Rome: Deus Empedito Esuritori Nullus (No God Can Stop a Hungry Man)

“Oh, you selfish bastard, it’s me who’s dying, not you. It’s not you who’s being punished, it’s me.”

The episode opens with Lucius Vorena dreaming of his late wife Niobe. Reality is harsher; he’s in bed with an Egyptian prostitute. He puts on his clothes and goes to work, pushing through a crowd (you can sense how hot it is), and in the palace greets Posca who is lounging about, smoking something or other.

Mark Antony and Cleopatra are hosting a delegation from Rome’s Senate, who have come to negotiate an increase in grain shipments. The senators need this because people in Rome are starving. That fact is contrasted with the decadence of Alexandria displayed through outrageous (and hideous) clothing, jewels, makeup, and their entertainment in killing a slave dressed up as a deer. Antony’s demands are extreme because he wants to provoke Octavian into declaring war on him. He brags to the delegation that Romans love him more than they do Octavian.

The twins (Helios and Selene) show up briefly, letting viewers know that at this point Antony and Cleopatra have been together for years.

We move from Cleopatra to Gaia who is in bed with Titus Pullo. The starving mob is outside; Pullo goes out to calm them as best he can. We catch glimpses of Vorena the Elder wearing the outfit of a priestess, Mascius on crutches, and a caged, tongueless Memmio, who is being kept alive to remind the other men to be honest (but actually being saved to drive the plot later). Now we know what happened to these characters since the previous episode.

Pullo visits Octavian to ask about getting more grain for the mob. The nobility decide to help by sending three legions to Africa for Lepidus to feed. Octavian is displeased to learn that he’s being held responsible, instead of Antony, for the grain shortages.

We move after this to a young child, Antonia, the daughter of Octavia. Atia still pines for Antony; she had a feeling that today was the day when something would finally happen. And something does happen; they are summoned by Octavian to dinner who wants his mother and sister to go to Egypt to see Antony. I like how Atia and Octavia make sure they get paid for going; Atia does not reveal to her son how much she still misses Antony.

We are then forced to watch gratuitous, slapping sex between Octavian and Livia, where she hits him (not he her, as promised earlier, hinting at a possible reversal in their roles). Afterwards she speculates on Octavian’s motives for sending his mother and sister to Egypt (so the audience understands, too). He says, “Good night my dear,” and turns away – but does not close his eyes.

The episode then shows Octavia and Atia on the ship. Atia wonders if she has changed, reminiscent of Servilia’s wondering the same thing when Julius Caesar returned from Gaul. Octavia, who is extremely seasick, is not consoling. Their roles have changed, a nice touch.

Posca discovers that the ship with Atia and Octavia has arrived and warns Antony and Cleopatra. Antony realizes that this gambit is designed to chip away at his popularity with the people. Cleopatra is willing to host them but Antony refuses, because he doesn’t want to humiliate Atia further. Then Cleopatra recommends killing Atia and Octavia - but Antony refuses that as well. Cleopatra and Antony end up having a huge physical fight.

Octavia and Atia go to the palace doors on litters where they are forced to sit in front of closed doors. My favorite bit of the episode is when Jocasta – always a humorous element – comes out to say hello to Octavia and Atia, followed by Posca coming out to fetch her, as her clueless greeting to the ladies from Rome is a violation of the policy to keep the palace doors firmly shut. Eventually Vorenus is tasked by Antony to tell the Roman women to go away, as soon as the winds allow.

Jocasta and Posca decide to take advantage of the ship about to return to Rome. As they prepare to depart they are discovered by Vorenus. Posca pretends at first only to planning a walk, but then urges Vorenus to come with them. Vorenus refuses because of his oath to Antony – but asks Posca to give a message to Pullo to kiss his children for him (at which point I teared up). Posca and Jocasta go to the ship; I love Jocasta’s grin as Atia and Octavia gaze at her with stupefaction. Posca and Jocasta make an adorable couple; they seemed an odd pairing originally but they really work.

