This weekend I watched all the episodes of the HBO series Rome for at least the fifth or sixth time.
The series begins with Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, and the first season concludes with the assassination of Caesar followed by the rise of the first Emperor Augustus, also known as Gaius Octavian. The second season of the series deals with the civil wars that followed Julius Caesar’s assassination, including the legendary romance of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, the last Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt.
Rome primarily chronicles the lives and deeds of the rich, powerful and historically significant, but also focuses on the lives, fortunes, families and acquaintances of two common men: Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, two Roman soldiers mentioned in Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico.
The series’ historical consultant Jonathan Stamp notes that the show aims for “authenticity” rather than “accuracy.” The filmmakers stressed that they wanted to portray a more accurate picture of Rome, a gritty and realistic city based on modern day Bombay, as opposed to what they call the “Hollyrome” presentation that audiences are used to from other films, with “cleanliness and marble and togas that looked pressed.” There are therefore numerous inaccuracies in the series’ representation of various historical events and personages.
Historians say that Cleopatra was not the glamorous beauty that the movies have depicted; it is her personality that was said to have made her memory so alluring. Mark Antony is said not to have been the great military genius so often portrayed. Two thousand years after the actual historical events, and polluted by the dramatic inventions of William Shakespeare, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and countless other mythmakers, it is impossible to cite any one source for an accurate portrayal of the true story. But a book published in 2010 by British author and historian Adrian Goldsworthy attempts to do just that.
Goldsworthy, author of Antony and Cleopatra, describes the couple’s true story in this appearance on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and why so much of what we know about them is wrong.
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