38. "Xena," season five: Conclusion

Following "Kindred Spirits" is "Antony & Cleopatra," which no doubt takes its concept of dual Cleopatras from Euripides' "Helen," which uses the same concept. "Helen" was an anti-war play, and "Antony & Cleopatra" has Xena once again trying to avert destiny as represented by Caesar; this time, Caesar's son, Octavius. "Helen" involves trickery on the high seas, and so does "Antony & Cleopatra." This is a post-Julius Caesar installment of the Caesar arc begun in "Destiny," but the stakes are the same...as are the tragic results: Baby Eve as an adult will eventually fall from grace under his patronage, as the "Bitch of Rome." Dionysus is ever-present in this episode, including a musical scene between Antony and Xena, with grapes and seduction: on "Xena," music montages usually signify the influence of Dionysus. We'll recall the Cleopatra reference is foreshadowed on "Hercules," in that show's counterpart to "Xena's" "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," when Salmoneus rolled himself up in a carpet; it's repeated here, and the association with Dionysus is just as strong.

"Looking Death in the Eye" marks the transition twenty-five years into the future, when Xena and Gabrielle discover the true destiny of their child: once again, we'll find that the so-called herald of the God of the Bible is in fact a Dionysiac villain. The mechanism for their time travel is being frozen in ice, which was probably borrowed from the Hong Kong film, "Three Swordsmen." That film was referenced earlier this season, we'll recall, and this device involving freezing will appear again in the season six opener, "Coming Home." In "Livia," we have an adult Eve renamed, seemingly after the notorious wife of Octavian, now Augustus Caesar, and whom we'll remember best in Robert Graves' "I, Claudius." Of course, "Livia" shares sounds with "Eve," just as Dionysus's names, "Evius, Evivus, Evoe," do.01 Livia is a combination of Xena's younger incarnation as an dark Dionysiac maenad, and King Penthius of "The Bacchae," who seeks to exterminate every threat to his kingdom--in her case, the Amazons, who are the Xenaverse's equivalent to the maenads, and more importantly, the followers of Eli. In one scene, she beheads one of his followers, an act she will regret after her conversion and ascension to leadership of the Elijans, just as Agave regretted her beheading of her son. Though Eve wishes to become ruler of Rome, she's really serving the agenda of her tutor, Ares. Like Silenus, who tutored Dionysus, Ares doesn't have much power here, except through influence. Previously this season, his most powerful act was to execute Eli, but given the preacher's rising influence as a martyr, we see that Ares was more like Pontius Pilate: his choice is the result of having no other option, and he's helpless to do anything but fulfill a destiny that will only frustrate his goals. In that same episode, he tried to tempt Gabrielle by helping her feel the visceral power of being a god; but Gabrielle recognized in Ares' example that such power was merely a slave to its own destiny, powerless to define its end, and she would actually be giving up power by accepting his offer. She would have become, like Ares and like Tantalus, a creature of immortal appetite, endlessly unsatisfied and with no real participation in the fullness of life.

In "Livia," we finally have the payoff of nearly six years of anticipation of the arrival of the Christian era in the Xenaverse. The figures of the New Testament are now here, in altered form: John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul. But as usual, these are layered references that connect to the show's overall themes, not just elements borrowed to serve the moment. We can see Paul in the form of Eve's conversion to the Way of Eli, from being the chief persecutor of his followers to becoming his chief Messenger. We should also note that the real Apostle Paul quoted Euripides in his epistles, as noted by John Milton. John the Baptist appears in the season's final episode, in the form of "The Baptist," but he also appears in another, more significant form: as Joxer's son, Virgil. This character is based on the Roman author of the Aeneid, the Latin sequel to "The Illiad" and "The Odyssey," but there's more to the poet than just his ancient Roman biography. In the Middle Ages, Virgil was seen by Christians as the pagan equivalent to John the Baptist, since he appeared to have also prophesied the coming of Christ in his Fourth Eclogue (this poem also contains many of the elements seen in "Xena, Warrior Princess"). As a result, Virgil became the hero of a number of medieval romances, in which he was a powerful magician. In one story, he is credited with creating the magic Loom of Destiny, which he hands down to the Princess Gaia, whom we'll recall was played by Gabrielle in "Fins, Femmes & Gems" (in the Christian myth, the Fates are not acknowledged). In season six, we'll finally see Gabrielle inherit the power of this Loom just as the Princess does (we'll also see her star in another medieval romance in one of the final episodes of the series). Of course, since the Middle Ages, opinions have changed on whether Virgil actually foretold Christ's birth in his Eclogues: it's now thought that he was celebrating the impending birth of Augustus Caesar's child, by his first wife, Scribonia. Virgil wrote his poem assuming it would be a boy, but it turned out to be a girl, Julia--after which, Augustus divorced the mother. It's now clearer why Eve was given the name of Livia, Augustus Caesar's other, more power-hungry wife: the elements of a disinherited daughter, a good woman banished versus bad woman empowered, along with familial ties to Augustus, and an old life ending the same day a new one begins are all there, just recombined to create a new story.

