Polytheism and Hollywood (should we call it “Hollytheism”?)

It’s been a sad weekend for me here, as my thoughts are far away from here. ConVocation is finishing up as I write this, but I couldn’t attend because of work and lack of money. Hopefully my Grovemates will bring back many stories of educational and fun things, and hopefully I can actually go next year!

So instead, I’m watching the first season of the HBO television series Rome on DVD. I had heard about the series when it first came out, but with no HBO I had to wait until now to see it. (Libraries are great!) It’s been enjoyable to watch, even though I know the history of this era pretty well already, the stylistic choices made by the production team have been interesting. The huge amounts of nudity and violence weren’t a surprise, because hey, it’s not TV, it’s HBO, and not only can they get away with it, they can market it.

What has surprised me a bit is how open they are about the polytheism of that culture. The setting is several decades before that Joshua ben Joseph fellow was born, so of course they can’t make any references to Christianity without looking very silly. But the other movies and TV series I’ve seen from that time tend to gloss over the religion issue altogether. (I, Claudius leaps to mind, though the two books that series was based on go into much greater detail of their religious practices.) No, this series shows the characters praying at household altars and making sacrifices and telling lewd jokes about the gods (and getting yelled at by other, more pious people) and all the sorts of things that would be commonplace in ancient times. I’d love to say how touched I am by such an honest portrayal of a culture that most Americans would find alien, but I can’t figure out whether the folks making the show are just doing it to be sensationalist. (“They had public executions, they owned slaves, the nobility committed incest, and they thought there was more than one god! How barbarous!”)

Then again, even if polytheism isn’t being depicted for noble reasons, at least it’s being depicted. Gen and I watched 300 a few months ago, and were aghast at some of the dialogue in that one. Leonidas refers to the council of Sparta as “worshipping the old gods” – what, the Titans? Another character comments on his losing an eye in battle with “God saw fit to give me two” – Gen and I said “which god?” aloud simultaneously. I know, I was probably expecting too much from a mass-market big budget action flick (and I’ve since read the original graphic novel and found that it had many of the same mistakes), but is it really that hard for creative folks to understand how a polytheistic culture could possibly have worked? Or was this a deliberate effort on their part not to confuse their audience with such things? Either way, it saddens me a little. But then seeing the polytheism of Rome cheers me up a little. I don’t know whether this will make it easier to explain to the non-pagans out there how we do things. I hope so.

In any case, if you’re an adult or have parental supervision, watch Rome, it’s pretty good!

Next week, I’ll write about our plans for the Spring Equinox.

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

PS – If you can find it, the History Channel did a show about Thermopylae called “Last Stand of the 300” which is worth seeking out. Very informative and a good deal more accurate than the movie.

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