I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-7 August 2021

The History of Rome. At least these podcasts are short. Episode 4: the Public Thing picks up after it was decided that they would appoint two consuls instead, for a period of only one year, so that they wouldn’t get too cozy in the job. (They were called praetors at first, but came to be known as consuls). Each consul could veto the decisions of the other They were drawn from the patrician class, which was sure to annoy the plebs. And sure enough in Episode 5: Trials and Tribunlations, the plebs refused to enrol in the army because they were being hounded over debts that were contracted while soldiers were off fighting war. Wars were brewing on the borders, so a dictator was appointed either for a specific task, or for a period of six months. He had almost unlimited power, but only for a short period of time. It was agreed that a new class of magistrates, called Tribunes, would be elected from among the plebians to protect their interests against the patricians. In Episode 6: The Twelve Tables a committee was ordered to compile and condense Roman Law (at that stage a mixture of documents, customs and patricians’ self-interested memories) into a single text called the Twelve Tables of Law. The laws were printed on twelve bronze tablets, which have unfortunately been lost. The impetus came from the plebians, and the tablets formed Roman Law for 1000 years. They laid down court procedures, established the legality of capital crimes, intentional homicide, treason, perjury, judicial corruption, and writing slanderous poems, and the rights of family heads, inheritance law, laws of acquisition and possession, land rights, public law and sacred law. Episode 7: The Roman Washington looks at the dictator Cincinnatus. He was not the first dictator, and he was a patrician, not a lover of the underdog. He had lost all his money because of his son’s recklessness, and when war and dissent arose, he left his farm to become dictator in 458BC. Most importantly, once things settled down again, he stood down and went back to his farm. He was called on again during times of crisis and again, reliquished his position afterwards. Americans (who had Roman delusions of their own) designated Washington a second Cincinnatus because he, too, returned to his farm after the War of Independence. They named Cincinnati after Washington (who they named after Cincinnatus).

And at this stage, I took a break and looked at a documentary – very American and rather too presentist for my liking – The Roman Empire Episode 1: The Rise of the Roman Empire available on YouTube. This first episode takes us up to Cincinnatus.

Back to the podcast! Episode 8: Decades of Gloom points out that the Patricians and the Plebs were at each others throats, the Plebs annoyed that the Patricians were hogging all the power, and the Patricians reluctant to give it up. There were real shortages of food, and Spurius Maelius, a wealthy Pleb, hoping to make himself popular, bought up huge supplies of grains as a populist measure. Despite populist acclaim, the Patricians suspected that Maelius had ambitions to have himself crowned King (they really were burned by their experience with kings). Cincinnatus had been reappointed dictator (again) because of the unrest, and he order Maelius to appear before him. When Maelius refused, he was slain by the Master of the Horse. There had been an ongoing and inconclusive war between Rome and Veii, an Estruscan city just 12 miles from Rome, and it finally came to a head because Rome wanted access to the salt on the north bank of the Tiber and because of land shortages in Rome. Episode 9: A Trojan War looks at the war against Veii, when Marcus Furius Camillus was appointed dictator and led the Romans to victory. The Roman war strategy up until this point had been to use overwhelming and unstoppable force, and have a ‘war season’ each year before going back to their fields. Under Camillus, they had a year-round paid army instead, and undertook seige warfare against Veii, and infiltrated the city by tunnelling into its drains.

The History Listen (ABC) In the 1970s I saw Peter Singer’s ‘Animal Liberation’ film, and decided to become a vegetarian. I probably only lasted a year or so. This episode Those Bloody Vegos- a short history of vegetarianism in Australia credits Peter Singer with this 1970s phase of vegetarianism, as part of a longer history. At first, vegetarianism was associated with Spiritualism but then was boosted by the Seventh Day Adventists and the “wellness” movement promoted by the Kellogg brothers (yes- the cereal ones). Vegetables were more accessible once the Chinese started market gardens, and WWII increased the growing of vegetables. Then there was the animal liberation argument, and now environmental and health grounds as well.

Big Ideas (ABC) I could listen to Gideon Haigh all day. He’s so articulate, so knowledgeable. His recent biography of H.V. Evatt is called The Brilliant Boy, but in this Big Ideas episode, he talks about ‘Doc Evatt’s great dissenting judgement‘ where Evatt wrote his opinion about another ‘brilliant boy’ who drowned in a drain in inner Sydney, and his mother sued the council for mental suffering. This is a fairly legalistic discussion, and very broad ranging, but it emphasized Evatt’s legal skill even if he is better known for heading Labor for years in the wilderness.

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