Television for nerds

Published 10:25 am Thursday, June 14, 2012

I’m a history nerd.

This confession is really no news to any one who knows me or to those who have read this column before.

I love history. I love learning about it, reading about it and in my own way try to place some perspective and value on it.

While even the sheer thought of history induces a yawn for most, in my opinion history is often misunderstood. I’m not talking about Mrs. Smith’s stuffy eighth grade class where history reports are due and a pop quiz on the Treaty of Ghent could come anytime.

When you take events such as the Civil War, Women’s Suffrage and the Renaissance and get down to the “nitty-gritty” you find the stories, the motivations, the emotions and the people behind those events. It’s after realizing this that history offers a world of wonderment.

And for those of you who are not big on books or reading there’s always television to get your history fill.

As of late, I’ve been clearing my Sunday evenings to get my fix on Showtime’s “The Borgias”, a television series I’ve just “discovered” despite it being in its second year.

Created by Neil Jordan (who also created another popular series, “The Tudors”), “The Borgias” follow a 15th century Papal family that found themselves in the midst of wealth and power when patriarch Rodrigo Borgia bought and bribed his way into the papacy.

Greed, political power, murder and lust are just a few themes that fill “The Borgias” story lines. And while there is a need for some fiction to be infused into the plot line, overall the show adheres to historical facts.

First a cardinal, Rodrigo, became Pope Alexander VI in 1492 and as his status rose, the statuses of his four illegitimate children (Ceasarè, Giovanni “Juan”, Lucrezia and Jofrè) did as well.

Despite expectations of celibacy, early popes were known to have families and even mistresses. All four of Pope Alexander’s children were from Vannozza dei Cattanei, one of many mistresses he had throughout his lifetime. He also had other children from various women.

During 15th and 16th century Rome, Pope Alexander was the puppet master for what was going on throughout Rome and adjoining countries. At that time the pope had the power to dethrone royals, and to put it simply he was the end all.

While Alexander was known for his political prowess and for being diplomatic, he also was known for excessiveness, nepotism and simony.

While their father settled into the papacy, his children also relished in their father’s power. Juan was made head of the Papal Army and Ceasarè (who was a bishop) was made a cardinal.

Ceasarè and Lucrezia made a name for themselves in history. Ceasarè was known for conspiring against his father’s enemies, having many assassinated. He also reportedly killed his own brother in order to become a military man, a position he long desired.

Lucrezia on the other hand was married off at least three times for the family’s political gain. Her marriages didn’t stop her from taking a string of lovers and even giving birth to an illegitimate child reportedly fathered by a chamberlain.

The story of the Borgias is a pretty fascinating one, and when you think about it many of the vices that plagued humans back then are the same many face today.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.