The summer months have me outside on most days, working to restore my garden after years of my son’s punishing soccer drills. As I water, weed, trim, and thin, I like to listen to podcasts. I recently discovered two of the historical variety that I thoroughly enjoyed. In each recording, an engaging host tackles topics from French history: Julius Caesar’s defeat of the Gauls and, the life of Marie Antoinette.
In Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, she advises, “Nothing is more important than a likable narrator”. The same can safely be said of podcasts. These two podcasts are full of interesting anecdotes. Their hosts, Dan Carlin and Claudine Hemingway, are knowledgable and credible. However, what makes the stories even more appealing are the personalities of these two exceptional narrators.
Hardcore History Podcast–The Celtic Holocaust
Dan Carlin, the host of Hardcore History, is a former journalist, actor, and radio announcer. His voice is distinctive and compelling but equally important is the way he unravels history for the listener. In his episode entitled The Celtic Holocaust, Carlin describes an epic conflict that took place more than 2000 years ago–Julius Caesar’s defeat of the Gauls. Battles of the time period, as well as life in general, are hard to relate to. Yet, Carlin skillfully finds countless ways to better your understanding of both Roman and Gallic points of view.
He opens the podcast with a simple question to ponder, “What’s worth dying for?” It’s not a subject that I’ve given much thought other than knowing with certainty that I would give my life to save my children. I’ve had the good fortune of being born in a time and place where such decisions are nearly unheard of. By contrast, the people in this story faced losing, as Carlin emphatically puts it, “everything”: their lives, their property, their children’s lives, their community, even their culture.
Carlin is quick to point out that one of the reasons this conquest is so interesting is that each side was equally capable of inflicting tremendous damage upon the other. This is long before the use of gunpowder or even stone fortifications. Unlike the European’s slaughter of countless primitive peoples, the Gauls, who were significantly taller and more ferocious than the Romans, had a reasonable chance of winning. By the end of the episode, however, Carlin has made it abundantly clear how the Romans gained the upper hand.
Unfortunately, Julius Caesar is the only eye-witness to have written about Rome’s war with the Gallic tribes. Yet, there are dozens of historians, some that were near-contemporaries of Caesar, who have filled in portions of the story. I would never take the time to sort through such accounts. Happily, I don’t have to because Carlin has already done so. Throughout the 6-hour podcast, he enthusiastically quotes the most vivid and juiciest passages from a variety of chroniclers. Even if you only have a mild interest in France’s ancient history, I recommend you give this highly entertaining podcast a try.
Paris History avec A Hemingway Podcast–Marie Antoinette
In contrast to Dan Carlin’s historical podcasts are those of Claudine Hemingway. Hemingway, a relative of the famous author, has a passion for Paris history as well as the city’s current art scene. Like Carlin, she’s multi-talented, dividing her time between blogging, podcasting, conducting guided tours, and helping people plan trips to Paris. Krystal Kenney, creator of La Vie Creative, hosts Hemingway’s series of four podcasts relating the life of Marie Antoinette.
Unlike Carlin’s podcast, Hemingway’s voice is not the only one on the recording. Instead, Hemingway appears as a guest of Krystal Kenney who poses leading questions and interjects commentary throughout Hemingway’s lively discourse. It’s quickly evident that Hemingway knows her subject matter well. Yet, the tone of the interview is casual and seemingly off-the-cuff. Hemingway conveys her account of Marie Antoinette with enthusiasm and warmth as she speaks. As a listener, I could almost imagine I was listening to a friend chatting from the opposite side of a Parisian cafe table.
In a previous post, I briefly mentioned that popular culture has not been kind to Marie Antoinette. Hemingway dispels the common misconception that she was a haughty queen who cared little about the underclass. In fact, throughout her life, Marie Antoinette was a captive pawn of others who were more powerful. She had very little freedom yet managed to enrich her life with those occupations to which she had access.
Over the years, I’ve learned a fair amount about the ill-fated queen but I thoroughly enjoyed Hemingway’s retelling of her life story. Episode 1 covers Marie Antoinette’s childhood in Austria under the thumb of a domineering mother who was desperate to marry her off to a French prince.** Episode 2 includes the surprising story of a lavish, 600-diamond necklace that Marie Antoinette refused to accept and the scandalous plot that ensued. In Episode 3, revolutionaries drag the royal family from Versailles and place them under house arrest in the Palace of the Tuileries. After nearly two years of confinement, the royals try to escape and fail. Another two years of imprisonment will pass before Marie Antoinette is executed. Lastly in Episode 4, Hemingway talks about Marie Antoinette’s final hours, the surprising words she uttered to her executioner, and the fate of her orphaned children.
**Note: Episode 1, of the Marie Antoinette series is Episode 2 of a larger series of podcasts. Episode 2 is Episode 3 of the larger series, and so on. This may confuse if you follow the links in this post.