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Thread: Ancient Rome, anyone?

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    Quote Originally Posted by senza sordino View Post
    I've been trying to read SPQR by Mary Beard. I like her style. I like how she tells what we know, but also how we know this. But I too stopped mid book. It's just a heavy read for me, lots of information. I'll try to get back to it later.

    Ten years ago I started but didn't finish The Classical World by Robin Lane Fox.

    That I didn't finish these books says more about me and my inability to read dense history books than it does about the book itself. History is not my specialty. I didn't learn much history as a student. I like the idea of reading history books, but I've started many more than I've finished.
    I have just returned from a trip to Italy, so I was motivated to do some reading. SQPR was actually a bit light on facts compared to some other books on Rome. She only references the military campaigns as guideposts for the cultural life that was unfolding simultaneously, and she doesn’t get lost in the thickets of Imperial Geneology, and barely mentions the periphery of the Roman World, such as Spain, Britain or the Levant. Beard’s emphasis instead is on the the roles of the various strata—Royalty, Plebians, Women, Slaves, Children, the relationship between the the Rulers and the Ruled—and I was fascinated.
    I also read The Classical World, years ago. It’s far less memorable.
    I recommend the fictional Robert Harris trilogy that I referenced earlier. It might stimulate an interest in reading about some of the Historical background

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    Senior Member Strange Magic's Avatar
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    The series by Colleen McCullough is formidable. As I recollect, McCullough is said--or claims--to own the largest private library of books on Roman history on the planet. I, Claudius and Claudius the God are marvelous books, and the TV series made from them with Derek Jacoby is one of the greatest masterpieces of extended cinema I've ever seen.

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    Senior Member elgars ghost's Avatar
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    I loved I, Claudius as well - I was about 12 when it was first broadcast. I thought it was an excellent combination of psychodrama, pathos and black comedy. It was made on a low budget but what a cast - some weren't particularly well-known before then but looking now at the acting credits reveals a veritable Who's Who of British stage and screen. And it's probably the only series where you can see Patrick Stewart (Sejanus) with hair and Brian Blessed (Augustus) without his trademark bushy beard! Siân Philips almost gave me nightmares with her cold-eyed portrayal of Livia - even allowing for historical/artistic license that was one truly frightening woman.

    Last edited by elgars ghost; Oct-30-2018 at 13:49.
    '...a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who has just closed half a century without a single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity...' - Leigh Hunt on the Prince Regent (later George IV).

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    Senior Member Strange Magic's Avatar
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    And let's not forget the equally star-studded cast of Joseph L. Mankiewicz' film of the Grandaddy Of Them All, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. The play has perhaps more quotable quotes than anything else Shakespeare penned, and the film is a masterful realization of the play. A brilliant mixed Anglo-American cast, led by John Gielgud, Marlon Brando, and James Mason, highlights the effort, with Louis Calhern, Deborah Kerr, Greer Garson, Edmond O'Brien, and a host of other top-notch actors filling out the cast. This is the real deal, not a Taylor/Burton Hollywood spectacle. Black-and-white cinematography certainly helped also.

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    Senior Member Ingélou's Avatar
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    Ave, Strange Magic! Et ita vero!

    Quote Originally Posted by Strange Magic View Post
    The series by Colleen McCullough is formidable. As I recollect, McCullough is said--or claims--to own the largest private library of books on Roman history on the planet. I, Claudius and Claudius the God are marvelous books, and the TV series made from them with Derek Jacoby is one of the greatest masterpieces of extended cinema I've ever seen.
    I read Robert Graves' 'I, Claudius' and 'Claudius the God' in the interim between completing my O-levels and going into the sixth form. Not only were these books an excellent read, but they told me who everybody was for when I came to study A-level Latin.

    Quote Originally Posted by Strange Magic View Post
    And let's not forget the equally star-studded cast of Joseph L. Mankiewicz' film of the Grandaddy Of Them All, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. The play has perhaps more quotable quotes than anything else Shakespeare penned, and the film is a masterful realization of the play. A brilliant mixed Anglo-American cast, led by John Gielgud, Marlon Brando, and James Mason, highlights the effort, with Louis Calhern, Deborah Kerr, Greer Garson, Edmond O'Brien, and a host of other top-notch actors filling out the cast. This is the real deal, not a Taylor/Burton Hollywood spectacle. Black-and-white cinematography certainly helped also.
    This is my favourite Julius Caesar film, which I always used in my teaching in preference to any other version. James Mason's troubled face as Brutus made him very sympathetic, and though I'm not a big Brando fan, I think he does a wonderful job here, and I would often use the funeral speech from this film even with disaffected 'GCSE English Retake' classes* in the sixth form college where Taggart and I worked.

