Margaret (pling) wrote,

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The Ancient World with Bettany Hughes; Seven Ages of Britain

Started off our evening with the first in an actually still running series called "The Ancient World with Bettany Hughes" - only timeshifted it by a week! That's practically live TV for us ;) The series is actually (as far as I can tell from the dreadful channel 4 website about it) more of a season of programmes some of which have aired before, than a pre-planned series. This first one was called "Alexandria: The Greatest City" and was unsurprisingly all about Alexandria - from its founding by Alexander the Great through to Hypatia's death and the destruction of the Library. Lots of scenes of modern Alexandria intercut with reconstructions which were (I believe) taken from the recent film "Agora" about Hypatia. The initial part of the programme was about Alexander and why he wanted to conquer Egypt (other than just "it's there" I mean) - the fact that Egypt was already this old and rich civilisation before the Greeks came along. But the bulk of it was about Alexandria as this seat of learning - their desire to have a copy of every book in the world, to the extent of confiscating books coming into the city and not allowing anyone to take them out. And talking about it not just being a library, but a place where people came to teach and be taught and to put forward new ideas. And a discussion of Hypatia - a woman who was one of the renowned philosophers of the city in the 4th century AD. And a pagan at a time when the Christian Church was beginning to flex its muscles and gain secular power, which didn't end well as one can imagine. While I was aware of the name Hypatia before, I hadn't known anything other than the name. So interesting to see a bit about her. From reading around wikipedia a little afterwards it looks like the Hypatia killed by Christian-inflamed mob + sack of Library of Alexandria part of the programme was simplified down a lot, Alexandria and the culture of learning it had fostered was in decline anyway. But you have to simplify things to show an interesting and coherent story.

Second programme of the evening was the third episode of Seven Ages of Britain - The Age of Power. All about the Tudors, my favourites :) (And as a side note I remember wondering at the beginning of the series how anglo-centric it was going to be, with the jury still out in episode 1, but it's pretty clear now that the answer is "very" which doesn't bother me per se but I do think they should be calling it Seven Ages of England.) Having recently watched the Time Team programme about Henry VIII's palaces the beginning of the programme re-trod some of the same ground - Henry using art to display his power and grandeur to his subjects and to the rest of Europe. But it looked at some different things from the other programme too, like the Mary Rose and the objects found within that ship (including a rather gross treatment instrument for STDs). And obviously touched on the Reformation and the subsequent destruction of a lot of religious artwork in churches and its replacement with art demonstrating the power of the King if it was replaced by anything other than whitewash. Also the growth of more secular portraits and paintings, now religious subjects and altar pieces weren't the be all and end all of the art world. Then it moved on to Elizabeth and her possibly more subtle use of similar artwork to tell the story of herself as the Virgin Queen ruling over England with God on her side. (Possibly just more subtle because anything that doesn't involve ludicrously bulging codpieces is going to have to be more subtle).
Tags: britain, egypt, history, tv
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