Reflections - Part V - Problems with Roman Tales

warning: these sections may feature nudity and sexually explicit and violent  text and images
do not view if you may be offended

one of the main problems of historical fiction is that  those creating it tend to insert our present into their past - and it just appears 'stupid'.

Stories, plays and films, set in ancient times, have a considerable allure for authors, playwrights and directors.
Firstly, it must be admitted, that such projects are 'fun' - usually much more exciting and interesting than contemporary subjects.
Then there is the aspect of nudity and sex.
The ancients, and particularly the Romans, at the period that the 'Story of Gracchus' is set, were a pre-Christian society, with very few sexual 'hang-ups' (although there were some), with regard to nudity and sexuality.
This can be quite 'liberating' for an author (as long as he is not censored), as such aspects are not only natural and normal to life, but also are usually very much appreciated and sought after by the intended audience.
Ancient Roman society also allows many unusual and exciting twists and turns in plotting, (if handled thoughtfully, and with care),
In a strange way, the people in that society were very free to act on their inclinations and desire.
It is, of course, very easy to go 'over the top' - for example:...............

Atia of the Julii
looking very 21st Century
in the HOB Serie of 'Rome', Atia of the Julii, apparently the niece of Julius Caesar and mother of Octavian/Augustus and Octavia, 'kidnaps' her arch rival Servilia of the Junii, (who is praying in the Temple of Isis - not only a completely illegal act, but also a deeply sacrilegious one), and imprisons and tortures her in what appears to be the 'dungeon' in the town house of the Julii. This is carried out by her 'pet' thug, Timon - a Jew - and we are led to believe that she, an aristocrat of the one the richest and most prestigious families in Rome, is prepared to have sexual relations with this 'circumcised' foreigner (the fact that he is circumcised makes this totally out of the question for a Roman aristocratic woman, let alone a pleb) - while at the same time 'sleeping' with Marcus Antonius. Interestingly, Atia is very loosely based on the historical figure Atia Balba Caesonia, about whom very little is known - which is, of course useful if you want a 'rolliking good plot' - even if it is complete fantasy.

the Jew Timon - Servilia (hanging) - Atia looking on - lesbian sadomasochism ?
This just might make good TV - but is, in every single detail - ridiculous.
It is, of course, not historical fiction, but rather, historical fantasy.
It was, however, possible for people - and not just patricians - to 'get away with murder', as there was, in most of the Empire, no police force as we would understand the concept, and it was up to individuals to investigate and report crimes and, in addition, there was no 'public prosecution service', so individuals were required to arrange and fund their own prosecutions.
Not only could people in ancient Roman society 'get away with murder', and much else, they could also drastically change their social status - both upward and downward.
If they were unlucky enough to be captured in war then they could find themselves enslaved, and in the case of young men, find themselves fighting, or performing in other ways, in the arena.
The same might happen if they were captured by bandits, on the road (no police force...), or pirates at sea.
This, of course, forms the basis of the 'Story of Gracchus', with Marcus, a Roman citizen, losing his parents, and being sold into slavery by pirates - the scourge of the Mediterranean.
This was a common theme in ancient Greek and Roman drama and literature, but is rarely found in modern stories of the ancient world.
Which brings us to one of the main problems with ancient 'Roman Tales' of the 20th and 21st Centuries.
Most of these works seem to be mainly concerned with the lives and deeds of the rich, powerful, and historically significant.
This is fine, if sometimes a little tedious, but the problems arise when attempts are made to weave into the plot 'low life' characters - a particular problem in the HOB series -'Rome'
In historical books and plays of the 19th Century these 'low life' characters were almost always professedly Christian, and their main task in the plot was to point out how 'nasty' the pagan Romans were, particularly the rich and the powerful.
Roman Governor - obviously 'nasty' as he's bald
In most cases, of course, these 'holier than thou', and extremely annoying characters came to a very sticky, or often smokey end - and it is difficult not to think that such an end was well deserved.
The authors of such plots, though, did not intend us to think that the rich and powerful pagan Romans, usually a crazed emperor or Governor, were probably well rid of such problematic individuals - who, for some strange reason, would not sacrifice a pinch of incense to the gods - or join in a good orgy.
There was always the presumption that their death would lead to a new and a better world.
In fact the Christians, as Gibbon rightly declares, were, in the main part, responsible for the downfall of one of the greatest and most sophisticated societies and cultures the world has ever known.
'The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' (sometimes shortened to 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire') is a book of history written by the English historian Edward Gibbon, which traces the trajectory of Western civilization from the height of the Roman Empire to the fall of Byzantium. Because of its relative objectivity and heavy use of primary sources, unusual at the time, its methodology became a model for later historians. This led to Gibbon being called the first "modern historian of ancient Rome". Gibbon portrayed Paganism as tolerant, and Christianity as intolerant. 'The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosophers as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful. As Christianity advances, disasters befall the Roman empire - arts, science, literature, decay -barbarism and all its revolting concomitants are the consequences of its decisive triumph.'
'The Robe'

