I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 9-16 August 2022

Robert F Scott. Wikimedia

The History Listen. Perhaps some things should only be on video, not audio. Like this podcast, Inexpressible Island, which has beautiful descriptions of Antarctica, but I wish I could actually see what they’re describing. I only know Raymond Priestly from the Uni of Melbourne building that bears his name, but he was one of the Northern Party that was part of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition (1910–1913). Scott and his team perished, of course, but the Northern Party had a pretty rough time too, unable to be relieved because pack ice prevented ships reaching them, and spending literally months in a dark ice cave. They had to walk for five weeks to arrive back at their ship.

History of Rome. Episode 171 The Gathering Storm. The Huns were not so much about sacking the empire, but as extorting indemnity payments. Why would you wreck a functioning economic structure??- you’re better off leaving it there and just threatening them. Theodosius II agreed to pay the go-away money. Meanwhile, in the West, Aetius was determined to hold on to Gaul, Hispania and Italy. He defeated Theodoric the Goth, then the Frank king Clodio. Over in the east,Theodosius II died after falling from a horse, and his sister Pulcheria stepped into the vacuum (just as she had when he was a kid). This time she was forced to find a husband, so she chose Marcian, who was so nondescript that he wouldn’t cramp her style. In fact, she crowned him.

Episode 172 Showdown. Valentinian III’s older sister Honoria was supposed to be married off to Herculanus who was dull and predicatable. She was neither of these things, and she appealed to Attila the Hun to come and rescue her – well, that’s the story, anyway- it may well have been a pretext. Either way Attila invaded Gaul, and when Clodio died, Aetius and Attila backed different sons in the Frankish succession. Attila seemed to be playing mindgames with all sides, and sowing discontent amongst the different sides so that they wouldn’t unite against him. In 451 he crossed the Rhine and marched as far as Orleans until the people locked them out. Theodoric the Goth finally agreed that the Goths would join Aetius and perhaps 150,00 Roman/Goths and Huns faced off at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. The Huns had to retreat, and the Goths went home to choose a new King. After licking their wounds, the Huns invaded again in 452 this time, heading for the Po Valley. They razed Aquileia (a major town) completely and Emperor Valentinian fled from Ravenna back to Rome.

Episode 173 The Broken Bow. Attila headed for Milan and sacked it. Valentinian sent envoys, including Bishop Leo of Rome to seek peace and amazingly enough, Attila agreed to withdraw! Why? Well, the Huns didn’t really want land and they had to take all their plundered gold home, their supply lines were stretched, and Attila’s troops were suffering from disease. He was getting ready to invade the East when he died. Then there were a succession of deaths: Valentinian killed Aetius himself (even though he was the most successful general Rome had), perhaps as an act of pre-emptive self defence, then Valentinian was assassinated. Between 450 and 455 those indomitable women Galla Placidia and Aelia Pulcheria died too. Petronius Maximus, who had plotted Aetius’ death became Emperor. By now, it is the end of imperial dynasties in the West- now it’s just a series of “Last Emperors”. And at this point, Mike Duncan announces that he’s going to finish at 475 AD because it’s a good spot to finish AND because his wife is having a baby! (Who is, by now 10 years old, given that I’m listening to this 10 years too late!)

The Philosopher’s Zone (ABC) I don’t very often listen to this program but I was interested in this episode Simone de Beauvoir: becoming a woman that unpacks Simone de Beauvoir’s statement in The Second Sex that “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” – a statement that has acquired new meaning in recent years in transgender debates. The episode features Toril Moi, James B. Duke Professor of Literature and Romance Studies and Professor of English, Philosophy and Theatre Studies at Duke University. She points out that de Beauvoir personally never felt that she had been discriminated against, and it was only when she went back to the archives that she realized the historical discrimination against ‘the second sex’. The sex/gender distinction was a product of 1960s anglophone countries, and not even thought of in 1949 when she wrote The Second Sex. However, she thinks that de Beauvoir would be comfortable with the thought that all roles are evolving all the time.

History Hit Now that I’m drawing close to the end of my History of Rome series, I’m happy to backtrack on Roman history, and this episode of The Ancients: The Origins of Rome goes way, way back to Romulus and Remus.Professor Guy Bradley from Cardiff University points out that all of the sources that we have on early Rome were written seven centuries after the events in 8BCE, and so the distinction between mythology and history was muddied. Romulus and Remus were supposed to have been born in Alba Longa, but no evidence of the city prior to Rome exists, although there is pre-1000 BCE evidence of settlement in Rome itself, including walls and remains of the 8BCE Temple of Vesta. It is almost impossible to separate out Roman archaeological artefacts from those of surrounding cultures, and there are logistic difficulties in digging under Roman ruins to find anything from earlier settlement.

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