The bulk of this episode is about the Battle of Pharsalus, a real battle in which Caesar defeated Pompey and solidified his position as dictator of Rome. We see the preparation for the battle, but we also see Vorenus and Pullo, stranded on a desert island.
Pullo has an unshakable belief that they’re not going to die, because he isn’t meant to die in this way, but that doesn’t stop him from contemplating the mechanics of the afterlife. “Do you think they have a system,” he asks Vorenus, “For sorting people out?” Vorenus doesn’t know either, but supposes they must, because how else would you find your previously departed family? The series comments supply the tidbit that Romans of this period didn’t have a strong theory of what exactly happens in the afterlife, unlike Greeks and Egyptians. We do know they believed their ancestors watched over them, thus the Lares and Servillia’s lighted wax death masks.
Meanwhile, back at the battle preparations, Caesar prays and does a blood sacrifice, cutting the palm of his left hand. Vorenus did something similar while praying to Venus. I sort of understood it there; here I wonder if one would damage one’s hand, even one’s off hand, right before battle. The series comments assure us that this is perfectly Roman practice, but I’m still feeling skeptical.
Vorenus comes up with a notion to make a raft out of dead guys, who have all puffed up in the sun. I mention this only because Vorenus says “the Plutonic Aether inflates them”, which sounds like a very interesting bit of Roman medical theory to research.
Back in Rome, Octavia is praying quite fervently to Bona Dea, but perhaps not with the best hand position ever, and bare-headed as well. At least she’s standing up! This seems to be a different shrine than a Lararium, but I’m not completely sure on that. Atia, her mom, asks her why she needs to disturb the Gods with her ceaseless muttering, which is an interesting take on the effects and efficacy of praying.
In Caesar’s camp, Brutus and Cicero surrenders, and Caesar completely offends their Virtus by totally forgiving them instead of slaughtering them as dangerous enemies. No wonder Brutus is going to have to assassinate Caesar later! And Caesar doesn’t want to kill Vorenus and Pullo for letting Pompey go, because Caesar doesn’t want to offend the Powerful Gods that are clearly protecting them.
Then we’re off to Egypt, for Pompey to be assassinated. I worried a bit about what happened to Cornelia and the children after that. The actual Cornelia and the kids returned to Rome and were well treated by Caesar. I don’t know if they’ll show up in the show again, but I very much enjoyed the actress’s portrayal of Cornelia as a gentle, well-educated woman.