Episode 35: Decline and Fall: A Literary Guide
In Episode 35 (released 15 September 2021): 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.