'The Robe' is a good, and late example, of a piece of historical fiction which is less concerned with Roman history, culture and mores, and is really a polemic on the evils of paganism, and an unashamed exaltation of the message of Christianity.
Lloyd Cassel Douglas
Published in 1942, and written by Lloyd C. Douglas, surprisingly the book was one of the best-selling titles of the 1940s.
It entered the 'New York Times Best Seller' list in October 1942, and four weeks later rose to No. 1.
It held the position for nearly a year.
'The Robe' remained on the list for another two years, returning several other times over the next several years including when the appalling, but lavish, film adaptation (featuring a young, but even then 'stagey' Richard Burton, in an early role) was released in 1953.
There was a film sequel known as 'Demetrius and the Gladiators', starring Victor Mature as the title character  (Marcellus' slave) who fights in 'the Roman arena' - like there was only one !
The arena (amphitheater), of course has the size and appearance of the then unbuilt Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheater) in Rome.
Lloyd Cassel Douglas (August 27, 1877 – February 13, 1951) born Doya (?) C. Douglas, was an American minister and author. He was born in Columbia City, Indiana, spent part of his boyhood in Monroeville, Indiana, Wilmot, Indiana and Florence, Kentucky, where his father, Alexander Jackson Douglas, was pastor of the Hopeful Lutheran Church. According to the 1910 Census Douglas was listed as a Lutheran Clergyman. He was married to Bessie I. Porch. They had two children: Bessie J. Douglas,  and Virginia V Douglas. They employed a cook, Ms. Josephine Somach (now there's an interesting snippet). Douglas was one of the most popular American authors of his time, although he did not write his first novel until he was 50. His written works were of a moraldidactic, and distinctly religious tone. His first novel, 'Magnificent Obsession', published in 1929, was an immediate and sensational success. Critics held that his type of fiction was in the tradition of the great religious writings of an earlier generation, such as 'Ben-Hur' and 'Quo Vadis'. Douglas is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
Of course, being written in 1940, the pagan Romans depicted in 'The Robe' are really Nazis in togas.
The origins of the book are interesting.
At the height of his popularity, Douglas was receiving on average 100 letters a week from fans.
One of these letters provided the inspiration for 'The Robe'.
Hazel McCann, a department store clerk from Ohio, wrote to Douglas asking what he thought had happened to Christ's garments after the crucifixion.
Douglas immediately began working on a novel based on this concept, sending each chapter to McCann as he finished it.
Douglas and McCann finally met in 1941, and it is to her that Douglas has dedicated the book - and she has a lot to answer for.
'Mad' Caligula - 'The Robe'
The main character is Marcellus Gallio, a Military Tribune -  'tribunus militum'.
This was quite a high rank, (open only to the nobility), below that of 'legatus' (general), but well above that of Centurion (the rank that Servius holds initially in the 'Story of Gracchus').
Also dragged into the story are the much maligned Pontius Pīlātus - (Pontius Pilate - Prefect of Judaea - and not as commonly thought Procurator), and the Emperor Tiberius.
The villain of the piece, however, is obviously 'mad' Caligula.
Pilate also appears in Robert Graves's novel 'King Jesus'. Pilate is an unscrupulous opportunist, (which he was not) who tries to prevent Jesus' death by convincing Jesus to become the King of the Jews (in reality a puppet monarch of Rome) because, in the novel, Jesus is the son of Mary, who is of a royal Jewish line and the daughter of the last Hasmonean and Antipater, the son of Herod the Great. Jesus refuses the offer because his kingdom "is not of this world". Pilate eventually, and not surprisingly, grows exasperated and leaves him to die.
Marcellus' slave, Demetrius (see above) is the protagonist of the 'Christian' cause, supposedly a Greek from Corinth.
What should be remembered, however, at this point in history, is that there were no 'Christians' as such.
There were basically two sects.
One was a group of practicing Jews, who viewed Jesus as the long awaited Messiah.
They were led by James - the brother of Jesus as, like most Middle Eastern Religious and political movements,. it was a 'family affair'.
The other group, led by Paul, and known as the 'Followers of the Way', were members of a Hellenistic Gnostic Mystery religion, cobbled together by Paul, a Hellenised Jew and Roman citizen.
We have Vespasian and Titus (who both appear in the 'Story of Gracchus') to thank for the demise of the Jewish group led by James, and the triumph of the Pauline 'Mystery Religion', which we now call Christianity.
This came about as the result of a Jewish revolt, put down by the Flavians, which brought an end to the Temple, and Judea as a homeland for the Jews - and created a problem which has bedevilled the world ever since.

