The danger of letting classicists watch sci-fi TV

I’ve now watched the entirety of the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica on DVD. (I don’t have cable, so nobody spoil me for season 3 in the comments, please?) And the other night, watching the two parts of "Lay Down Your Burdens," the S2 finale, I suddenly said to myself "Hey, wow, it’s the Aeneid in space!"

Because, think about it: BSG starts with the unexpected destruction of the humans’ settlement after the Cylons infiltrate them (instead of a wooden horse full of Greeks, it’s Number Six getting into the military database), and then follows the survivors as they run for their lives. Their goal is a far-distant place, and there are prophecies about their leaders getting them there. The New Caprica storyline reminds me of the end of Book 5, when the Trojan refugees who don’t want to keep traveling settle in Sicily. I don’t really see one-to-one parallels with specific characters, though you could make a case for Adama as Aeneas; but the Greco-Roman names (Apollo, Valerii, Gaeta, Thrace, Agathon, Pegasus), which I found distracting at first, seem less random if you think of the whole thing as a riff on Vergil.

Of course, the "half-Cylon baby secretly raised by an adoptive mother who knows nothing of its parentage" storyline is straight out of the Greek myths. Ronald Moore’s DVD commentary mentions Moses as a parallel, but Oedipus was the first analogue I thought of. Though Paris might be more apt.

I spent way too much time studying Latin in my younger years, didn’t I?

2 Responses to “The danger of letting classicists watch sci-fi TV”

  1. MIke says:

    That’s the coolest reading of BSG I’ve yet seen. For me, what initially appealed was taking the show as political allegory, but now that you point them out, the classical parallels are obvious — and I wonder if they’re serving some sort of perceived need for us in the same way that Virgil’s creation myth served a need for a conflicted, conservative, nationalistic empire in his time.

  2. Amanda says:

    I suspect you’re right. I also think the fascinating thing about BSG is that they’re doing all that, but doing so in a very self-conscious way — they’re using the classical parallel and, at the same time, having the characters invoke their own set of classical parallels (Roslin playing the ancient prophecy card, for instance) for their own ends.