Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Time travel is easy, history is hard - Ancient Rome Refocused

Ancient Rome Refocused is a new history podcast that deserves the highest acclaim. This podcast seems to be about Roman history, but in fact is about much more. This is because it is a podcast both of history narrative, which obviously is concentrated on Rome, and of history musings. On account of the last quality, already, the podcast has been widely compared with Dan Carlin's Hardcore History. I would also like to compare the show with Nate DiMeo's Memory Palace.

Host and maker of the podcast Rob Cain is off on a magnificent start with his series and even now, three episodes into the feed, we must grant him his own ground and assure that he is making something unique, something very good and in addition to that, I am absolutely sure, the history podcast audience is going to adore. The comparisons with Dan Carlin and Nate DiMeo serve here only as a characterization and not as some example of what Cain is trying to emulate. Cain combines the history musings, like Dan Carlin, with the astonishing narrative qualities of Nate DiMeo. Cain is telling Roman history with a quality of narrative immediacy that equals the impressive standard of DiMeo's Memory Palace and continues to engage in thoughts about that history in the compelling way of Dan Carlin's Hardcore History. Thus he establishes an impressive combination of styles that both work extremely well in podcast and he does so with his own voice, his own style that bears only comparison, but not similarity with the mentioned predecessors.

First of all, I'd simply urge you to go and listen without letting me spoil the surprises in particular and the fun in general (feed). Allow me to highlight just these three identifiers for the first three issues. The first makes excellent use of Monty Python's scene in Life of Brian 'What have the Romans ever done for us'. The second lays out the basics of the Roman reality by projecting time travel. The third delivers a subtle expose on slavery in Rome (that dwarfs Dan Carlin's adventure into slavery) which is both history, audio drama, a poignant contemporary critique of low wage labor and prostitution as well as the most balanced analysis of Spartacus' slave revolt I have encountered ever. With even more lines to current times.

Even if Rob Cain stops now, he has produced a podcast classic. The idea he is about to deliver a fourth, and likely more episodes has me both reel in anticipation and yet also a bit worried: can he keep up with the towering standard he has set off with?

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