It might be tempting to see the character of Virgil as someone brought in solely due to the show's timeline moving in to the Roman era, and he's a late addition to the story. After all, what could possible connect him to his father, Joxer the goat-man? For one thing, Robert Graves in "The Greek Myths" had a low opinion of Virgil as a recorder of myth--he got everything wrong, just as Virgil was given an inaccurate history of Xena by his father. More significantly, though, is his connection to the "Rosemary's Baby" arc that was imported from "American Gothic." The later season episode, "The Buck Stops Here," shows us the origin of the idea that would eventually lead to the introduction of Virgil on "Xena." One scene in particular illustrates this: the satanic Sheriff Buck has revealed to the young boy, Caleb Temple, that he is his father, and is part of a larger plan for mankind. The Sheriff's accomplice, schoolteacher Selena Combs (who no doubt inspired the cylon character Number Six on David Eick's version of "Battlestar Galactica"--Eick also co-produced "American Gothic" and "Hercules."), is also present, and their discussion involves the Masonic imagery of the American dollar bill:

Sheriff Buck: "What about here?
Caleb Temple: "An eagle...and a pyramid.
Selena Combs: It's a Masonic Temple.
Sheriff Buck: Who? A Temple? Like this boy right here? Caleb Temple? Well, that's his name, ain't it? So--this side bears a temple. Now what's on the top of the temple?
Caleb Temple: "A eye."
Sheriff Buck: "An all-seeing eye. The third eye. The mystical source of all power."
Selena Combs: Sheriff--
Sheriff Buck: "Patience, Ms. Combs, we're almost finished with our lesson. Now--can you tell me what's written beneath the temple, right there on that...buck?"
Caleb Temple: "Novus...Ordo...Seclorum?"
Sheriff Buck: "That's Latin; Latin for 'An old order of the ages is born anew.' That's right. With each generation, there can only be one; one who sees all, one who knows all, and one who conquers all."

American Gothic

The phrase "Novus Ordo Seclorum" is also from Virgil's Fourth Eclogue, and it figures in Paul Foster Case's analysis of the Great Seal of the United States; we'll recall that Case's work was featured heavily in "The Bitter Suite," and that episode no doubt had its roots in "American Gothic." In fact, the elements of Tarot I mentioned appearing earlier, in "The Xena Scrolls," came in the season following the cancellation of "American Gothic," and could mark the first appearance of its migration to this new series from the old. What's notable about this exchange between Sheriff Buck and his son is how it resembles the series-long argument between Ares and Xena: the god of war wishes Xena to take her place in his plan for a new world order. As we'll see in "The Xena Scrolls," set in World War II, he never loses sight of his plan, intending to seek out Hitler as his next apprentice. The choice of World War II may have in part been inspired by Case's book on Masonic imagery in the Great Seal: in it, he speculates that the United States' history can be measured in thirteen-year-long eras since 1776, and he predicts the end of the thirteenth such era will prove to be quite significant. He wrote his book in the early 1930's, before this era began, and his words were prophetic, because the end of the thirteenth era was 1945, the year the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This may have influenced how the end of Xena's "era" was depicted, by showing her as the instrument, and the embodiment of the ancient world's equivalent of the a-bomb in Higuchi.

01Apparently, in at least one early version of one of the teleplays featuring Livia's character, Livia is referred to as Lydia. Assuming this was their original choice for the name of the character, this can be equally revealing of the Dionysus pattern: the name "Lydia" is associated with the worship of Dionysus. In "The Bacchae," King Penthius interrogates Dionysus, disguised as the Stranger. Asking him about his homeland, the Stranger replies: "Thence I come, Lydia is my native home. Dionysus the son of Zeus instructed me." In the play's opening speech, the Stranger declares his momentous arrival in Greece: "From the fields of Lydia and Phrygia, fertile in gold, I came." If this is the case, Lydia may have been changed to Livia before the episodes were filmed to more closely echo Eve and her association with Augustus.


The Types and Patterns of All Things Xena  > Free To Be Euripides: Chapter Index

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