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

John of Gaunt. Wikimedia

Travels Through Time I recently read Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century and I’m on a little bit of a medieval kick as a response. Helen Carr has recently released a book on John of Gaunt called The Red Prince and she features in a couple of podcasts as part of her publicity campaign. I listened to this podcast after the History Extra one, but because this podcast is longer and more detailed, you’d be better off listening to this first. John of Gaunt suffered ‘3rd living son of a King’ syndrome, being the son of Edward III, uncle of Richard II, Father of Henry IV and progenitor of the Tudor dynasty. Carr chooses 1381, a year when the Peasant Army blew up his home the Savoy Palace, and when his nephew Richard II rejected his assistance.

History Extra Podcast also had a session with her in John of Gaunt: prince without a throne. It is a bit shorter, and I felt that it didn’t go back and start from the beginning as well as the Travels Through Time podcast did.

The History of Rome. I’m about a quarter of the way through! Maybe I will finish it in 2021! Episode 50 The Donations of Alexandria sees Mark Antony having another crack at Parthia, but he had to withdraw. After that he went back to Egypt, and Cleopatra (even though he was still married to Octavia, Octavian’s sister). He started putting his own children in positions of power. Meanwhile Octavian was off fighting in the Balkans, something that redeemed his pretty shonky reputation as a general. His friends and advisors were Maecenas and Agrippa, and together they plotted war against Mark Antony. The 10-year old Second Triumvirate was dissolved, and after Octavian got hold of Mark Antony’s will that was stored with the Vestal Virgins and learned of Mark Antony’s plans to put his family into power, war was declared. Episode 51 Actium starts off with Mike Duncan reflecting on how people during the 1century BC kept being forced to take sides in a series of civil wars. Mark Antony and Cleopatra escaped battle at Actium in 31BC but by now Octavian was determined to annex Egypt completely. The suicide pact between Mark Antony and Cleopatra veers into Romeo and Juliet territory, although she ended up outliving him. Octavian insisted on having Alexander the Great’s mausoleum opened. Even though most people were humbled by how much the 33 year old Alexander achieved, in the case of Octavian (who was also 33) he used the example of Alexander to promote his sense of destiny. In Episode 52 Caesar Augustus, the victorious Octavian was determined to completely expunge Mark Antony’s name. He embarked on a marketing campaign, with Virgil writing The Aeneid and the construction of two temples, one to Apollo and the Pantheon. When he threatened to retire, the Senate begged him to remain, and the Senate bestowed upon Octavian the title Caesar Augustus during the constitutional settlement of 27 BC. Four years later Augustus and the Senate altered their power sharing agreement. He changed his name to Augustus (meaning ‘revered one’) but even he realized that ‘Princept’ (i.e. first citizen) might be a better title. In Episode 53 Reigning Supreme, we see Augustus with 90% of the power he needed. First he turned his mind to foreign affairs by neutering (although not actually defeating) Parthia, then he turned to internal matters. He tried to reduce the size of the Senate from 1000 to 300 by increasing the wealth requirement (not completely successful in this) , he had the Praetorian guard under his control, and he instituted pro-family, anti-adultery measures. As the wealthiest man in Rome, he personally bankrolled roads and communication improvements. Episode 54 All in the Family sees Augustus looking to his grandsons through Julia and Agrippa to continue the line. But they were too young so he appointed his stepsons, Livia’s sons Tiberius and Drusus to high office long before they were technically eligible. He had a plan that the Elbe and Danube Rivers form the boundary of the Empire, and he sent them off to fight there. His friend Agrippa died, and he forced Tiberius to divorce his wife in order to marry the widowed Julia- neither Tiberius nor Julia wanted this marriage- and so Tiberius went into self-imposed exile, and Julia embarked on a series of adulterous affairs. His friend Maecenas died too, then his stepson Drusus died from a horse-fall. Episode 55: Teutoburg Nightmares. Augustus was having a rough time personally: his daughter Julia was exiled as a punishment for her promiscuity, and both his grandsons Lucius and Gaius died, leaving Tiberius the last one standing. He was getting a bit tired of exile, so he came back. Mike Duncan just teases with the question of whether Tiberius’ mother Livia really did kill off all the opposition to smooth the way for her son- he says that there is no real evidence beyond the fact that she did promote her sons (which any mother would do). Meanwhile, there was an uprising in Germania and a severe loss for the legions in the Teutoburg Forest, which Germans in the 19th century used as a historical high point. This marked the end of expansion on the Rhine- Augustus was happy to let the German tribes squabble amongst themselves.

C-Span Podcasts in History Edward Ball has written two books springing from his own family history. The first, Slaves in the Family seems to have disappeared completely, even though it won the National Book Award in 1998. His most recent book Life of a Klansman was published in 2020, and it looks at another branch of his family where, as with his estimate of 50% of white Americans alive today, he has a white supremacist ancestor. There are 2 podcasts in this long (1 hr 50 min) episode Edward Ball: Slaves in the Family and Life of a Klansman. The first one, dealing with Slaves in the Family seems to be a Zoom-based symposium with students who have used his book as a text, and the second one, which has much better sound quality, looks at his most recent book.

Conversations (ABC) Jimmy Barnes: A Broken Homecoming One of the joys of lockdown has been watching Jimmy Barnes perform in his kitchen/lounge/bedroom with his wife Jane. I just loved his Working Class Boy (which I was sure that I had read, but could only find my response to the documentary here). This interview traverses some of the same material from Jimmy’s early childhood, but then extends later into the time dealt with in his later books (which I must read). Gees- he could talk the leg off a chair, this bloke!

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