I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-7 May 2023

Emperors of Rome. After a bit of a hiatus, Dr Rhiannon Evans and Matt Smith return to the Emperors, picking up with Episode LXV – Antoninus Pius. It just goes to show that there is no reward for having a prosperous, peaceful reign because Rhiannon and Matt could only scratch one episode for Antoninus Pius, even though he ruled for twenty three years and was known as fourth of the Five Good Emperors. We know little about him, because most of the sources peter out at this point. His family was from trans-Alpine Gaul, but he was actually born in Italy. His father and grandfather had both been consuls under Domitian, but did well under Trajan and Hadrian as well. His daughter ended up marrying Marcus Aurelius, who succeeded him. Despite being a bit cranky at the end, Hadrian had planned his succession well, and Antoninus moved smoothly into the role of emperor and promptly set about getting Hadrian deified, which he deserved but some of those on the receiving end of Hadrian’s crankiness didn’t see it like that. Antoninus, known as ‘Pius’ meaning “dutiful” (rather than “religious” as we might think today) was a diplomat rather than a warrior, and a good money manager. He rebuilt the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus, both of which were looking a bit tatty. The Senate wanted to rename September and October after him and his wife Faustina, but he refused. He died in his mid-seventies in his sleep. Episode LXVI – Fronto. This episode presents Dr Caillan Davenport, who is going to take over from Dr Rhiannon Evans fairly soon. He tells us about Fronto, a senator and some-time consul and orator who became Marcus Aurelius´ tutor and later friend/advisor when Marcus was already 18 years old. He wrote over 200 letters to Marcus Aurelius, of which we have about half.

Travels Through Time. 1924 Knowing What We Know features Simon Winchester, and I think that our presenter was rather overwhelmed by the prospect of interviewing him about his new book Knowing What We Know, the transmission of knowledge from Ancient Wisdom to Modern Magic because she herself wrote a book about how ancient knowledge was transmitted. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Winchester is a journalist rather than a historian, because his books are marked by their broad scope and attraction to the ‘good story’. Anyway, after a long discussion, he identified 25 October 1924, when the Zinoviev Letter was published in the British press, setting Ramsay MacDonald and the Labour Party up for election disaster; the creation of IBM – International Business Machines and the passing of Asian Exclusion Act through Congress, enshrining anti-immigration policy and racism into law. Actually, I wonder if he read the instructions for this program because he seemed to wander all over the place.

History Extra. On the eve of the coronation, I enjoyed this episode featuring Tracy Borman on What Makes a Good Coronation? She starts off by pointing out that the coronation of King Charles III has its roots in Anglo-Saxon times with the crowning of King Edgar in 973. Her tips are:

  1. Have plenty of bling. Unfortunately most of the bits and bobs date only from Charles II because nearly all of them were melted down during the Civil War
  2. Make sure the ceremony is rooted in history, because the whole point is to emphasize that it’s business as usual.
  3. Make sure it’s televised (which of course could only apply to Charles and his mother’s coronations). Queen Elizabeth’s coronation had 90 different contingency plans for unforeseen events
  4. Be in tune with the times. Victoria had a very thrifty coronation to distance herself from the financial profligacy of William IV and George IV. George’s coronation had cost the equivalent of $14 million
  5. Watch the guest list. George IV had to lock his estranged wife Queen Caroline out of Westminster Cathedral when she turned up uninvited.
  6. Think carefully about a joint coronation. Henry VIII had had a very successful joint coronation with his first wife Catherine of Aragon, but his coronation with Anne Boleyn attracted a lot of criticism, no matter how much money was spent
  7. In fact, joint coronations were relative rare
  8. Beware wardrobe malfunctions. George II’s coronation took place on a very hot day and he was enraged when his cap kept slipping over his eyes. Better than Richard II, whose crown blew off in a gust of wind. It snowed on Henry V’s coronation, which was interpreted as an evil portent.
  9. Choosing the time. George VI stuck to the original date chosen for Edward’s coronation (before he abdicated). William the Conqueror went for Christmas Day in 1066 but it was a bit of a fiasco when the troops misinterpreted the cheers for a riot.
  10. Make sure you crown the right king. Edward VI was crowned in Ireland in 1487 but it was an imposter. Henry VII got his revenge by making the imposter a kitchen boy
  11. Don’t be too young. Mary Queen of Scots was crowned when she was 9 months old, and not unsurprisingly she cried when she was disrobed as part of the multiple wardrobe changes
  12. The most successful coronation was that of Elizabeth I. She prepared it very carefully, and took care to include references to her mother (the formerly unpopular Anne Boleyn).
  13. The most memorable was probably Queen Elizabeth II’s because television took the ceremony all over the world.

El Hilo (Spanish) Brasil: violencia en las escuelas, odio en las redes (Brazil: violence in schools, hatred across the social networks) was a program about the recent spate of killings in Brazilian schools. There has always been violence in Brazilian schools, but not at this level. ‘Our’ (honorary) Jacinda even gets a mention for not ever uttering the Christchurch killer’s name. BBC World picked up on the story (article in English)

The Guardian Long Read Historians generally aren’t awarded celebrity status but Timothy Snyder is an exception. Putin, Trump, Ukraine: how Timothy Snyder became the leading interpreter of our dark times looks at his rise to prominence, even though he is often derided as a Cassandra. He, on the other hand, says that good history means taking bad ideas seriously. Actually, I read and reviewed his 2018 book The Road to Unfreedom and certainly he was very prescient. He has a series of lectures on You Tube about Ukrainian history which I must watch some time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s