HBO’s Rome: It’s No Lesbos


Atia, the master manipulator and sexual siren, is clearly one of the most open “shadow rulers” on the series. She doesn’t hesitate to use her sexuality and her cunning to get what she wants; nor does she let her maternal instincts prevent her from using her children to further her own goals. In one of the most visually—and viscerally—stunning scenes in the first episode, Atia kneels beneath a sacrificial ox and bathes in the blood that comes streaming down upon her when it is killed.

The image of Atia, breasts heaving, beneath this crimson shower, is both arresting and shocking—more so than the several other instances in which she is naked, either bathing or having sex. It positions her as closely aligned to her “natural” state: earthy, bloody, feminine.

It’s not clear yet how the other women in the series will shape up as “shadow rulers.” Servilia so far has done little more than play the part of a loving mistress, and Niobe hasn’t even appeared yet. Will these women appear to govern from places of emotion rather than reason, as is typically suggested of women in leadership positions? Will their shadowy leadership be respected or will their plans be thrown into chaos when their men dismiss them as mere females?

Atia’s daughter, Octavia, doesn’t seem to be vying for the position of “shadow ruler” in the first episode; all she has done is obey her mother and allow Pompey to have sex with her against her will.

But Octavia is the one female character who is definitely going to have a same-sex adventure.

When actress Kerry Condon spoke to The Scotsman last August, she admitted that the nude scenes were difficult for her at first. “The hardest bit,” she said, “is knowing that my family will watch, but my mum came out to see me once when I was filming a lesbian sex scene, and she just chose to stay in my dressing room.” (Which does beg the question, would her mum have watched if Condon was filming a straight sex scene? Um, probably not.)

We don’t know if her lesbian sex scene was enacted for the benefit of a male character—we’ll have to tune in to find out—but given the tone of the series so far, it’s likely to be as brash and bold as possible. After all, this is HBO, the channel that brought us Sex and the City and The Sopranos.

Women, gay or straight, are not going to be at the center of a series set in ancient Rome that is based on the lives of men. The women in the series will be beautiful, manipulative, virginal, or seductive, but they will always be defined by their relationships with men. Nevertheless, a series that gives its central female character a blood bath on its first episode might go further than expected in exploring the lives of Roman women.

Then again, I do love a bloodthirsty historical epic—and on that note, Rome definitely delivers.

Visit the official site of HBO's Rome

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