Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Res Gestae – A Podcast.

Those nice folks at the University of Warwick (Alison Cooley and – I’m guessing based on something said – Peter Pormann) recently released a rather neat podcast on the topic of Augustus and his Res Gestae (The Queen of Inscriptions, as Mommsen called it), which is available, via the University of Warwick website, here: Augustus Podcast.

The podcast runs around 32 minutes, with Pormann acting as interviewer and Cooley as interviewee (although it’s much more informal than that suggests). Pormann introduces the major topics in the study of Augustus – his rise to power, becoming Princeps, his foreign policy, the imperial family and his search for a successor etc, while Cooley responds.

The content is pretty interesting, although there was very little that someone familiar with the period won’t already know – the podcast is likely for undergraduate students, and coincides with the release of Cooley’s new translation of the Res Gestae.

The discussion takes an interesting turn at a few points. Cooley’s explanations regarding how the inscription would be displayed and viewed in Ancient Rome (it’s sheer size meant it was unlikely to be read in its entirety, but the ubiquity of the inscription would mean all Romans were familiar with it, and by inference what Augustus had done for them) are especially good, and insightful (seeing the world of Ancient Rome through their eyes is notoriously difficult, but it’s always worth trying).

Similarly when she tells of the inscriptions history, and especially where it was found (in the Eastern Empire – Ankara, Galatia and Antioch), the podcast is also at its best. In particular I liked her explanations regarding the differences in context and language between the three extant inscriptions (Ankara is in Latin and Greek, Antioch just in Latin and Galatia in Greek).

The view of Augustus’ later reign as being devoid of “fireworks” and somewhat negative, is also pretty refreshing. Understanding the Res Gestae as a part response to the eight or so years of political and social problems seems fruitful to me. Afterall, Varus’ loss of the legions, the revolt in Pannonia and Augustus’ familial problems (the death of successors, and the transgression of his moral laws by his daughter and granddaughter) certainly put a dark taint on his reign towards its end. Erecting a huge inscription to remind everyone what he had done for them over his long public career would be a suitable response.

If I had to throw some criticism on the podcast, I’d say is that there a lack of continuity with naming, especially in the early parts of the show. There is mention of Octavian, Augustus, Octavianus and Julius Caesar Octavianus Son of a God, but little clarity about the reasonably clear periods in which each name was used (even if they are only clear because modern scholarship tends to use them).

One other slight criticism is that there is little discussion on the historical veracity of Augustus’ claims in the Res Gestae, despite the podcast claiming to discuss the topic. This, though, really is just a bit of me being pedantic.

Overall, it’s a really nice idea, interesting content, and although, like I said earlier, it has nothing new for those familiar with the topic, it's still a nice piece. Moreover hearing Cooley talk about the topic of her new book is interesting, but, given the content of the podcast, I do wonder if her updated edition of the Res Gestae will really contain enough new material to supersede my Brunt and Moore copy, which has been a trusty companion for a long while.

For the interested, I took photographs of the inscription as it is placed in modern Rome during my visit there this past July. They’re big enough for the entire inscription to be read, in Latin, and they are available in one of my previous posts here: Roman Holiday Post.

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