A Roman glimpse into ‘BEING HUMAN’

There is a movie titled BEING HUMAN that has a segment taking place in ancient Rome. In fact is has many segments, traveling across history: Celt (could be prehistoric…not sure), Roman, Medieval, Renaissanceand modern man. All are equally engaging, all funny in their way, and all terrifying as it plays out the human condition. The film did not get great reviews; however, but if you love stories about Ancient Rome catch the second segment in this film.

BEING HUMAN, John Turturro, Robin Williams, 1994The segment is unforgettable. It is played out from the slave’s perspective. Slaves did not write a lot of histories for public consumption, so the only insight into their lives come from masters like Cato (234-149 B.C.) how to properly feed and raise a slave, playwrites that looked upon them with scorn, fun or ridicule as in the play Pseudolus by Plautus.  If your looking for a modern take on Plautus watch the Broadway musical A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. We may only know of Tiro (the freedman (ex slave?) of Cicero) only because Cicero wrote of Tiro in his letters. There were thousands, literally hundreds of thousands of slaves over the centuries, and their stories are gone.  Many of these ’eyewitnesses’ were not taught to write, or their stories were not important enough to set down (at least according to the masters).  I am sure there were secretaries and scribes that rose from slavery tried their hand to record something that happened to them only to have it disappear to the ravages of time and the appetite of bugs.  There were exceptions like Terrence, a slave originally from Africa who came to Rome, liberally educated, and wrote six plays.  Through his plays we can peek into the past.

A quote by Terrence somehow seems appropriate for the title of the movie: BEING HUMAN, and our ability to look back at Ancient Rome and…imagine.  “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto“, or “I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.”

The Roman segment in BEING HUMAN can’t be more than (20 minutes) in length, but we see the world from the point of view of Hector. He is the slave to an idiot – and a very poor businessman. He follows him around the city, carries his chair, and helps him with his papers. Hector’s life is tied to his master’s house. He sits on the roof and looks at the stars dreaming of the world. He once had a wife and children, somewhere, out there on the horizon, and longs to return to them. In the meantime (in the spirit of Stephen Stills LOVE THE ONE YOUR WITH) Hector has taken up with a beautiful Nubian slave (he must share her with his master) who understands him, and loves him back. The life of a slave is shit and unfortunately tied closely to the life of your master. One day after a business meeting he finds that out that he and his master must commit suicide. It seems Lucinnius signed some papers. A ship when down and he lost the cargo, to pay back investors he promised to commit suicide. There is some political maneuvering and he implicates his slave Hector in the plot. “I would be honored if you would die with me,” says Lucinnius. The look on Robin William’s face tells all. Restraint mixed with a healthy [I shall use a nastier word now but only in its Latin root] “Fut you” The rest of the story is how he survives, and its told in a very believable way.

Saw William’s CENTENNIAL MAN a few days ago, and shed a few tears.  I am not sure if I was crying from the story line or from the loss of such a great actor.

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