    It worked a treat and was a great clip for studying, not only the play, but also how political oratory can work.

    * 'Miss, why do I have to do English again - English is boring!'
    Last edited by Ingélou; Oct-30-2018 at 15:05.
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    Senior Member Luchesi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    Listen. If one supposedly is genuinely interested in the why, perhaps the place to start is by seeing history as more than a male sexist pursuit written by men—or are males the only ones with cultural influence, influential opinions, and a past? There have been any number of important women historians who have written influential or memorable histories:

    https://www.bustle.com/articles/1354...itten-by-women

    For one to have no value of history suggests that the person may have never learned anything of value from his or her own personal experiences—and it would seem that's impossible unless one is completely unconscious of one's past. So history is not a sexist pursuit; it's a personal one that starts out by being meaningful to the person who's living that life. The study of cultural history is what a collective group of people have done with their lives to meet the challenges of life and overcoming them, to survive, learn, create, influence society in art, war, agriculture, technology, or other meaningful pursuits. It's hard to imagine that any musician would find nothing of creative value by examining the lives of the great composers, whether it's Hildegard von Bingen or Amy Beach. There is nothing of value to be learned from the history of their lives that is still meaningful to the present?
    What are you saying? I should be interested because women came up with some history?
    Franz Liszt: "Mournful and yet grand is the destiny of the artist."

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    Senior Member Tristan's Avatar
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    I will also recommend SPQR by Mary Beard

    Since I had a minor in Latin, I took a number of classes on Ancient Rome. I'll admit that my interest always lay more in the language than in the history, but the history was always fascinating to me.
    A way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

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    Senior Member Strange Magic's Avatar
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    KenOC: "Great fiction: “Eagle in the Snow: A Novel of General Maximus and Rome's Last Stand.” A really good book about trying to guard Rome against the tribes pushing south."
    Ken's reference to this book reminds me that the history of empires--Ancient Egypt, the various Mesopotamian states, Persia, China, Rome, etc.--is of Ups and Downs, usually with barbarians at the gates or rival upstart empires threatening to take over your action. Plenty of material of interest to both historians and novelists or dramatists. The Roman Empire had its share of near-death experiences and then periods of recovery. One such period of recovery were the successive though brief reigns of the three Illyrian emperors: Claudius Gothicus (268-270), Aurelian (270-275), and Probus (276-282). By smashing (for a time) the Goths, the Germans, Palmyra, and the Gauls following the years of just hanging on under Gallienus (260-268) and the preceding chaos (twelve emperors between 235 and 260) when big chunks of the empire were carved away or set up shop as independent entities, the Illyrian emperors restored much of the lost territory and reunified all the breakaway pieces. This cleared the way for the years of relative stability of Diocletian and then Constantine. Quite a novel could be written of those fraught times.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange Magic View Post
    Ken's reference to this book reminds me that the history of empires--Ancient Egypt, the various Mesopotamian states, Persia, China, Rome, etc.--is of Ups and Downs, usually with barbarians at the gates or rival upstart empires threatening to take over your action. Plenty of material of interest to both historians and novelists or dramatists. The Roman Empire had its share of near-death experiences...

    Eagle in the Snow
    centers on the years 405-407 AD, when things were getting pretty grim for Rome. Not long after, they had to set up turnstiles and allow barbarian sackings on various days of the week, or so I've heard.

