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Okay, so I can’t actually recommend that anybody rush out and rent Season One of Rome – I find the graphic depictions of sex problematic, much moreso than, say, The Sopranos. Lots of eye-averting at Casa Godsbody. It’s a pity, really – I Claudius managed to depict decadence in all its fleshy indulgence, yet steered clear of coitus on camera.

BUT, that’s not what this post is about. This post is about why Rome is so much more interesting than Troy. Well, one of the reasons. Or rather, a bunch of them: gods. No, Rome doesn’t feature meetings in the heavens, a la Clash of the Titans, but it does feature religion as it functions in the lives of people, and a host of differing attitudes towards it. (Troy seemed to take a scalpel to that part of the Iliad.) You’ve got Marc Anthony, who clearly doesn’t believe in any of it, tolerates religion as a formal show. You’ve got Pullo, who prays when it suits him, has no use for priests, and is willing to blaspheme when the gods don’t perform. You’ve got Caesar, who clearly doesn’t think much of religion – he bribes the chief auger – but who sacrifices to the gods when he needs help, and who spares Varenus’ life because Varenus seems to have “powerful gods on his side.” And you’ve got Varenus, who’s straight-up pious. Honors the priests, honors the gods – even has faith in them.

And those are just the men. The women also sacrifice – and almost more interestingly, they make curses. When they cannot act for themselves, they ask the gods to strike for them.

Rome is that much stronger, that much richer, for its willingness to treat religion as a real part of human life, and to present a world in which certain events could be interpreted, by those with eyes to see, as being signs of divine action.


  1. Matthew,

    You hit upon something here: the Romans took the notion of divinity a half-a-baby step closer to the incarnate godhood when they innovated on the Greek Gods: adding, among my favorite, Janus, unheard of among the Greeks (they come sorta close – but on a less quotidian basis – with Chronos, that “god’s god” who fathers Zeus, Posiedon, Hades, etc. In the full tilt of empire, their lares – household and kitchen gods are no longer quite in the shadows anymore, but become real forces of influence (St. Augustine, would of course say that with so much decadence comes a closer association with the demons – which I’m willing to acknowledge.)

    So, between the philosophical groundwork of the refined and popularized stoicism of the Romans and their bringing the gods within the portals and lintels of the commonfolk, when St. Peter came whistling down the road, savage Caesars aside, it’s no wonder Christianity found such a welcome among the Romans…



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