The Pagans of Rome


If the past is a foreign country, then ancient religion may be its most exotic locale. The HBO series “Rome,” which returns for its second season on Sunday, is hardly “Fodor’s Guide to Paganism,” but by venturing off some well-worn cinematic paths, the show has given the worship of the gods a generous treatment in a genre dominated by stories of gladiators and the advent of Christ…

Departing from traditional portrayals of the ancient superpower going back to Shakespeare, which tended to focus on the intrigues of the upper classes, “Rome” splits its narrative between the power brokers of the period and the daily lives of two lower-class soldiers, Pullo and Lucius Vorenus.

Daily life for Romans included a strong measure of religion, and Heller says it was clear early in his research for the show that its omnipresence meant that matters of faith had to play a major role in the series.

“You couldn’t really explain individual psychology and character without explaining something of their sense of religion and their cosmological sense,” Heller says. “If you think you’re going to disappear into nothingness when you die, you behave very different from someone who believes that they may be wafted up to the Elysian Fields if they please the gods.”


The dvd of the first season is coming up in our Netflix queue soon, maybe this week (we don’t have even broadcast TV, much less cable or premium channels). I’ll have to let you know our opinion after we’ve seen it. Looks promising.


Since we don’t get HBO, DW gave me the first season on DVD as a Christmas present. Religion is shown throughout the series and the prayers the people utter are in Latin and understandable to us pre-V II types. Religion includes the ceremonies of the nobility and the house altars of the common soldiers.

From an historical point of view, the series is simply awesome. There is great attention to detail including one of my pet peeves - stirrups. (Stirrups weren’t invented until the early Middle Ages). No one rides with stirrups.

The amorality and immorality of this series is astounding. The nobility reminds me of Hollywood. One of the soldiers is completely amoral. Another is virtuous. No different from today.

Be warned, there is nudity and sex in this series. It is not gratuitous but it is not for children or adolescents. It is presented as it existed in the culture of the era. It is violent as well.

What the series did for me was to serve as a profound counterpoint as to precisely why Our Lord came into this world. Octavian is a young teenager in the series. He will be Caesar Augustus when Our Lord is born.

The parallels between the ancient world and today’s modern world are staggering.

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