Battlestar Galactica and the Aeneid

Okay … I’m officially confused about this one. For reasons unknown, it is being presented as something ‘new’ and hitherto unheard of that Battlestar Galactica (presumably the new one) is actually a retelling of the Aeneid. Charlotte Higgins’ latest blog at the Guardian includes this bit:

Now, am I the only person who regards the sweep of the story of the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica as a kind of re-reading of Virgil’s Aeneid? I am talking, of course, of the great Roman epic poem that recounts the flight of Aeneas and his followers from their conquered city of Troy to Italy, where, it is prophesied, their descendants will found Rome.

For a moment, let’s forget about the Cylons (although whenever I see one on the screen, I am reminded that the original, real-life Cylon was a wannabe tyrant of Athens, a failed coup leader in 632 BC, but surely that really is a coincidence. If you don’t know the series, these are the enigmatic attackers of the humans’ home planets, a race of cybernetic workers turned aggressive).

Let’s think about the humans for a moment. A leader leaves the destroyed wreck of his former civilisation (Troy/Caprica), which has been blasted into smithereens by an invading force (Greeks/Cylons). You might even see Gaius Baltar as a sort of Trojan horse. That leader is accompanied by his son: it’s Adama as Aeneas, and Apollo as Ascanius, if you follow me.

On they forge, guided by prophecies that the leader is initially unwilling to accept, towards their fated new home (Adama, like Aeneas in Aeneid book two, needs some persuasion that the various portents pointing the way are of any value.)

etc.

Canada’s own National Post picked up on this and asked if their readers saw any other connections. Sadly, this is Canada where there are probably even fewer folks who have read the Aeneid than read the National Post. That said, when the original Battlestar Galactica was the only one in existence, I thought it was well-established that it was a retelling of the Aeneid, with bits of the Odyssey thrown in (I’m sure we discussed this on the Classics list or somewhere else at some point … by the time I was paying attention to this sort of thing BG was long into reruns of its one and only season (the 1980 thing doesn’t count; I also acknowledge that there were early comparisons to Mormonism as well). A lot of the names pretty much point to such connections, but let me just give a trio of quick examples which I vaguely recalled and managed to track down on the web with fuller episodic descriptions.

  • In the original episode, the Cylons give the humans the impression that they are suing for peace (with a treaty) but really have taken their fleet behind a foggy moon … this fleet is actually discovered by Apollo (= Aeneas, more or less) and he warns his father (Adama); when the battle finally comes, only Galactica manages to escape. (Saga of a Star World)

  • For some Odyssey content, the third episode involves Apollo being stranded on a planet (with an old west type setting) and he ultimately has to defeat the ‘red eye’, which he does as the latter exits a saloon. (The Lost Warrior). There’s also reminiscences of Achaemenides in the War of the Gods, Part I episode.

I haven’t managed to see a complete episode of the new version yet, but it sounds like the parallels might be even more obvious. Still, I’m surprised that there seems to be so much ‘surprise’ about this.

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