Magazine article The Spectator

Rome, Sweet Rome

Magazine article The Spectator

Rome, Sweet Rome

Article excerpt

For some time now I have been aware that there was something badly wrong with my life without ever being quite able to put my finger on exactly what. Now, having watched Rome (BBC2, Wednesday), I know: I was born in the wrong place, 1,953 years too late.

Take religion. I don't wish to knock my beloved Chelsea Old Church but I'd be lying if I pretended that it answered all my spiritual needs. I'm superstitious. I do kind of believe that there are lots of other minigods and spirits out there besides the main one. I'm constantly looking for signs and portents. I touch walls to ward off evil when I walk down corridors. I like tradition and extravagant ceremony. Now how cool would it be if you lived in a time where, say, your son was going on a dangerous journey, and you could find out whether he was going to live or die by the following means: suspend a huge black ox in a cage above your kneeling naked body;

have the beast flayed by slaves and then its heart ripped out by priests; take a long shower in its hot, dark, pumping blood?

Then there's sex. Of course, I love my wife and she's very beautiful. But that has never stopped me wishing to shag pretty much every even remotely attractive female I ever meet, and I do find it a tremendous bore that one isn't supposed to do so. In Rome, though, in AD52 I could have had my end away all the time:

with the wives of my social inferiors; with slave girls; with shepherdesses that I happened to be riding past and with whom I fancied a quick one up against a tree, while my cavalry escort dutifully looked in the opposite direction.

And war, obviously. You all know by now about this hang-up I have, forever thinking meanly of myself for not having been a soldier. Well, in Ancient Rome, it wouldn't have been an option. Of course I would have been a warrior; of course I would have been a fine horseman. And I would have been so superior to the opposition that, say there was just me and a mate on foot and armed with only short stabbing swords against a party of a dozen brigands armed with bows and arrows, well, we'd stride up to them and have 'em, easy.

Quite a few critics have been hedging their bets about Rome but I'm not going to: I think it's utterly fab and so long as it maintains the intricately plotted, sex-, gore- and violence-studded standards of the first episode, that'll be my Wednesday post-Pilates treat sorted for the next eight weeks.

But how historically accurate is it?

Perhaps Peter Jones will correct me if I'm wrong here, but I personally doubt that, if Caesar had just had his gold eagle kidnapped, he would have sent only two of his soldiers into barbarian country to retrieve it. I don't think these tension-raising dramatic cheats matter, though, any more than I'm bothered by the way the dialogue veers between cod-Shakespearean ('Bring him back safe or I'll use the eyes of your children for beads) and EastEnders ('Brutus, me old cock, what are you doing here? …

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