From gladiator duels to Caesar’s last words: the myths of ancient Rome

Fresh Air podcast:

Our guest, historian Mary Beard, can give you the real story of the Spartacus uprising. And in a bit, she’ll share what we think Julius Caesar really said as he was being stabbed by Roman senators. It wasn’t et tu, Brute?

Mary Beard is a professor of classics at Cambridge University who’s spent a career studying Rome and written a dozen books. She also does TV and radio documentaries, writes a well-read blog and has become somewhat famous for taking on Internet trolls. Beard’s latest book covers about a thousand years of Roman history, but it isn’t just kings and emperors. She offers insights into the reasons for Rome’s prosperity and military expansion and provides fresh interpretations of turning points in Roman history.

And she makes ordinary Romans a central part of the story, describing both their impact on important events and their daily lives. Mary Beard’s book “SPQR: A History Of Ancient Rome” is out in paperback next month.

As a small boy, the ferocious mad Emperor Gaius was a pet of the Roman legions, who dressed him up in a child-sized uniform and gave him the nickname “Caligula.” History teachers today translate the name to “Little Boot,” but Beard says it’s more properly translated “Bootykins.” No wonder Caligula was always pissed off.

“SPQR” looks like a good one — I’ve put it high on my Amazon wishlist.

How the pit bull went from America’s mascot to canine terrorists

Friend Or Fiend? 'Pit Bull' Explores The History Of America's Most Feared Dog– Terry Gross, Fresh Air:

Pit bulls are probably the most feared dogs in the U.S. They're associated with dogfighting, attacking people and serving as guard dogs for drug dealers. Their bite is feared as being more dangerous than the bites of other dogs. Many cities and towns have passed laws making it illegal to own pit bulls. But in the new book "Pit Bull," my guest Bronwen Dickey says that a lot of the popular beliefs about pit bulls as predators are based on myth and misinformation.

Today's profiling of pit bulls contrast with the dogs' image in the first half of the 20th century when pit bulls were often cast in films as trick dogs and comic sidekick rolls. Luke the bull terrier performed tricks and comic stunts in Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Fatty Arbuckle films. A pit bull co-starred in the "Our Gang/Little Rascals" film comedies. A pitbull starred in the Buster Brown comic strips and appeared in the logo for Buster Brown children's shoes.

Bronwen Dickey's book is a history of pit bulls and our changing preconceptions of them. She is the daughter of the late writer James Dickey, who is most famous for his novel "Deliverance," which was adapted into the film of the same name.

Pit bulls are just dogs. They're no different from other dogs except for in their appearance. Like all dogs, whether they're loving or vicious depends mostly on their upbringing.