Jordan Harbour: For all those who haven’t listened to your podcast, can you describe what Ancient Rome Refocused is all about?
Rob Cain: The podcast can be summed up in a quote from Seneca:
“What is then is now.”
We are not a show about the past, but about how the past relates to the now. The show is about making comparisons. Our films, plays, art, architecture, law and philosophy have a basis in Ancient Rome. History, in my opinion, cannot be divided into epochs but lays upon a continuous thread. Things change, diminish, die and blossom but never fully disappear. We build on the past or we recreate it to suit our vision of the present.
On the show, we interview authors, artists and historians who have used Ancient Rome as their inspiration. No matter what the year, whether 1412, 1812 or 2012 a monk, politician or a guy who sells bikes in Aspin can see similarities between themselves and the Ancient Romans.
It is because of this– ROME will never die.
On the blog, I play a game with the readers called “Name That Classical Connection” and show a picture of something that could be traced back to Rome or Classical Greece and people consistently guess the right answer. It’s almost like we are hard-wired for it.
On the blog and podcast we delve into other subjects: Ancient Troy, Egypt, and Greece. The show is usually divided into three or four parts: a dramatic narration, a small lecture, or an interview with an expert in a field using the past as their inspiration for their art or field of study.
The podcast is protected by two muses. Yes, I have called on them for inspiration: Calliope (the muse of epic poetry) and her sister Clio (the muse of history). On each episode we color between the lines, adding color to make the past come alive, but ALWAYS…ALWAYS… respecting the facts.
Do I want to be Indiana Jones? I sure do.
Do I want to take you on an adventure? Most definitely.
Jordan Harbour: What inspired you to make Ancient Rome Refocused?
Rob Cain: The truth is I should have been an historian. I would have been happier. My father recognized this in me, but many sons make the mistake of not listening to their Fathers. He loved history. He lived it as a soldier in World War II. There are few that can say they ‘witnessed’ history.
The director Bryan Dorries who wrote his own translation of the play AJAX, and took it around the country to perform for soldiers suffering from PTSD, said something that sums it up. “Those that have lived lives of mythological proportions have no trouble relating to ancient myth.”
Today, many people are living on that scale.
They are on their own ‘Odyssey.’ Soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan have the best understanding–carry an M16 and you have something in common with Achilles. I suspect police officers, doctors, and anyone that must make the BIG decisions between life and death have to wrap their lives around ‘the will of the gods’ or ‘fate’ or ‘luck’ can understand the outcomes of mythology as well.
It does not have to be taken literally. Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter to the gods for fair winds. How many professionals have sacrificed family for the sake of their careers?
Sysiphus pushed a stone up a hill for eternity, and how many of us have borne an unimaginable weight on a daily basis? The classics live in our everyday lives.
What inspired me to start Ancient Rome Refocused? Love of history, and for something else: ‘street cred.’ I am an aspiring writer (which I’ll talk about later) and I feel the podcast allows me to establish some credibility in this genre I have chosen to undertake. Ancient Rome Refocused is my crucible. I made a promise to the listeners I would respect the facts. If I was totally without merit, totally without understanding of the times, the history and without respect for the truth the listeners would have called me on it – and so they should and so they have.
So far I have retained a certain amount of credibility. Someone on the blog-o-sphere described me as an enthusiastic amateur. That’s OK I can live with that…but just a reminder that sometimes amateurs have contributed greatly to certain fields. Maybe, my contribution is promoting an interest in the past. I think it’s working. Ancient Rome Refocused has been blessed with over 600,000 down loads across 9 episodes.
Someone is listening out there.
The show is going to get even better on future podcasts, by the way. We intend to go on location.
Jordan Harbour: Many of your podcasts are shaped by creative writing that sends your listener back in time. Are there any authors you look to for inspiration.
Rob Cain: Steven Saylor is my hero. I was lucky enough to interview him. He rocks. The man is a wealth of knowledge and is enthusiastic about his subject. If you ever get the chance to hear him lecture, do so. During the interview I found out we owned the same REMCO Roman Galley toy. The oars moved and it propelled itself across the floor. Forget computer games–the 60s had some great toys!
Jordan Harbour: Have you thought of delving into some historical fiction writing yourself?
Rob Cain: Check out Amazon.com in the near future to see my new ebook. It is a novella. Yes, a gutsy thing to do but what do I have to lose?
In addition, I have finished a full-length historical novel about Ancient Rome.
Talk about Sysiphus pushing a rock.