'Ben Hur'

'Ben Hur' and 'Quo Vadis' both suffer from similar problems.
While virtually ignoring the realities of Roman life, they present an equally inaccurate picture of early Christianity - presenting these first century Christians as 19th or 20th century Christians with regard to their beliefs and iconography.
'Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ' is a novel by General Lew Wallace, published on November 12, 1880. Considered by many at the time to be "the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century", it became a best-selling American novel, surpassing Harriet Beecher Stowe's 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' (1852) in sales.
Lew Wallace was unusual in that he was a writer of historical fiction who made every effort, within the limitations of the available scholarship of his time, to research the period of which he was writing, and to be as accurate as possible  in his portrayal of that period.
General Lew Wallace
One interesting point is that Wallace introduces the theme of 'adoption', (Ben Hur is adopted, made a Roman citizen, and becomes the heir of Quintus Arrius, a Roman patrician - although it is highly unlikely that a Roman nobleman would adopt a Jew), and this theme (common in actuality in ancient Rome), appears in 'The Story of Gracchus, where Gracchus adopts Marcus and makes him his heir.
The undoubted popularity of 'Ben Hur' can be seen by its numerous dramatic adaptions.
There were films made of 'Ben Hur' in 1907, 1925, 1959, 2003, 2016, and as a North American TV mini-series in 2010.
The most famous film version was directed by William Wyler, produced by Sam Zimbalist for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and starring Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Hugh Griffith and Haya Harareet.
Avuncular Jack Hawkins as Quintus Arrius
The screenplay is credited to Karl Tunberg but includes contributions from Maxwell Anderson, S. N. Behrman, Gore Vidal, and Christopher Fry.
Miklos Rozsa

Charlton Heston gave a predictably 'wooden' performance, but Jack Hawkins comes across as a suitably patrician and avuncular Quintus Arrius.
The film has an excellent musical score, composed by the well established, and remarkably talented composer Miklos Rozsa.

