Spoiler alert: The death of Logan Roy the weekend before last marked the end of an era. Or at the very least, it was notable for occasioning, in the Los Angeles Times, perhaps the first newspaper obituary of a fictional character. Roy was the mogul-patriarch at the center of the hit black comedy-drama Succession, which is now approaching the end of its fourth and final season on HBO. Brian Cox’s performance in that role had much to do with the success of Succession, so to speak, not least because he clearly understood that, for all its of-the-moment references, the series’ narrative is deeply rooted in concepts like dynasty and empire, which themselves extend way back to antiquity.
Antiquity happens to be the subject of two videos Cox narrated, just before the premiere of Succession, for the Youtube channel Arzamas. “Ancient Greece in 18 Minutes” and “Ancient Rome in 20 Minutes” deliver just what their titles promise, brief but clear and well-informed primers on the classical civilizations that modern Westerners have long thought of as the precursors to their own.
Of course, there were no single, continuous political or geographical entities called “Ancient Greece” and “Ancient Rome”; rather, those names refer to large regions of the world in which city-states rise and fell — as their very nature and relationships with one another changed dramatically — over a period of centuries upon centuries.
To these acclaimed videos Cox brings his signature irreverence-laced gravitas. At the very end of “Ancient Greece in 18 Minutes,” he tells of the Byzantine Empire, “which extended the life of Greek culture another thousand years — leaving us the weird Russian alphabet, for instance.” This line is funnier if you know that Arzamas is a Russian channel that has also put up videos on Russian history and culture: the one on the country’s twentieth-century art just above, for instance, which Cox also narrates. Russia has inherited elements of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, as have other distant lands like the United States of America. And wherever we live, we can laugh at Cox’s observation that “if an ancient Greek were to see modern democracy, he would say just one word: oligarchy” — a form of rule Logan Roy knew all about.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.