I totally understand his pain…I mean it. Novel writing is like pushing a boulder up a hill, watch it fall back down to the bottom of the hill and then push it back up in the rewrites. Right now I am living in my own Hades…but I hope my pain will end soon. Advice to novel writers: outline your work, and have a timetable for finishing.
Jordan Harbour: How has your military service influenced your understanding of the Romans?
Rob Cain: That is a HARD question! I have met an awful lot of stoic characters that would have made perfect centurions or legion commanders. I still have a memory of falling into a stream during the dead of winter and given a choice: wait in a cold truck or continue the march. That is an example of Roman stoicism or an attitude of just ‘suck it up’ American professionalism.
I include the Canadians and British in on this as well (stiff upper lip?). I have been on road marches and could not help imagine a Roman column moving down a road.
I have flown in on a Huey Helicopter to a tank defensive position and from the markings on the ground imagined a Roman fortification in upper Germany. I have seen the military’s tendency to have logos and patches imbued with meaning (references to battles and attributes) and can’t help but think of the Roman practice of placing the legion standards lovingly in a camp temple. I have carried the platoon standard and felt a surge of pride. I have mourned friends who have been killed in battle. I have held the hand of a soldier’s wife (KIA) as she walked away from her husband’s grave while the sound of taps were played across the fields of Arlington.
There are hundreds out there who can make better comparisons which makes this a question I would love to explore on the blog or podcast with other veterans.
Jordan Harbour: As our trusted time travel agent, what kind of package tours to Ancient Rome would you offer us?
Rob Cain: Keep it under wraps, I don’t want the federal government to find out I own a time machine. I’ve talked to my shareholders and we are discussing a variety of packages. I can’t bring myself to offer the expected tour. To take us to the opening of the Coliseum under Titus somehow seems amoral. I don’t think I have the gall to expose paying customers to the slaughter that we would find there. Those that died in the arena were not shadows. THE WERE REAL PEOPLE. I have no wish to be perverted by the sights one would see. My ‘package deal’ would be more fireside, more tame, and somehow more illuminating.
Package 1: Dinner and Theatre
Meet the playwrights of the Ancient World. Attend the opening night of an actual play by the satirist Juvenal. Dinner is included in the price plus an after-hours wine tasting with the playwright himself who will answer questions. Latin- to-English translators available.
See the basis for western drama and art.
($120,000 per ticket)
Package 2: Great Library
Visit the original Library of Alexandria. Library guides will take your requests for specific manuscripts and provide a reading room for you to review obtained works. Get a copy of a lost manuscript, bring it back to the 21st century and publish. Copying time takes six to 12 weeks. A visit to the zoo and aviary are available for the kids. Latin- to-English translators available.
Find knowledge lost to mankind due to the famous fire.
($145,000 per ticket).
Package 3: Tour of Rome
Groups can pick the time period to visit the city. Early Republic or Imperial Rome – it’s up to you. Guests will be escorted about the city on litter and guided by resident philosophers of the age. The Imperial Rome package contains a day at the races at the Circus Maximus. Special shopping excursion are available. All purchases are yours to keep. Great deals to be found on jewelry, pottery and wine (imagine having the oldest vintage at your next party in modern time). What you do on your vacation time is your business. Take back with you artwork in glass, gold and silver done by first rate artisans. No duty, no taxes. NO SLAVES WILL BE TRANSPORTED UP-TIME.
($300,000 per ticket).
Drop into this time frame with the right amount of gold, and you can live out your life in luxury. Recommend the extensive Latin immersion course before you go. Augustan period recommended during the PAX ROMANA. Leave your politics at the door. This package is recommended for those who want to live a quiet life (avoid politics) and obey the law (Draconian measures are common in this time period). Just to be safe, take our packaged sword and dagger fighting course before you go is highly recommended.
This package is for those who need to disappear or just bored with the modern times we live in.
($3.5 million dollars per ticket — set up time includes house, servants and cover story for the locals).
Jordan Harbour: Any closing words or plugs?
Rob Cain: YES! Come and visit us over at Ancient Rome Refocused. Our podcasts are on itunes and hipcast. Come to the blog at: http://ancientromerefocused.org. There is a facebook page group as well. We have a pretty lively group who get into some pretty interesting discussions. If you agree, leave a comment. If you disagree, you are required to leave a comment. If the facts are wrong, you must write in to leave a comment. You can call in too at: 855-209-6230.
We are looking for professors, students, and fans to be guest editors on the show. All you have to do is write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Got any papers or dissertations about Ancient Rome? We will post them with full credit. Just have an opinion? We will post that as well.
What’s more–and this is non-negotiable–make sure you listen to Twilight Histories.