'Quo Vadis'
'Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero', commonly known as 'Quo Vadis', is a historical novel written in 1895 by Henryk Sienkiewicz in Polish. "Quo vadis Domine" is Latin for "Where are you going, Lord ?", and alludes to the apocryphal 'Acts of Peter', in which Peter flees Rome, but on his way meets Jesus and asks him why he is going to Rome. Jesus says, "I am going back to be crucified again", which makes Peter go back to Rome and accept martyrdom.
Henryk Sienkiewicz
Peter Ustinov - Emperor Nero
The novel 'Quo Vadis' tells of a love that develops between a young Christian woman (remember, there were no 'Christians' at the time of Nero, only 'Followers of the Way') Ligia (or Lygia), and Marcus Vinicius, a Roman patrician.
It takes place in the city of Rome under the rule of Emperor Nero, circa AD 64 - so this novel is set at the same time as 'The Story of Gracchus'.
Sienkiewicz studied the Roman Empire (all many hundreds of years ?) extensively prior to writing the novel, with the aim of getting historical details correct - which he did not.
Consequently, several historical figures appear in the book.
As a whole, like most works featuring ancient Rome written at the time, the novel carries an outspoken pro-Christian message.
Gnaeus Octavius Gracchus - Leo Genn
Sporus - 'gay' eunuch
Several movies have been based on 'Quo Vadis', including two Italian silent films - 'Quo Vadis (1912 film), and 'Quo Vadis' (1924 film), - a Hollywood production - 'Quo Vadis' (1951 film) - and an adaptation by Jerzy Kawalerowicz: 'Quo Vadis' (2001 film).
As one would expect, for a novel written at this time, Sporus, the castrated, adolescent boy, whom Nero 'marries', does not appear in the book - or any of the films, for that matter.
'Quo Vadis' was subsequently made as a 1951 American epic film made by MGM in Technicolor. It was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and produced by Sam Zimbalist, from a screenplay by John Lee Mahin, S. N. Behrman and Sonya Levien, adapted from the classic novel Quo Vadis (1896) by Henryk Sienkiewicz. The novel had previously been made into an Italian film Quo Vadis (1924). The music score was by Miklós Rózsa (see above - one of his poorest), and the cinematography by Robert Surtees and William V. Skall. The film stars Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr, Leo Genn (who also appears as Gnaeus Octavius Gracchus, in 'The Story of Gracchus'), and Peter Ustinov ('camping it up', and making Nero appear quite ridiculous), and features Patricia Laffan, Finlay Currie (with an Edinburgh accent ?), Felix Aylmer, and Abraham Sofaer. Sophia Loren (looking wonderful as always) and Carlo Pedersoli were both cast in the movie as uncredited extras, and Sergio Leone worked on it as an assistant director of the Italian company.

