August 11, 2007

Rome: Season One

Rome (HBO)HBO has created an amazing historical drama: Rome. Whatever they're doing to figure out how to make original content, they're doing it right. Season one of Rome follows the fall of the Roman republic and rise and then sudden fall of Gaius Julius Caesar, as well as the lives of two soldiers of the 13th legion during that same time. With characters from both the aristocracy and plebian classes, the series presents a really vibrant and wonderfully accurate picture of Roman civilization at the time. Of course many of the specifics of things are pure speculation and dramatization, but I don't think most people are in danger of taking those things at their face value. The only exception being the close relationship between Caesar and the two soldiers, Vorenus and Pullo, when there is no historical knowledge of such a relationship from what I know.

What is amazing is that no expense was spared in the production of this series. The sets are lavishly constructed to exacting detail on such a grand scale. The costumes, dirt, props, clothing, and everything else is realistically rebuilt as well as can be from historical documents. The designers and writers really did their homework, as can be seen from the situations and people and little things in every scene throughout each episode. The full religious influence and social and cultural aspects of Roman civilization reveal themselves all the time. And the actors are outstanding in their portrayal of the same.

It's important to keep in mind that means this show does not flinch from depicting many things that contemporary people would find offensive, disgusting, or even simply foolish. But ridding oneself of an ethnocentric view towards things is one of the best things a person can do. The DVDs come with a special feature "Roads to Rome" which changes the angle and will overlay informational tidbits in a pretty decorative box throughout the show, explaining words, phrases, situations, and other values of the time. Watching with this turned on can be very educational, and maybe even necessary for people who don't already have a background in Roman civilization. I say necessary because otherwise it could be very easy to dismiss things as there for the sake of drama or creative license, or to regard Roman civilization as barbarous when it was one of the most civilized.

I think that's what I really like about the series. It isn't shy about immersing the viewer in true Roman society while giving life to history in a facinating and entertaining way. I'd recommend taking a look at HBO's Rome Revealed presentations which are short introductions to some things Roman. A good starting point, but not really much in depth.

Of course, not everything is covered and there is argument over how Rome presents things. One of the things Luna picked up on was the contradiction between how people in the show seem to engage in sex all the time. Homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, and the nudity of performers and slaves don't match up with the severe stigma associated with adultery. There's also a history of incest in the families of some famous Romans like Caligula and in Rome between Octavian (later the first emperor Augustus) and his sister Octavia. Yet incest was very much taboo back then as it is today. But I think the show does a decent job of depicting how things really were behind closed doors, when the public face of things was very different. It's just that most of the time things are taking place behind closed doors, so it's harder to pick up on those aspects that represent how one must carry themself in public.

For more historical inaccuracies and errors, check out the extensive documentation on the individual episodes listed on Wikipedia. Click on the actual episode title for the information.

Posted by josuah at August 11, 2007 5:47 AM UTC+00:00

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