Tag: ancient history

Books of the Decade – Mark Vernon

Mark VernonMark Vernon is a writer, broadcaster and journalist.  His academic interests led him from physics to philosophy via theology (he began his professional life as a priest in the Church of England). He went freelance ten years ago and now writes regularly for the Guardian, The Philosophers’ Magazine, TLS, Financial Times and New Statesman, alongside a range of business titles, including Management Today. He also broadcasts, notably on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time.

Plato's Podcasts coverMark’s most recent book is Plato’s Podcasts: The Ancients’ Guide to Modern Living. You can hear a podcast about that book by clicking here. His other publications include: Wellbeing, After Atheism, The Philosophy of Friendship, and Science, Religion and the Meaning of Life.

On Religion, John Caputo (2001)

Caputo: On ReligionThis book appeared in 2001. Had those folk who waged battle in the God wars of the decade read it first, we might have had a more informed debate.

Caputo aims to do a difficult thing: define religion. He does so with great verve, seeing that at heart, religion is a form of love – for good or ill.

The Athenian Murders, José Carlos Somoza (2001)

Somoza: Athenian MurdersIt is rare for a novel to combine the excitement of the thriller with the insight of great philosophy.

Umberto Eco manages it, and Somoza does too, in a plot that starts with an apparently minor conundrum and ends up engaging nothing less than the secret of knowledge itself. Brilliant.

The Kingdom of Infinite Space: A Fantastical Journey Around Your Head, Raymond Tallis (2008)

Tallis: Kingdom of Infinite SpaceI read this book whilst taking a long train trip, and it was so engaging that when I got off, I’d swear I saw the world in brighter colours.

Tallis combines the science of the body with the philosophy of consciousness and, pulling no punches, produces a truly remarkable exploration of what goes on with our heads.

15. The Big Parade with Mary Beard

Mary Beard “I’m interested in saying, look, how can you challenge the Asterix-and-the-Romans kind of image that we tend to have of Rome? We are determined to turn a blind eye to Roman subtlety, humour and sophistication because the Romans do a very good job for us of being bridge-builders and thugs. The Greeks are sophisticated guys who go round thinking about the meaning of life, and the Romans conquer people. And those kinds of symbols of difference are terribly convenient for modern culture to use, as you can see if you look at how Rome appears in movies.”

I’ve recently been in Cambridge to talk to Professor Mary Beard about her radical re-evaluation of one of ancient Rome’s quintessential rituals – the triumph. There are few images more evocative of ancient Rome than the triumph. It’s one of the favourite set-pieces of countless “sword-and-sandal” epics.

To be awarded a triumph was the greatest accolade for a victorious Roman general. He would be drawn through the city’s streets, dressed as a god and surrounded by his raucous troops, his exotic prisoners of war and his captured booty. Surely nothing could better sum up the raw aggression and triumphal militarism?

The Roman TriumphHang on a moment, though, says Mary Beard, in her recent book on The Roman Triumph (Harvard University Press): Are we really sure we know what was going on? And what was at stake for the general? And what the Romans themselves thought about a practice that lasted in some form or another for over a millennium? Isn’t there a lot more to the triumph than we customarily think?

Listen to the podcast and you will hear that Mary’s answer to this last question is a resounding yes. Indeed, as you’ll hear, rethinking the triumph is a very good way to begin to re-evaluate our whole relationship with ancient Rome.

You can follow Mary’s never less than stimulating commentary on life ancient and modern on her blog, A Don’s Life.