Having dealt with the problem of 'low life' Christians making problems for aristocratic Romans, we come to HBO's 'Rome' - already referred to.
There are no Christians in this TV series, as Christianity had not been invented -  yet !
Equally, a piece of historical fiction that 'pushed' Christianity, in the manner of the previous works referred to would simply not be tolerated in the 21st Century.
Now, Europe and America are not ruled so much by faith, as by 'political correctness'.
And it is politically correct to see the world from the perspective of the 'little common man' - 'everyman' to be more politically correct.
Those who the Romans would refer to as 'plebs'.
The result is that this work, which is in many ways historically quite accurate, swings from palace to hovel, from Senate House to army camp with dizzying rapidity.
This would not be too bad, except that Lucius Vorenus (who starts out as a relativly lowly Centurion, - like young Servius in the 'Story of Gracchus', - and for no apparent reason suddenly becomes a Tribune (a rank reserved for the aristocracy, and then becomes a Senator (or rather a somewhat ineffectual guard-dog for Julius Caesar - who is normally surrounded by numerous mean looking Lictors).
The other character is Titus Pullo, (oddly 'pullo' means 'chick' - Latin street slang equivalent for 'twink' - which he is not) a mere Legionary.
Both he and Vorenus spend their time throughout the series 'hob-nobbing' with the mightiest in the Empire.
We are then expected to believe that Pullo has sex with Cleopatra, fathers Caesarion, and right at the end of the series, is given the task of finding and killing Caesarion by his 'mate' Octavian - the same Octavian who later becomes the first Princeps, and the Divine Augustus (idolized by Gracchus in the 'Story of Gracchus'.
Caesarion - far too young
Caesarion turns out to be a cute, if somewhat 'snotty' pre-pubescent boy, when in fact at the time in question he was seventeen years old.
Pullo then brings Caesarion back to Rome (of all places), and appears to adopt him (dangerous to say the least - the boy is the only rival to Octavian for the Imperium)
Pullo then lies to Octavian that he has killed Caesarion, and we are expected to believe that Octavian's security branch of the Praetorians never find out !
Octavian - 'cute' but snotty Aspergers lad
Octavian (on whom Marcus is based in the 'Story of Gracchus'), is possibly the most interesting character.
He is presented in the series as being on the verge of being autistic, - possibly a case of Asperger's syndrome, incestuous, and also a sadist, sexually.
There is no evidence from contemporary documents for these possibilities, but it is an example of how, without flying blatantly in the face of accepted historical fact, it is possible to legitimately 'spice' up a character.
The character of Octavian (Augustus) in 'Rome is, after all, infinitely better than the stodgy and boring Augustus from the BBC series 'I Claudius'.


Spartacus probably bring to mind the recent TV series.
However the previous version of the story is far more famous.
'Spartacus' is a 1960 American epic historical drama film directed by Stanley Kubrick (not one of his best films - it is the only film directed by Kubrick where he did not have complete artistic control.).
The screenplay by Dalton Trumbo was based on the novel 'Spartacus' by Howard Fast.
It was inspired by the life story of the leader of a slave revolt in antiquity, Spartacus, and the events of the 'Third Servile War'.
Kirk Douglas as Spartacus - in sandals & outsize loincloths
The film starred Kirk Douglas as Spartacus, Laurence Olivier as the Roman general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus, Peter Ustinov, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, as slave trader Lentulus Batiatus, John Gavin as Julius Caesar, Jean Simmons as Varinia, Charles Laughton as Sempronius Gracchus, and a young Tony Curtis as Antoninus.
The film won four Academy Awards in all.
The film became the biggest moneymaker in Universal Studios' history, until it was surpassed by 'Airport' (1970).
Being set at the time of the Republic, there are no self righteous Christians to 'screw up. the plot.
There are, however, numerous inaccuracies, the most obvious being, (and not limited to this film), gladiators wearing sandals.
Douglas is as usual unimpressive, but Ustinov is convincing, and Charles Laughton as Sempronius Gracchus is impressive.
Olivier's attempts to seduce Tony Curtis are, of course, laughable.
Both the novel and the film, in terms of historical events, are in many places inaccurate, and instead of the work being intended to portray the Roman elite as 'nasty' because they are not Christians, it attempts to portray the Roman elite as 'nasty' because they are not 'democrats' - and do not believe in freedom and the 'United Nations'.
One is tempted to think that, as the Romans in 'The Robe' were Nazis in togas, so the Romans in 'Spartacus' are Communist Russians in togas.
And this, of course, is one of the main problems of historical fiction - those creating it tend to insert our present into their past - and it just appears 'stupid'.
'Spartacus' - wearing trousers in the arena ?
The most 'talked about' version of 'Spartacus' is, of course the Starz Version - an American TV series, coming in four 'flavours' - 'Gods of the Arena', 'Blood and Sand', 'Vengeance','War of the Damned'.
Produced in New Zealand, it aspires to so-called 'accuracy', mainly by being gritty, dirty, and very explicit.
It not only aspires to be 'accurate', but also 'realistic', with relatively explicit fucking, some 'gay' scenes (not that the Romans would have any idea of the concept of 'gay'), and lots of severed limbs, heads, and even a severed cock ! (emasculation combined with an odd form of crucifixion).
One of the main problems is all the blood.
Now when you do hack at people with a sword there is often a great deal of blood, but not really the amount shown on this series.
In the main, the blood is computer generated (as in the Story of Gracchus), along with the backgrounds, scenery, and many of the props.
'300' - Spartans Against Persians
Unfortunately, because of the style of visualisation used, the effect is 'stagey', 'theatrical' and far from convincing - and is very similar to the graphic style of film '300' of 2006, depicting the Battle of Thermopylae.
The problem is, that after viewing for some time, one begins to feel that one has strayed into a rather bloodthirsty dream.
There are problems with the lighting, shadows (too many), perspective, angles of view etc.
All these matters are not immediately evident, but soon the brain begins to have difficulties with dealing with so many visual anomalies.
The sex and nudity enable one to ignore the oddness of the visual effects to some extent, but the whole experience is strangely disturbing and unsatisfying.
Both the 'Spartacus' series, and the '300' are examples of the ascendancy of 'style' over 'content'.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

