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Episode 35: Decline and Fall: A Literary Guide

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The Dark Ages, Late Antiquity, the late Roman . . . however you define the years spanning the fall of Rome, the period is rich in stories, real or reimagined.

In this episode Dr Andy Merrills, Associate Professor of Ancient History, joins the Slightly Foxed team to cast light on the surviving literature. We begin with Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire before delving into 4th-century accounts by the Latin historian Ammianus Marcellinus, a spiritual autobiography by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, ecclesiastical chronicles by the Venerable Bede, Gallic tales of Christian miracles and relic-looting with Gregory of Tours and an alternative look at the period with the modern-day master of Late Antiquity, Peter Brown.

From there we venture into fiction with Rosemary Sutcliff’s adventures inspired by archaeological finds and a retelling of the old British folk ballad ‘The Twa Sisters’ in Lucy Holland’s Sistersong, as well as Gore Vidal’s Julian and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. We swap tales from Icelandic sagas and set sail on a tenth-century Viking long ship with Frans G. Bengtsson before heading beyond Hadrian’s Wall for a glimpse of the Lindisfarne Gospels on Holy Island and a hunt for second-hand gems at Barter Books in a converted Victorian railway station in Northumberland.

And there’s more historical fiction to be found in further reading recommendations too, as we plunge into the seventeenth-century Essex witch trials with poet A. K. Blakemore’s novel The Manningtree Witches and follow the fortunes of a group of friends in wartime Europe in Olivia Manning’s classic Balkan Trilogy.

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Show Notes

Please find links to books, articles, and further reading listed below. The digits in brackets following each listing refer to the minute and second they are mentioned. (Episode duration: 42 minutes; 49 seconds)

Books Mentioned

We may be able to get hold of second-hand copies of the out-of-print titles listed below. Please get in touch with Jess in the Slightly Foxed office for more information.

A Countryman’s Winter Notebook, Adrian Bell (1:02)

Letters to Michael: a father writes to his son 1945–1947, Charles Phillipson (1:12)

The Rosemary Sutcliff Novels, Slightly Foxed Cubs. The final two in the series, The Shield Ring and Sword Song, are now available (2:00)

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon (4:18)

The Later Roman Empire, Ammianus Marcellinus (9:30)

The History of the Franks, Gregory of Tours (10:41)

Confessions, Saint Augustine (13:54)

City of God, Saint Augustine (14:46)

Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Bede (15:34)

The World of Late Antiquity, Peter Brown (17:34)

Julian, Gore Vidal (22:14)

The Dream of Scipio, Iain Pears (22:54)

The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro (23:38)

Dawn Wind, Rosemary Sutcliff (25:06)

The Long Ships, Frans G. Bengtsson (26:08)

Beowulf: A New Translation, Maria Dahvana Headley (27:13)

Sistersong, Lucy Holland (27:30)

Le Morte Darthur, Thomas Malory (30:53)

The Last Kingdom, Bernard Cornwell (32:11)

The Manningtree Witches, A. K. Blakemore (38:17)

The Balkan Trilogy, Olivia Manning (40:47)

Related Slightly Foxed Articles

Scaling Gibbon’s Everest, Richard Crockatt on Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Issue 68 (8:17)

A Frank Look at History, Andy Merrills on Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks, Issue 65 (12:48)

Last of the Pagans, Patrick Welland on Gore Vidal, Julian, Issue 45 (22:50)

The Sound of Chariots, Sue Gaisford on the Roman Britain novels of Rosemary Sutcliff, Issue 63

Light in the Dark Ages, Sue Gaisford on Rosemary Sutcliff, Dawn Wind, Issue 69

Magical Talisman, Sue Gaisford on Rosemary Sutcliff, Sword Song & The Shield Ring, Issue 71

Adrift on the Tides of War, Patrick Welland on Olivia Manning’s Balkan trilogy, Issue 63 (40:47)

Other Links

– Listen to Episode 18 of the Slightly Foxed Podcast: An Odyssey Through the Classics (0:20)

Barter Books, Alnwick (36:12)

Opening music: Preludio from Violin Partita No.3 in E Major by Bach

The Slightly Foxed Podcast is hosted by Philippa Lamb and produced by Podcastable

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