the tavern with the kids, who get a loving embrace from Eirene. Vorenus presents his children with all the bad stuff immediately (Vorenus will not tell a lie). Note that Gaia is with Mascius, the fellow who’s third in their hierarchy. Vorenus shows the kids his rooms, and for the first time in many episodes Vorenus actually smiles.

Octavia meets with Caesar and argues her mother’s case. Caesar still believes that Atia set Antony to beating him and brushes off his sister. This scene, in my opinion, did not work so well, possibly because I still have trouble with the character of Octavia.

Lyde, now a priestess of Orbona, visits her sister’s children. The kids are affectionate; later they will run away to her but Lyde will send them back. Eirene is having trouble; she’s too gentle to be in this place, and complains to Pullo: “Him you love. Me, no.” I was charmed by their exchange, especially as Pullo explains that if Vorenus and Eirene were both drowning in the river he would save Eirene first - in part because she’s so little – but Eirene does not understand the phrase “half his weight” – so Pullo’s gentle humor doesn’t bring a smile from her.

Atia goes to see her son and in a stunning move prostrates herself before him. Caesar forgives her.

The children, wearing wreaths of evergreen, get cleansed by bleeding a rooster. A lot of blood is smeared on Vorena the Elder who has been most sullied by the captivity. I think it’s interesting how many religions offer purification rituals. Most seem to involve blood, water or wine – but what else is there?

Lepidus is captured and agrees to act as Mark Antony’s second in command, as the alternative is death. Still, an oath made under duress is still an oath and Lepidus will keep his.

In the Senate, Cicero points out that many have died for the Republic and welcomes Gaius Octavian Caesar as the youngest consul ever. Caesar talks about returning to the more virtuous times – and how he wants retribution on Brutus and Cassius. Some of his soldiers enter, threatening the senators. Cicero is horrified by how he has enabled the new Caesar, and later sits alone in the empty Senate with his slave and confidant, Tyro, and dictates a letter to Brutus and Cassius.

Vorenus is fixing a broken toy when Gaia, who wants to sleep her way up the hierarchy, offers herself to the boss. Vorenus accepts but he insists on paying her afterwards in order to make clear there’s no relationship.

Moving from one sex scene to another we go to an orgy organized by Maecenas, where a disapproving Agrippa whisks away Octavia when Jocasta is not looking (leading to another humorous Jocasta moment when Jocasta cannot find her friend). Atia demands to know what is going on and Agrippa confesses his love for Octavia.

Cicero’s letter describing Octavian Caesar’s recent acts reaches Brutus and Cassius, and Cicero now calls them heroes of the Republic and asks them to save it.

Vorenus wants peace with the other gang leaders for the sake of the kids and the Consul. Accommodating Vorenus’ moods – formerly bloody, now peaceful – must be a pain, but he’s not a man you want to cross.

Cicero meets with Octavian Caesar to inform him that Brutus and Cassius are returning to Rome with 20 legions. Octavian has only four, which puts him at a significant disadvantage.

Finally Servilia appears in the episode, writing a letter to Brutus. She sends him his father’s ring, reminding him of their family’s historical position; an earlier Brutus was credited for killing the last Roman king, several centuries ago.

Antony not pleased by their situation; nor is Lepidus. Then Atia appears, like a queen dressed in amazing furs, and meets and sleeps with Antony. Octavian and Antony become allies; nothing like a common enemy to paper over differences!

After this we see a Vorenus family meal in which they all appear to be happy but Vorena the Elder has her hand in the position of a curse behind her back.

Titles musings. Cicero calls Octavian Caesar a hero of the republic but later applies that term to Brutus and Cassius. It’s a great phrase, and could let us explore the ideas of “the Republic” and “heroism” – except that the episode really doesn’t. Perhaps both are frequently illusions – the Republic probably rarely existed in its idyllic form, if ever. And although the human race has produced some real heroes, others claiming that label are not really heroic, but have had their reputations devised or propped up by propaganda. Still, the phrase is a good one and I can understand the creators selecting it as the episode's title.

Bits and pieces

Tripling up again on some of the credits.

Naked body count: Vorenus and Gaia, entertainers at a party (orgy) organized by Maecenas, Atia and Antony.

Mark Antony has not shaved possibly because it is cold but mostly because he is in mourning for the great losses he experienced in the last episode.

Octavian Caesar says Julius Caesar was stabbed 27 times but the official autopsy counted 23 wounds. I don’t know why they would change this as it has no impact on the story. Perhaps one of the creators of Rome liked three cubed?

Note that the younger two Vorenus children rarely speak. I think the young actors spoke no English.

Cassius calls Brutus brother. They were in fact brothers-in-law, although Rome has dispensed with Brutus’ three younger half-sisters (the third may have been an illegitimate daughter of Julius Caesar).

Quotes

Vorenus: Lie, you mean. Live dishonestly.
Pullo: Well, there’s lies and there’s lies.

Caesar: The purpose of a battle is to remain alive. They did not. I did.

Cicero: You are 19. You are too young to be a senator, let alone consul.
Caesar: I am well aware of my inexperience. I will not utter a word without your advice, your consent.

Cicero: He will wear the purple like he wears armor, like a child playing at grownups.

Atia: I gave birth to the ingrate. He will come to me.

Vorenus: If it’s justice you’re after, brother, you’re in the wrong place.

Eirene: Why do you leave me here with these bad people?

Antony: I must write Cicero and the Senate and thank them. It was remarkably generous of them to give me so many fresh troops.

Antony: Strictly speaking, of course, I should kill you.

Cicero: I’ve been outmaneuvered by a child.

Lyde: And for hatred you would lead your sister and brother out into the street?

Cicero: A war between you and Brutus would short and bloody and not to your advantage.

Overall Rating

The storylines are rich, plentiful, and few feel forced or awkward. We know lots of people now and they all had something interesting to do – thankfully skipping the Timon storyline (pointed out in the last episode that he was not a Roman, and as this series is called Rome, he doesn’t seem so germane to the plot). Three spears out of four.

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

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