During January I was at the beach, largely staying by myself, and so there was lots of time for listening to podcasts! Nothing better than walking along the beach as the sun rises with my earbuds in, or sitting on the sand, staring out at the water, listening to a podcast as night falls….
Emperors of Rome. Back to the chronology and the year 69CE, best known as the year of four emperors who vied to fill the vacancy after Nero’s death. Episode XXVIII Galba starts us off. He was very aristocratic, and pretty old, having been born in 3 BCE and had been there right through the Julio-Claudian era and a friend of Livia’s. He was a general, and noted for his toughness. Being head of the army gave him immediate authority, but he quickly undercut this authority by promising a wage rise to the troops which he straight away rescinded. He only lasted seven months and wasn’t popular from the start, imposing heavy taxes, crucifying Roman citizens (a real no-no) and making punishments fit the crime. He was ambushed by his rival Otho, who mistreated his body after death- the ultimate insult. So Otho takes over in Episode XXIX Otho. He only lasted 95 days. He was only 37 and had a strong connection with Nero: in fact, Nero got Otho to marry his (i.e. Nero’s) mistress and then sent Otho to Spain. Although Nero doesn’t have a good reputation now, there were still people who liked him so the Nero connection wasn’t necessarily a drawback. He had expected to be Galba’s successor but he wasn’t, so he decided to take the emperorship anyway. There were criticisms that he was too vain, and took care of himself rather too much. He was proclaimed Emperor by his troops, but unfortunately for him, Vitellius’ troops were doing exactly the same thing in Germany. He suicided after defeat by Vitellius. Episode XXX Vitellius was the next cab off the rank. He had a good resume: military experience, governor in German but he was a disaster. There was talk that he was one of the boy loves of Tiberius, but by now he was tall and fat. He didn’t actually declare himself Caesar, and on gaining victory over Otho, he replaced the Praetorian guard with his own troops. By this time Vespasian in Judea had been acclaimed by his troops too, and after Vespasian triumphed over him, he was dragged out by Vespasian’s troops, tortured to death and thrown into the Tiber.
The Essay (BBC). After listening to the Emperors of Rome episode on Ovid, I realized that I had never really read any of his work. The Essay has a brief segment of 15-minute radio plays taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, acted out with rather discordant Cockney (?) accents. In each of these stories, there is a metamorphosis from one human form to another non-human form. Episode 1 Ceyx and Alcyone is about King Ceyx who needs to travel to consult the oracle, and dies in a shipwreck. Alcyone doesn’t know that he is dead, and she continues to pray to Hera for him. Hera gets a bit embarrassed and so sends Morpheus to impersonate Ceyx and tell her in a dream. She is heartbroken, ran to the beach and comes across Ceyx’s lifeless body. The gods take pity of them, and turn them into birds. In Episode 2 Pygmalion, a gifted sculptor falls in love with the sculpture of a woman he has made, and the gods grant his wish that she become real. Episode 3 Opheus and Eurydice is more familiar to me, where Eurydice is bitten by a snake on her wedding day and Orpheus travels to the underworld to get her back on condition that he not turn around while she is following him out. Episode 4 Biblis and Cannus is rather transgressive where Biblis falls in love with her brother. She confesses her love in a letter to him, and he leaves for another city. She turns into a stream, and one day he drinks from that stream. Episode 5 Philemon and Baucis are a devoted old couple who are generous to the passing Gods, and are thus saved from the Gods’ wrath with the other people in the village who refused them hospitality. In the end, they turn into trees.
In Our Time (BBC). The episode Ovid takes a literary approach, featuring Maria Wyke (Professor of Latin at University College London), Gail Trimble (Brown Fellow and Tutor in Classics at Trinity College at the University of Oxford) and Dunstan Lowe (Senior Lecturer in Latin Literature at the University of Kent). So all thoroughly British and erudite. Virgil and Horace were of an earlier generation and more anxious about the new regime than Ovid was, and his poetry was edgier as a result. The ‘Art of Love’ was a didactic poem, crossing genres, while the ‘Metamorphoses’ was an epic poem – the highest form of the genre- stitching together 250 stories into a whole. There have been criticisms of Ovid’s misogyny (his women do tend to come to a bad end, with a lot of rape) but it is probably more noticeable because he does actually include women in his stories.
Archive on Four (BBC) Ovid in Changing Times features Tom Holland (author of Rubicon etc.) in a wide-ranging episode that looks at the transgressive nature of Ovid’s writing. The emperorship of Augustus changed everything, but he pretended that there was continuity in his takeover of power. Ovid’s political message was that everything changes, no matter how much you might pretend that it doesn’t. He then goes on to talk about The Metamorphoses and the blurring of male and female roles, body modification, present-day narcissism and has a go at the demand for ‘trigger warnings’ for Ovid. Very interesting but digressive.
Russia If You’re Listening (ABC) And here I am at the end of the seventh series, recorded on December 14, 2022. How will the war against Ukraine end? can only be speculative. At this stage, it is a toss-up between Zelenskyy pulling off an unlikely and unexpected victory; Putin crushing Ukraine; a stalemate or Putin being toppled. Since then, we have had the Germans releasing the restrictions on the use of Leopard tanks – who knows how this will end.
The Forum (BBC) I’m reading Simon Sebag Montefiore’s The World (although I’m not sure whether I will persevere with it). It has, however, introduced me to many woman rulers that I had never heard of. Queen Tamar of Georgia is one of them. Queen Tamar: The Myth of a Perfect Ruler. Bridget Kendall is joined by Dr. Ekaterine Gedevanishvili, Senior Researcher at the National Centre for the History of Georgian Art in Tbilisi; Alexander Mikaberidze, Professor of History at Louisiana State University; Dr. Sandro Nikolaishvili, researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, who works on retracing connections between the Byzantine and Georgian worlds; and Donald Rayfield, Emeritus Professor of Russian and Georgian at Queen Mary, University of London. She ruled between 1184 to 1213, when the Georgian kingdom was at its height, stretching from the Caucasus through to Armenia. She was crowned twice, first while her father was alive as co-ruler, then in her own right. She was the granddaughter of David the Builder, and the times suited her as her potential enemies were distracted. She extended the kingdom, and her reign was known as the “golden age” with music, poetry and church-building. A poem written by Rostaveli ‘Knight in the Panther Skin’ was a form of homage to her, and it is still a very important work today.