The Fall of the Roman Empire is a 1964 American epic film directed by Anthony Mann and produced by Samuel Bronston, with a screenplay by Ben Barzman, Basilio Franchina and Philip Yordan. The film stars Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, Alec Guinness, James Mason, Christopher Plummer, Mel Ferrer, and Omar Sharif.
The film's name refers not to the final fall of the Roman empire, which did in fact survive for centuries after the period depicted in the film, but rather to the onset of corruption and decadence which led to Rome's final demise.
It deals extensively with the problem of imperial succession, and examines both the relationship between father and son on the background of imperial politics, as well as the nature and limits of loyalty and friendship.
The Fall of the Roman Empire - 1964 - The Forum Romanum
The film's reasonably accurate reconstruction of the Roman Forum at Las Matas near Madrid, at 400 x 230 meters (1312 x 754 feet) holds the record for the largest outdoor film set.
The various ancient Rome settings covered 55 acres (220,000 m2).
Alec Guinness made a thoughtful and stoic Marcus Aurelius, and Sophia Loren as Lucilla was as beautiful as ever.
Stephen Boyd as Livius was wooden, and James Mason as Timonides was unconvincing and 'too good to be true - and after masquerading as a Stoic, he turns out, on his death to be a 'closet Christian'.
The problem, of course, with Christopher Plummer as Commodus, is that one tends to expect him, at any moment, to whip out a guitar and start singing 'Edelweiss'
The 'Barbarians' (supposedly Germans) are represented as charming proto-hippies (once they give up fighting) - so it turns into the freedom and peace loving 'new agers' set against the 'nasty Romans'.
The greatest asset of the film is the superb musical Score by Dimitri Tiomkin.


As we have said, 'one of the main problems of historical fiction - those creating it tend to insert our present into their past - and it just appears 'stupid'.'
This can be well illustrated by various attempts at the subject of Cleopatra.
In HBO's 'Rome' Cleopatra appeared as a wanton, drug and sex obsessed, rather un-feminine girl - not at all an attractive character.
Two much earlier attempts illustrate the nsertion our present into their past to perfection.

