May 18, 2011 at 1:00 am (Courage, HBO Rome, Virtus)
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This episode’s theme was redemption, but of course there will be no redemption for Gaius Julius Caesar. Several characters hit rock bottom– Vorenus is reduced to bribing his fellow former brother soldiers into submission to Caesar’s plans, Pullo is out being a killer for hire and Brutus has finally realized what a total puppet he is.
Pullo’s redemption starts when he sacrifices and prays in his cell before being led away to the gladiatorial ring to pay for his crimes. Vorenus’s redemption comes full circle there, when he throws himself into the ring for the honor of the Legio XIII, and to support his brother Pullo. The scene where they leave the gladiatorial ring together is one of the most touching moments in the series. Brutus, meanwhile, is pushed beyond his ability to cope by Caesar’s “request” that he quit the city and become mayor of some far off place. He realizes that Caesar does not trust him because he has become untrustworthy, not because he has acted against Caesar but because he hasn’t acted in accordance with his own conscience. Of all the redemptive moments, I think Brutus’s is the weakest because Brutus of HBO Rome is a weak man. He has principals, but he doesn’t truly have the virtus to support them.
Pullo’s redemption is fullest because he can admit to himself where he’s gone wrong. His last prayer in the cell is for his friends and the woman he loves, not for himself. However far away from the light he’s wandered, he is at heart a truly good guy, perhaps one of only two characters in the series (the other being Octavia) who has that interior nobility. Vorenus is still very conflicted between honor and duty, and that conflict will most likely destroy him.
Octavian, who I have been worrying about, got his moment too when he goes against Caesar’s wishes to try to hire a lawyer for Pullo. This bit of defiance and doing what’s right instead of what’s politically expedient makes me think much more highly of this character. He’s still a bit problematic in certain aspects compared to the actual Octavian Augustus Caesar, but he’s coming along. Only one episode to go for Season One!
May 17, 2011 at 5:19 pm (moderatio)
Moderatio is the word from which we get our English word, moderation. It means governance or control, guidance, regulation. For Aristotle, the concept of moderation is central to the entire notion of “virtue”, since he said that virtue itself is having neither an excess nor a deficit of a trait. Ancient Romans adored Greek philosophy, and moderation was a key Greek virtue. Entire branches of philosophical thought, such as Epicureanism, were based on the ideal of moderation.
As modern people, we tend to think of moderation in terms of temperance. Like Aristotle, we define being moderate by being not too extreme and by not under or overdoing things. To be moderate is to be “in the middle” and to strive for balance in our actions. Epicurus is one of the progenitors of the Wiccan idea of “do no harm”, and many people who consider themselves moderates embrace a similar notion. Moderates view extreme behavior as being harmful to people and society, and tend towards a “live and let live” ethic. Unfortunately, I think this can be a too passive form of moderation.
I think the Romans would have viewed moderatio primarily through the lens of self-control. To practice moderatio would be to actively practice self-regulation. It’s one thing to be moderate when it’s convenient or expedient to do so, and another to practice it actively. If the point of moderation is to avoid harm, then simply sinking into passive inaction and calling it moderate behavior won’t suffice. True moderation requires active self-governance, and taking action when needed, either by restraining one’s actions or by doing something to correct the unbalanced situation.
- Moderation (dragonflyhouse.wordpress.com)
- Ancient Greek Philosophy (hoanhdao.wordpress.com)
April 25, 2011 at 7:31 pm (Fides, HBO Rome, Virtus)
Both Cato and Scipio commit suicide at the beginning of this episode, hard to watch even though they’re very much portrayed as the “bad guys” here. It really drives home how, by Roman standards, they feel as though their honor is completely irredeemable after their defeat at the battle of Utica. Back in Rome, Caesar watches a satiric play of it all and does not seem amused. He has been, of course, thwarted in his ability to forgive Cato and Scipio (and by doing so humiliate them all the more), but also I suspect that he thinks this satiric take-down lessens his own glorious victory.
It’s interesting commentary on period Roman mores. Although modern people also don’t find much honor in defeat, we also have ideas about being a gracious loser and living to fight another day that would be a bit foreign to the Romans. Some of the largest amount of internal conflict we see is with Brutus, who is horrified at himself for having not killed himself, which he feels would have been more honorable than surrendering to and deferring to Caesar. His mother is clearly displeased with him as well, feeling that his actions shame his family name.
Cicero says something, either in this episode or maybe back a couple, about how he has to be more careful of his family name and keep it “polished up” more than Brutus needs do with his, as Cicero doesn’t come from as old and noble a family line as Brutus. Not disgracing the family name is more important than personal survival. A grim and sobering POV indeed!
April 11, 2011 at 3:42 pm (Courage, Fortitude, Virtues, Virtus)
Virtus, the Roman Deity (sometimes god, sometimes goddess)
I was going to do a post on Fortitude as a Roman correlate to the modern virtue of Courage. Then I realized that while this is a perfectly common gloss in translation, in reality the virtue of Courage as it’s commonly thought of today falls more into the realm of Virtus.
Fortitude implies a courage of the sort of a steadfastness of character which is perhaps closer to the Roman virtue of Severitas, while Virtus is about valor, excellence, and the like. I suppose that Virtus is probably a bit less palatable to a modern audience because of the “vir” thing (manliness), but I think, as a feminist, that I can support manliness both in myself and others.
The Virtus form of Courage is important because it is vital; it is the courage to act. If we are going to be the heroes of our own stories and accomplish what we need with our lives, we need the Virtus sort of courage along with the Fortitude sort to help us stay the course. Perhaps for our modern lives what we need is a blend of Virtus and Fortitude.