Mary Beard

Mary Beard is a professor of classics at Cambridge and a fellow of Newnham College.  She is the author of SPQR, Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town and Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling and Cracking Up. Her LRB Winter Lectures on ‘Women in Power’ and ‘The Public Voice of Women’ were published as a book in 2018.

The Greer Method

Mary Beard, 24 October 2019

On Rape has its faults. But it is also full of flashes of insight, clever analysis, radical new proposals and powerful arguments that have been missed, or dismissed, by many critics, who seem determined to warp Greer’s arguments into the reactionary rant of an angry old lady. What is driving these attacks? Why are her critics so determined to deplore and ridicule? What lies behind the selective misreading that turns a provocative pamphlet, no more flawed than many others of the genre, into a case for the prosecution?

Athenian drama in particular, and the Greek imagination more generally, has offered our imaginations a series of unforgettable women: Medea, Clytemnestra, Antigone. They are not, however, role models – far from it. For the most part, they are portrayed as abusers rather than users of power. They take it illegitimately, in a way that leads to chaos, to the fracture of the state, to death and destruction. They are monstrous hybrids, who aren’t – in the Greek sense – women at all. And the unflinching logic of their stories is that they must be disempowered, put back in their place.

The Public Voice of Women

Mary Beard, 20 March 2014

Iwant to start very near the beginning of the tradition of Western literature, and its first recorded example of a man telling a woman to ‘shut up’; telling her that her voice was not to be heard in public. I’m thinking of a moment immortalised at the start of the Odyssey. We tend now to think of the Odyssey as the story of Odysseus and the adventures and scrapes he had...

Banter about Dildoes: Roman Shopping

Mary Beard, 3 January 2013

The most memorable account of an ancient shopping expedition is found in some comic verses by the third-century BC poet Herodas, who lived in Alexandria, by far the smartest city in the Western world at the time. In his poem a woman called Metro and a couple of her friends visit a shoe shop owned by one Kerdon (‘Mr Profiteer’). As soon as they arrive, slaves bring a bench for the ladies to sit on, while Kerdon tries to interest them in his wares with a pushy sales pitch.

It was satire: Caligula

Mary Beard, 26 April 2012

King Canute has had a raw deal from history. He took his throne down to the beach in order to show his servile courtiers that not even a king could control the waves (that was in God’s power alone). But, ironically, he is now most often remembered as the silly old duffer who got soaked on the seashore because he thought he could master the tides. When, for example, Ryan Giggs tried last year to use a super-injunction to stop the swell of news about his private life, he was hailed as ‘the King Canute of football’.

So Much for Caligula: Caesarishness

Julian Bell, 24 March 2022

The life of a first-century Roman emperor seems typically to have been a sorry business. The vast polity looked to a single authority for stability; but for those who either pushed themselves or were pushed...

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They were all foreigners: ‘SPQR’

Michael Kulikowski, 7 January 2016

Neil Tennant​ described his run of hits between ‘It’s a Sin’ and ‘Heart’ as the Pet Shop Boys’ imperial phase, when they owned the charts and charmed the...

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Laugh as long as you can: Roman Jokes

James Davidson, 16 July 2015

The oldest​ joke I know, the oldest joke that a real person quite probably told on a quite probably actual occasion, is one ascribed to Sophocles. Ion of Chios, a lesser poet, claimed he...

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Mr Big & Co: Roman Victory!

Denis Feeney, 21 February 2008

The triumph is a key element of the modern image of the Romans, embodying the characteristics we love to imagine as quintessentially Roman: militarism, arrogance, cruelty, spectacle. Because the...

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The Wives of Herr Bear: Jane Harrison

Julia Briggs, 21 September 2000

In Donna Tartt’s novel The Secret History, a group of clever, fastidious preppies in a small liberal arts college on the East Coast reinvent the cult of Dionysus. They brew a concoction of...

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