In our Time with Seneca
I was on In our Time this morning, talking with Catharine Edwards and Alessandro Schiesaro about Seneca, Roman philosopher, writer, and courtier (recently one of the main players in Peter Stothard’s book The Senecans – and it’s in that context that he was freshest in my mind). You can listen to the full version, plus the extra conversation that happened after the end of the programme here.
In our Time has become an institution over almost 20 years. If you don’t know it, it is a very simple formula: once a week, apart from a short summer break, Melvyn Bragg plus three academics (originally two) discuss some humanities or science topic for 45 minutes (originally 30), live. This week it was Seneca, next week the Kuiper Belt.
The fact that it is live adds to the edginess of it. If you make a major fluff, it can’t be edited out; it’s there for all to hear forever. One thing I always make sure I have up my sleeve some halfway elegant way out of a question I really cant answer (“Mary, could you give us a quick summary of what Seneca is actually arguing in the De Vita Beata?” “Well, I think that’s something Alessandro could do a lot more eloquently that me”).
And I do mean that any fluffs are there to hear forever, as the past programmes are all on the programme website. They are great stuff, listened to by thousands and thousands (including, to my knowledge undergraduates, who often kick off and essay, or finish off revision, with a quick listen in to what three illuminate have to say).
It is a bit like doing a radio exam. In some ways that’s like doing QuestionTime: the questions and discussion aren’t quite so open ended (no one’s going to come out with an unexpected challenge on nuclear power), and there is some briefing beforehand about the rough route map of the programme. But on the other hand the subject is something you are supposed to know about (in the end I would be forgiven for not knowing the ins and outs of nuclear power, not so easily for not knowing the ins and outs of the reign of Nero). The potential loss of bella figura is proportionately greater.
In fact it does all take a bit of time. You talk to an excellent person from the programme (in this case Victoria Brignell) about the general topic first, a week or so in advance. Then early in the week of the broadcast, you talk again about the general direction of flow. Meanwhile, there is the revision: in my case I thought I should re-read De Clementia and the Apocolocyntosis, as well as a couple of things my fellow panellists had written on the subject. If you come from out of London, you are very very strongly encouraged to spend the night in a hotel near Broadcasting House, in case you miss the 8.30 start. So I fell asleep last night in the Melia, over the Cambridge Companion to Seneca.
How it came across, you will have to judge for yourselves. But I enjoyed it.
Here's the other version: http://www.the-tls.co.uk/in-our-time-with-seneca/