Friday, September 23, 2005

The Tragedy of Pompey

I've been watching and enjoying HBO's "Rome." Lots of drama, gore, intrigue, and flesh--just as cable TV should be. The show presents the Romans as they were: glory seeking, superstitious, greedy, duty bound, honorable, and licentious. Incidentally, the American founding fathers were well versed in Roman history, and our form of government was designed to prevent the rise of a military dictator supported by the masses.

The thought struck me that Pompey gets the short end of the stick again. There was a mini-series on network TV during the summer that covered, in a much tamer and less cynical manner, the events leading to the end of the Roman Republic and rise of the Empire, and Pompey didn't come off too well (though Cicero gets a sympathetic role as a supporter of young Octavian).

Pompey goes down in history as the Richard Nixon of the Roman Republic: an indecisive loser. The record though tells a much different story. The first would be his full name, Pompey Magnus --the great--an honor bestowed by a thankful nation. He had been instrumental in ending a revolt in Spain, crushed pirates in the Mediterranean, and he had an interest in building theaters as well. Pompey had three triumphs in Rome, pretty much a record back then. Caesar thought so highly of Pompey, to the point where after Pompey's ignoble death, Caesar had him deified.

Still Caesar gets all the press, not to mention the plays and movies, but there is a play about Pompey written by the poet Masefield:


Steve said...
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Steve said...

Do you think Pompey would have been more famous in the public mind if Shakespeare had written a play about him? It seems to me that the Bard did much to shape our vision of what the Roman world was like.