Popular culture is obsessed with the representation of powerful women who manage to become involved in politics. Furthermore, these representations are not limited to those set in the present, but also take into account the period of Roman Antiquity, in which we see the ways in which these dangerous women manage to both manipulate the men in their life and, in some cases, bring about their demise.
Livia of "I, Claudius"
When it comes to dangerous political women, Livia of the BBC series is, without a doubt, one of the most dangerous and deadly. Livia is more than willing to manipulate and sometimes even poison those who stand in her way or those of her sons (though this doesn't stop her from having a hand in one son's death). However, there is something deliciously evil about Livia, something that makes us enjoy her willingness to poison her family and even her husband in order to protect what she sees as the ideal vision for Rome, and it is this that makes her such a dangerous, and yet horrifyingly fascinating, female character.
Atia and Servilia in "Rome"
Although they are bitter enemies throughout most of this fantastic series from HBO, Atia and Servilia have to be considered alongside one another, for their mutual antagonism is a great deal of what drives the series. They go to extreme lengths to try to destroy the other, including planting poison for each other and doing everything possible to elevate the men in their respective families. Of course, ancient Rome is only big enough for one of these powerful women to survive, and so ultimately Servilia finds that suicide is her only option. Even Atia, however, ultimately finds that her power is curtailed, her love (Antony) dead, and her son Octavian (whom she sought to manipulate and control), firmly outside of her sphere of influence. For all of that, however, these two ladies are some of the most interesting ones to watch, and their reputation continues to live on even now that the series is after.
Lucretia in "Spartacus"
Finally, we come to Lucretia of "Spartacus" who, like her forebears, is willing to do anything and everything for her husband. Lest we think that she has no will of her own, however, we have to remember that she often has her own reasons and her own motivations that sometimes exist independently of him. Everything about her invites viewing pleasure, including the way in which Lucy Lawless seems to savor the words that she delivers, as if she wants us to take pleasure not just in her beauty, but in her speech. Sadly, like the other women listed here, the series ultimately does away with her, and we may not see her like again.
Clearly, there is something both menacing and quite pleasurable about witnessing politically powerful yet dangerous women in our historical dramas. In an era in which women still struggle to find their representation in political office, these women of the ancient world show us what is possible when women attain power. However, they also show us just how dangerous it is for such women, and the terrible price that patriarchal culture often takes upon them. Thus, these women serve as both inspiring role models and potent warnings of the pitfalls of power.
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