Cleopatra I

'Caesar and Cleopatra' - 1945
'Caesar and Cleopatra' is a 1945 British Technicolor film directed by Gabriel Pascal, and starring Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh.
Also appearing was a very slim Stewart Granger as Apollodorus, a patrician amateur of the arts, (wearing the shortest tunic imaginable), and Flora Robson as 'Ftatateeta', Cleopatra's nurse,
It was adapted from the play 'Caesar and Cleopatra' (1901) by George Bernard Shaw.
Caesar and Cleopatra was a box office failure (?), but it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction.
Filmed in Technicolor with lavish sets, the production was reported to be the most expensive film ever made in Britain at the time, coming to £1,278,000 - which is not really saying much.
'Caesar and Cleopatra' - 1945
Pascal ordered sand from Egypt to get the right cinematic color (!).
The production also ran into delays due to being filmed during the Second World War.
Unlike the later version of Cleopatra, the 1945 version ends with Caesar leaving for Rome - and Marc Anthony does not appear in the film (although he gets mentioned often).
Julius Caesar is portrayed as the reasonable, fair minded patrician 'Englishman', while Cecil Parker as Britannus, Britannic slave to Caesar, represents the more traditional, fusty and outmoded English attitude.

The Play by Shaw

George Bernard Shaw
'Caesar and Cleopatra', a play written in 1898 by George Bernard Shaw, is a 'fictionalized' account of the relationship between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra.
It was first published with 'Captain Brassbound's Conversion' and 'The Devil's Disciple' in Shaw's 1901 collection, 'Three Plays for Puritans'.
It was first performed in a single staged reading at Newcastle upon Tyne on 15 March 1899, to secure the copyright.
The play was produced in New York in 1906 and in London at the Savoy Theatre in 1907.
Interestingly, the play has a prologue and an "Alternative to the Prologue".
The prologue consists of the Egyptian god Ra addressing the audience directly, as if he could see them in the theater (i.e., breaking the fourth wall).
This is very much in the tradition of ancient drama.
He says that Pompey represents the 'old Rome' and Caesar represents the 'new Rome' (?).
The gods favored Caesar, according to Ra, because he "lived the life they had given him boldly".
Ra recounts the conflict between Caesar and Pompey, their battle at Pharsalia, and Pompey's eventual assassination in Egypt at the hands of Lucius Septimius.
In "An Alternative to the Prologue", the captain of Cleopatra's guard is warned that Caesar has landed, and is invading Egypt.
Cleopatra has been driven into Syria by her brother, Ptolemy, with whom she is vying for the Egyptian throne.
The messenger warns that Caesar's conquest is inevitable and irresistible.
The guards, knowing of Caesar's weakness for women, plan to persuade him to proclaim Cleopatra - who may be controllable - Egypt's ruler instead of Ptolemy.
They try to locate her, but are told by Cleopatra's nurse, 'Ftatateeta', that she has run away. - (The film version of the play, made in 1945, used the 'Alternative Prologue' rather than the original one).

Cleopatra II

So - what happened to their couches ?
1960 or 30 BC - all it needs is a small table with a telephone
And they are going to a fancy-dress party ?
'Cleopatra' is a 1963 American epic historical drama film.
It was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and shot in the 70mm Todd-AO format, with a screenplay adapted by Mankiewicz, Ranald MacDougall and Sidney Buchman from a book by Carlo Maria Franzero.
The film stars Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Roddy McDowall, and Martin Landau.
Cleopatra achieved notoriety during its production for its massive cost overruns and production troubles, which included changes in director and cast, a change of filming locale, sets that had to be constructed twice, lack of a firm shooting script, and personal scandal around its co-stars.
It was the most expensive film ever made up to that point and almost bankrupted 20th Century-Fox.
The plot basically follows the historical events detaild in 'The Roman Principate', up to and including the deaths of Marc Antony and Cleopatra.
The real problem with the film was it lack of a sense of 'historicity' - 'period feel'.
Essentially it portrayed the rather 'tatty' love affair between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor - in fancy dress - with an avuncular Rex Harrison playing Julius Caesar, and  Roddy McDowall playing a version of Octavian (later Augustus Caesar) - which portrayed him as being ineffective and petulant, but at least with the right color hair.
There seemed to be no political or religious sub-plot, and the film seemed to mainly feature Elizabeth Taylor being beastly to an apparently drunken Richard Burton - or was he really drunk ? - difficult to tell.



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