The big news story at the moment is the rather spectacular failure of David Cameron’s attempt to oppose the election of Jean-Claude Junker as the next EU Commission President. He forced a vote in which he was only supported by Hungary. It is easy to criticise politicians for all sorts of things for which they are not remotely responsible, but sorting out votes really is the sort of thing they should be good at.
My extended review of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire continues, and we have now reached part 5 of Chapter 31 where we see Gaul and Spain fall to the barbarians in the aftermath of the sack of Rome.
The sack of Rome by Alaric was dramatic and important, but what happened in the immediate aftermath is important too.
I stumbled upon a video on Youtube which gives you a virtual tour of the famous caves in France where the Lascaux Cave Paintings were discovered. Anyone interested in history will be familiar with the images themselves, but seeing them in their context adds a whole new dimension. In particular I had realised just how deep they were.
With some things you just need to read the label. As its name suggests, this is a book about monarchs presented in the form of heroic rhyming couplets. Specifically it is about the kings of England. I don’t make a habit of reviewing books when I haven’t completely read them, but I have to confess I have only managed about a third of this one. Poetry of any kind is a bit of a minority interest nowadays. I have to say that my poetry consumption is not at all high, and what I do read is primarily classics rather than new writers. Rhyming couplets are probably the least favoured form of verse. So it was courageous of Linda to tackle such an ambitious project.
This post will have to take the form of an open letter to David Withun. Hopefully it will make sense to other people as well.
I am a development scientist. I work in a lab wearing a white coat mixing things up, just like people imagine scientists do. It is actually a fairly skilled job that I have acquired through long hours and much repetition. I’d be a little miffed if somebody off the street could walk in and do my job as well as I do. So I am not too bothered that my modest blog and associated videos reviewing history books are perhaps not the the greatest bits of writing or presentation around. I am after all, very much an amateur. But there is an element of taste to these things as well. There are professionals whose work I find I simply don’t like. And then there are those whose very careers are a mystery to me. And of those, the most mysterious is Melanie Phillips. Why does anybody read her? She has a range of controversial opinions of course. Why not? Controversy can make things interesting and introduce some passion. But our Melanie succeeds in making her controversies boring. The reason is not so hard to fathom. She works to a fairly narrow and fairly predictable formula. She denigrates the integrity of her opponents, and she cherry picks nuggets of information – often a great many of them – to justify what she is saying.
Alaric may well be the best known German barbarian in Roman history. He was a Goth of high rank and bizarrely for someone who is mainly remembered for wrecking the empire, his role model was probably the man who was for a time to become his great enemy: Stilicho, whose military expertise had given him effective control of the Empire in the West.
Was the Catholic Church simply a new way for the Romans to rule their empire? The traditional conquest model didn’t work any more, so was this another way to keep control in the same hands? It is a thought that has occurred to more than one person over the centuries. If you were looking for evidence to support the idea you’d be off to a good start with the career of St Ambrose. His father was the governor of a large province in Gaul. Ambrose was educated in Rome with the intention of following in his father’s foot steps. And he started off doing exactly that, being the governor of a region including Milan. Rome was still the nominal capital, but Milan was where the emperors lived and so that was where the real power was.
Napoleon famously always asked if someone was lucky when considering promoting them. It is certainly the case that luck plays a big part in what historical figures achieve and an even bigger part in determining their future reputations. President Obama for instance was extremely lucky to be black at just the time this was no longer something that barred his political progress but was still enough of an obstacle for his successes to be enhanced by it. Nobody else will ever be the first black president, and being the second black president won’t pull in much kudos. In the future I predict the rise of Obama will be treated as some sort of defining historical event, and his own part in it will be exaggerated – a myth will be created.
All art involves distortion and recreation. Myths and legends take this to a high degree, with multiple versions of the same story that often vary wildly in details. So it is justified to come up with a new take on an old tale. Is it also justifiable to treat myths as a grab bag of names and plots for your latest project? Nobody complains when Wagner does it. But lots of people complained on Twitter when the BBC’s latest Saturday night blockbuster Atlantis did.