Arma virumque cano" so begins one of the greatest yarns ever told, Virgil's Aeneid. This story of "arms and the man" is a breathless mix of travelogue, boys-own adventure and object lesson on how things can go terribly pear-shaped if you fall foul of the wrong deity.
Aeneas faces a barnful of trials and tribulations after picking the losing side in the Trojan War. Among these are a spiteful goddess (Juno), an exotic babe (Dido) and a hair-raising trip to Hell and back. Radio 4 has trimmed C Day Lewis's translation of this grand epic to an hour and gives it the star treatment, with a cast that includes Derek Jacobi, Andrew Sachs, Diana Quick and Anna Massey. Hollywood darling Ralph Fiennes is the much-vexed Aeneas. The result is riveting.
With the judicious use of sound-effects (creaking timbers, sloshing waves, groaning oarsmen, for example) and some atmospheric music, this is an unmissable opportunity to hear one of the great canons of world literature and one not just for those teaching or learning classics.
Jacobi is superb as the narrator, his voice effortlessly switching from cosy intimacy to menace to wry amusement - a masterful story-teller who makes this ancient poem come alive in the most vivid and compelling way.
If you don't want to tape this for school, just curl up and enjoy it for its own merits - it's simply brilliant.
The Classic Serial: The Aeneid Radio 4
Sunday, November 28
BEST OF THE REST
One of the reasons the BBC's much-lauded series Back to the Floor is so irresistible is that there are few things people relish more than a good dollop of schadenfreude.
These programmes have given us the chance to indulge to the hilt as various fat cats find themselves being shot at alongside the corporate foot soldiers, often trying to make sense of their own orders.
Floyd Ballantyne, managing director of children's adventure holiday group PGL, fares better than most when he ends up making packed lunches, hanging up sodden t-shirts and sleeping under canvas for a week. Left in charge of a group of worldly 10 to 12-year-olds, he has to rediscover skills he first learned 20 years previously.
Many of the physical tasks such as making rafts and coaxing nervous children on to a high wire present few problems. But he is surprised to find himself being given a serious dressing down by one of his own managers for repeatedly breaking a PGL cardinal rule ("no swearing").
His charges react to his advanced years (he is 40) with some suspicion. "If you ask him questions, he know nothing," says one disparagingly. But by the end a whole gang of girls are sobbing their hearts out because they can't bear to go home. Whether this has more to do with his uncanny resemblance to George Clooney or his winning way with kids is a moot point.
Back to the Floor
Thursday, December 2