Vorenus delivers the message from Octavia to Antony (but actually lies, showing that he has changed some, and says he does not know where Posca is). Vorenus says Antony has a disease – he recognizes it because has the same sickness. These are men who yearn for home, although when they were in Rome both were bored.

Atia, upon her return to Rome, slaps Octavian for arranging her humiliation, then tells her son to destroy Antony. Posca shows up too, and makes himself welcome to Octavian by bringing the last will and testament of Antony and Cleopatra with its shocking, unpatriotic contents; it will be used to destroy Antony’s popularity in Rome.

Octavian asks Pullo to go with him to Alexandria, saying that some deaths are inevitable: Antony and Caesarion. As Pullo is the real father of Caesarion (in Rome, not in history) he’s eager to protect his son. He meets with Vorenus’ children before he goes, who still resent their father for the death of their mother. Pullo, while preparing to go, is attacked by Memmio who has escaped his cage. Gaia saves Pullo but is wounded herself. On her deathbed she confesses to murdering Eirene, so Pullo strangles her. I liked how cold his eyes turned when he understood. We see him dump her body in a swamp at the end.

Title musings. Deus Empedito Esuritori Nullus (No God Can Stop a Hungry Man) is a really long title; I can’t even pronounce the first part. It obviously refers to the people in Rome, who are hungry. But I don’t think it works for the rest of the episode. Who else is hungry, even metaphorically? Atia? Octavian? Even Antony is too debauched to care.

Bits and pieces

Evidently Rome did all that they could to simulate the actual speech of ancient Egyptian, working with experts and Coptic dialects.

Naked body count: Egyptian prostitute, hint at Vorenus, Gaia hint at Pullo, Livia and Octavian having sex, glimpses of Cleopatra and Antony.

Cleopatra’s outfit in the beginning, with the metallic bikini top, reminds me too much of Princess Leia with Jabba the Hutt. Not good.

Rome shows the twins of Antony and Cleopatra, but they actually had three children. The third was a younger son, Ptolemy.

Rome shows only one daughter of Antony and Octavia, but they had two daughters together.

Posca, a fictional character, did not steal the last will and testament of Mark Antony, but the contents have basis in reality. In the Donations of Alexandria, Cleopatra and Antony declared their intentions to make Caesarion and their three children into rulers of various countries in the East. The Donations were not secret; Antony tried to get the Senate to ratify them. They were, as Rome indicates, the reason for his loss of popularity in Rome.

Quotes

Posca: I value my life, such as it is. It’s not cowardice. Who would look after my wife?

Antony: When I return home, it will be as a savior, not as a conqueror.

Pullo: I forget sometimes what a cold-hearted bitch you really are.

Pullo: If I do as you ask and open the granaries, you’ll be well fed today and starving tomorrow.

Maecenas: You heard Pullo. You might as well declare war on wine and song.

Atia: You’ve become very mean, you know. Mean and bitter.
Octavia: You’ve become girlish and sentimental. It’s disgusting, frankly.

Vorenus: He was a good man to have as a friend. You wouldn’t want him as an enemy.

Cleopatra: Play the queen? I am the queen!

Vorenus: I’ve been ordered by Triumvir Mark Antony to escort you back to your ship and to make sure you leave Alexandria as soon as the wind allows.

Octavia: You tell my husband he’s cowardly scum.

Pullo: It’s a war, not a shopping trip.

Overall rating

I appreciated the tales of two cities, and I got a hoot out of Jocasta and Posca, but in Egypt there was too much lounging about. I don’t think they were so dissolute; running Egypt took work. And, ugh, some of this episode’s costumes: Cleopatra’s Star Wars ensemble and Mark Antony’s pink dress are two outfits that should never been allowed on screen. I also disliked the physical fighting between couples: Livia and Octavian, and Cleopatra and Antony. I was glad to see the end of Gaia but her dying confession felt improbable. Two 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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