Audible listener who's grateful for a long commute!
The Villa of the Papyri is nestled on the bluffs of the Pacific Palisades in California. Finished in 1974, it was closed for renovations and reopened in 2010 as "The Getty Villa." J. Paul Getty's Villa - and The Getty Center in West Los Angeles are, as Getty promised, free to all.
Okay, maybe the original Villa dei Papiri was in Herculaneum, which was destroyed in AD 79 - along with Pompeii - when Mt. Vesuvius erupted. Pompeii is now temporarily at the California Science Center in Exposition Park, near the LA Coliseum and USC.
I coincidentally finished listening to Dr. Robert S. J. Garland's "The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World" (2010) just before I took out of town family to the Pompeii exhibit. Garland's lectures were so concise and vivid, I recognized every single artifact and I knew what it was used for - and keep in mind, I listened to the Audible version which doesn't come with books. I knew what kind of artisan made something, the training they had, and whether they were a slave, a manumitted slave, or free born. I looked at a restored fresco, and impressed my sister by telling her that the ancient Romans would have changed the painted scene as fashions changed. Trends and fads are as old as Ancient Greece. Just as the 1980's Laura Ashley overstuffed and frilled pastels and floral wallpaper gave way to furniture and frames various hues of the same color, tailored linens, hardwood floors and painted walls 30 years later, the painted harbor scene popular during one emperor's reign gave way to starkly contrasting blocks of color, proving that abstractionism isn't a modern construct. I even knew when I got to the gift shop which replica jewelry belonged with the exhibit, and the social class of the women who would have worn it. It didn't stop me from buying the regionally misplaced and historically non-existent Sphinx earrings just because I liked anyway.
The title of this series of lectures is a misnomer, though. Garland's lectures on Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, and to a limited extent Ancient Persia, are worth the price and the listen. However, he's missing entire major ancient civilizations: China's written history is more than 4,000 years old; there's the Mayans, who were a civilization for about 3000 years, until the Spanish arrived, with their viruses, in 900 AD; and many other cultures that flourished and vanished or were absorbed by conquerors. These civilizations had writing, so they were historic, not pre-historic.
If the title had been accurate, I'd give this 4 instead of a 3. It's not higher because some of the lectures are repetitive. I did enjoy Dr. Gardner's voice and his delivery, but I wasn't so excited that I listened to more than one lecture a day.
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Before I listened to Anthony Everett's "Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor" (2007), my knowledge of Ancient Roman History was woefully inadequate. I had a high school world history class with a chapter on Ancient Greece and Rome, and an inexplicably thorough semester long course on mythology, both that I promptly forgot.
Everett's "Augustus" made that time and place real to me. I was fascinated by the political and military acumen that Octavian (later Augustus) used to gain and keep his power. Ancient Romans needed family pedigrees to attain rank, and Augustus did so by becoming the adopted son of his uncle, Julius Caesar.
Daughters were treated as political coin, used to establish and maintain powerful connections. For example, Livia, Augustus' wife, was married to Tiberius Claudius Nero, and divorced him to marry Octavian (Augustus). The political connection was so important that Tiberius gave her away in marriage, since Livia's father was dead. Julius Caesar had adopted the younger Tiberius. The younger Tiberius married Julia Augustus Filii, Augustus' son with his former wife, Scribonia. That Tiberius succeeded Augustus as Emperor.
The Ancient Romans resorted to murders and forced suicides to gain power, and this story had them all - from the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC to the suicides of Marc Antony and Cleopatra in 30 BC, to the assassination of Postumus Agrippa, Augustus' grandson 14 AD, shortly after Augustus death. Postumus Agrippa's murder cleared any claim to Augustus' throne. There has always been speculation that Livia helped in some other convenient deaths.
If these story lines were written for the soap opera "One Life to Live" they would be edited to make them more believable.
The familial relationships, deifications, name changes, and honors granted with titles were so complex that I wished for a text version of the book with an index and family trees.
I enjoyed the narration, but I have no idea whether the Latin pronunciations were correct. However, as a long ago Latin teacher pointed out to me - no one knows. It's not spoken anymore except in Mass, and after 2,000 years, it may have changed.
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When it comes to fantasy archeologists, no one comes close to Harrison Ford's 'Dr. Henry Walton 'Indiana' Jones, Jr. ("Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", 1994, and etc.). In real life, Egypt's former Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass has the fedora and matinee screen idol presence, but Great Courses Lecturer Bob Brier is the dashing adventurer and clever thinker.
When Brier talks about pyramids, temples and tombs, it's with the familiarity of someone who's been in them so many times, he knows all the secret hiding places, and maybe - just maybe - is making arrangements for a sarcophagus of his own. He dishes about pharaohs, families, feuds and fashion like Cleopatra wad a Kardashian sister. Ancient Egypt - especially during the reign of Rameses the Great felt real to me.
Brier starts with prehistoric Egypt and moves to Narmer, arguably the first Pharaoh around 3,000 BCE; and moves to the last dynasty, which ended almost at the same time Jesus was born. There are separate chapters on the Rosetta Stone and hieroglyphs; Biblical Egyptian history; and mummification. Brier's an expert on that - he made a mummy in 1994. That's in this Great Courses "The History of Ancient Egypt".
48 lectures sounds like a lot (pun intended!) but that's 3000 years and the start of organized civilization and recorded history.
Brier's really enthusiastic about Egyptology, and it's easy to imagine him animatedly lecturing in front of a college classroom. He does have a heavy New York accent, but he's so thrilled with what he's teaching, I forgot about that. Unfortunately, he does have a verbal tic that I noticed eventually - he uses the word 'right' as a bridge. Better than 'like', I guess. I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I listened to it like most Great Courses - one lecture a day, on the way home from work. I was so interested in this one, I finished the whole course in 3 1/2 weeks.
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