    The novel obviously has resonances today, in the current news.
    Last edited by KenOC; Nov-02-2018 at 08:20.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange Magic View Post
    Ken's reference to this book reminds me that the history of empires--Ancient Egypt, the various Mesopotamian states, Persia, China, Rome, etc.--is of Ups and Downs, usually with barbarians at the gates or rival upstart empires threatening to take over your action. Plenty of material of interest to both historians and novelists or dramatists. The Roman Empire had its share of near-death experiences and then periods of recovery. One such period of recovery were the successive though brief reigns of the three Illyrian emperors: Claudius Gothicus (268-270), Aurelian (270-275), and Probus (276-282). By smashing (for a time) the Goths, the Germans, Palmyra, and the Gauls following the years of just hanging on under Gallienus (260-268) and the preceding chaos (twelve emperors between 235 and 260) when big chunks of the empire were carved away or set up shop as independent entities, the Illyrian emperors restored much of the lost territory and reunified all the breakaway pieces. This cleared the way for the years of relative stability of Diocletian and then Constantine. Quite a novel could be written of those fraught times.
    Indeed.

    There is a series of books set in the 3rd century, by Nick Brown, called "The Agent of Rome". I have read only one of them, 'The Imperial Banner', that was mildly interesting to me.

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    Senior Member NickFuller's Avatar
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    I, Clavdivs has already been invoked.

    ITV's Caesars (1967) is excellent; I, Clavdivs may be a stronger drama, but Caesars is more intelligent politically. The great André Morell as a sympathetic, moral Tiberius; Agrippina I as Lady Macbeth; while Caligula is a coldly rational psychopath, who'll discuss the ethics of power over dinner while making a father watch his son's murder.

    Books
    Period sources: You can't go past Suetonius, Tacitus, and the Historia Augusta (even though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate). Dio Cassius and Herodian are also important histories; so's Procopius's Secret History, for the reign of Justinian (Byzantine). Couldn't get into Ammianus Marcellinus.

    Non-fiction: Ivar Lissner's Power and the Folly is a great read, even though it has a Christian bias. (For a useful corrective, read Catherine Nixey's Darkening Age, which argues that the Christians were the equivalent of Muslim fanatics.) Michael Grant's Roman Emperors (which goes up to Romulus Augustulus). Tom Holland's recent Dynasty, although it only covers the Julio-Claudians. There are many excellent studies of individual emperors, including more obscure ones like Probus, Aurelian, and Gallienus. Gregorio Maranon's Tiberius: A Study in Resentment is intriguing, if wrong-headed.

    Fiction: Graves, of course. Marguerite Yourcenar's Mémoires d'Hadrien. Alfred Duggan's Family Favourites (looks at the reign of Elagabalus). Gore Vidal's Julian.

    Oh, and if you like utter trash:
    Stephen Barber and Jeremy Reed's Divine Carnage: Atrocities of the Roman Emperors, pornographic fantasy masquerading as history
    Bob Guccione's Caligula - with contributions by Gore Vidal, Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole, and John Gielgud - and a complete waste of their talents.

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  20. #27
    Senior Member Luchesi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange Magic View Post
    Ken's reference to this book reminds me that the history of empires--Ancient Egypt, the various Mesopotamian states, Persia, China, Rome, etc.--is of Ups and Downs, usually with barbarians at the gates or rival upstart empires threatening to take over your action. Plenty of material of interest to both historians and novelists or dramatists. The Roman Empire had its share of near-death experiences and then periods of recovery. One such period of recovery were the successive though brief reigns of the three Illyrian emperors: Claudius Gothicus (268-270), Aurelian (270-275), and Probus (276-282). By smashing (for a time) the Goths, the Germans, Palmyra, and the Gauls following the years of just hanging on under Gallienus (260-268) and the preceding chaos (twelve emperors between 235 and 260) when big chunks of the empire were carved away or set up shop as independent entities, the Illyrian emperors restored much of the lost territory and reunified all the breakaway pieces. This cleared the way for the years of relative stability of Diocletian and then Constantine. Quite a novel could be written of those fraught times.
    Is this part of the reason (these threats) why they soon instituted the new policy on religions? Church and state solidarity? Jesus was claimed to be an eternal being, had existed eternally even though, somehow, he was an offspring of their god. When you were competing with other religions back then - you had to have the highest and most extreme presentation. There would be a few dissenters with the exile of Arius, but far fewer than if you let theological contentions lead to blood in the streets. The Emperor had been distressed about the civil unrest and bloodshed which had resulted from Arianism. So he felt he had to step in.
    Last edited by Luchesi; Nov-02-2018 at 16:48.
    Franz Liszt: "Mournful and yet grand is the destiny of the artist."

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