Summer TV Recs, Classics Edition

Promotional poster for Succession Season 2

Summer TV Recs, Classics Edition

By Olivia Wells


Succession fans, rise up! The HBO series that has taken the world by storm may not, at first glance, bear any resemblance to classical antiquity. But if you watch closely, you’ll begin to recognize names, places, and plot points reminiscent of the classical past of Greece and Rome.

Succession is a dark-comedy-drama tv show surrounding the Roy family-owned media conglomerate “Waystar RoyCo.” The drama centers on the competition of the family’s four siblings to control the company following the patriarch and CEO, Logan’s, decline in health. Succession’s dialogue and plot points feature many classical references and were described in a Vulture article by Dr. Tim Joseph, a professor of Classics at Holy Cross University.

Firstly, many of the names on Succession are tied to historical figures. The last name of the family, Roy, derives from the Old French word “roy,” meaning “king,” and is a cognate to the Latin word rex, regis, “king.” The third youngest Roy child is Roman, although his father frequently calls him “Romulus,” an obvious allusion to Romulus, the founder of Rome, who kills his twin brother Remus. This parallel is further played out when Logan persuades Roman to betray his brother Kendall (i.e. Remus?) in Season 1, Episode 1. Another character is Rhea, the CEO of a competitor to Waystar RoyCo who later is named as Logan’s successor as CEO of Waystar RoyCo. Her name draws reference to Rhea: a Titan and the wife of Cronus. In mythology, Rhea disrupted the succession of the gods by tricking Cronus to stop eating his children so that their son, Zeus, could take over as the leader of the gods. In Succession, Rhea disrupted the succession of the company by being named as CEO instead of one of Logan’s children.

Yet another classical allusion appears in Season 2, Episode 6, when the company goes to a business retreat called Argestes (ἀργέστης), a Greek word meaning “clearing” or “brightening,” also used in mythology as a name for the south-west wind. Argestes lived up to its name, as a series of events at the end of the business conference brought a clear realization to cancel an impending merger.

Beyond names, plot points demonstrate close attention to classical narrative. Many references are made to the myth of Oedipus, in which the hero is fated to kill his father and marry his mother, when in Succession the siblings plot to overthrow their tyrannical father and make jokes about marrying their stepmother. Other classical references appear in the show, like when Rhea suggests that her company, acting as Odysseus, would like to put a “sharp, burnt stick” in Logan’s (Polyphemus’) “cyclops eye,” or when Tom, Logan’s son-in-law, refers to himself as Nero, and cousin Greg, Logan’s great-nephew, as Sporus. In mythology, Nero was said to have murdered his wife and castrated and married his slave-boy Sporus. Tom says to Greg, “I’d castrate and marry you in a heartbeat.”

While watching the show, these classical allusions would jump out every so often. As a scholar of classics, I often chuckled to myself when I recognized certain names or myths, especially the more obscure references which the hoi polloi would not understand. Although the understanding of these references was not indispensable to understanding the plot, the references added comic relief and potentially could foreshadow plot points to come.

The overall theme of betrayal and the overthrowing of tyrants in Succession rings close to home to scholars of antiquity, and ancient myths could hint at what is to become of the Roy family. Fans have already predicted that Greg’s character is tied to Octavian, the young Emperor Augustus. Greg has the same relationship to Logan that Octavian/Augustus had to Julius Caesar (great-nephew). Greg and Octavian/Augustus were both born outside of the central city (New York and Rome, respectively) and were both raised by poor single mothers. Potentially, we could see Greg being named as Logan’s successor, in an upset as strange as Octavian being named Caesar’s successor. While we wait for Season 4 to be released, fans of Succession might continue to look for clues in the classical past for what is to come in the next episodes of Succession.

Promotional poster for Succession Season 2 with William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Dante and Virgil in the background, yet another allusion to antiquity. This painting depicts Dante and Virgil in the eighth circle of hell witnessing a brawl about inheritance. The similarities are seemingly never-ending. Credit:

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Dante and Virgil, 1850, oil on canvas. Credit: Musée d’Orsay


Olivia Wells (College ’22) is a recent graduate from the University of Pennsylvania with a major in Classical Studies (Mediterranean Archaeology) and minors in History and French.


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