Monday, 1 February 2010


I don't usually like to listen to audiobooks which I haven't already read. It's not only a snobbery thing, I also don't like to risk investing the listening time in something which I haven't already decided I like. But I've only read some of Gibbon's Decline and Fall -- I had a little six-volume Everyman set which is the only thing I regret getting rid of in my pre-Italy clear out, and I'd only read the first volume of that. I'm now listening to it on audiobook and it's fantastic. It helps that the narrator has a voice like Oliver Postgate, only instead of "Listen! I will tell you the tale of Noggin the Nog, as it was told in the days of old by the men of the Northlands", or "He was just an old saggy cloth cat, baggy and a bit loose at the seams, but Emily loved him", he says things like "Trained from his earliest youth in the exercise of arms, he set too small a value on the life of a citizen, chastised by military execution the slightest offences, and transferred the stern discipline of the camp into the civil administration of the laws", etc etc.

So far I am about 18 hours into the first of three unabridged volumes, each volume about 40 hours in length. Gibbon's beautiful rolling sentences were made to be read aloud by an Englishman of mature years with an understated wry inflection. The only problem with audiobooks is that it's harder to stop and reread something that's particularly good. So far the things that have made me want to go and find out more are 1) the way that Gibbon obviously loathed Galiennus but makes him sound really interesting 2) Zenobia seems pretty interesting too. Gibbon is very sniffy about her not committing suicide. (I hope there are good readable biographies of these people, but I expect not.)

The audiobook is from, read by Bernard Mayes, who has also done an unabridged City of God, apparently, nearly 48 hours long. I don't think I could face that; you'd be about twenty hours in before he stopped telling you why it's not a good idea to worship Romulus.

Other good audiobooks on audible are: the comedy of Laura Solon; a brilliant unabridged Moonstone with each narrator done by a different actor; and anything with Sue Perkins in.

(Here is the famous Gibbon quote on the younger of the Gordians: "His manners were less pure, but his character was equally amiable with that of his father. Twenty-two acknowledged concubines, and a library of sixty-two thousand volumes, attested the variety of his inclinations, and from the productions which he left behind him, it appears that the former as well as the latter were designed for use rather than ostentation.")

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