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Give her a snake

Mary Beard

22 March 1990
Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions 
by Lucy Hughes-Hallett.
Bloomsbury, 338 pp., £16.95, February 1990, 0 7475 0093 2
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... and later, come in two main types, represented in two quite distinct ways. First there is the repulsive monster with writhing snakes instead of hair, deadly eyes, enormous gaping mouth, sometimes a beard. When she is done to death, she ends up as a trophy on the goddess Athena’s breastplate – her head staring out to strike terror into Athena’s enemies. The other type seems completely different ...
15 August 1991
You just don’t understand: Women and Men in Conversation 
by Deborah Tannen.
Virago, 330 pp., £14.99, May 1991, 1 85381 381 8
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... Three years ago the University of Cambridge voted to revise its Statutes and Ordinances: all references to ‘he’ were to be replaced with ‘he or she’ or (mindful of the university’s responsibilities to English style) with some more elegant, non-sexist circumlocution. No longer would female students and staff be forced to assume that all the rules and regulations applied equally to them even ...
8 February 1990
The Vanished Library: A Wonder of the Ancient World 
by Luciano Canfora, translated by Martin Ryle.
Radius, 205 pp., £14.95, November 1989, 0 09 174049 5
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Herodotus 
by John Gould.
Weidenfeld, 164 pp., £14.95, October 1989, 9780297793397
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... The Aristotle ... was already burning. Meanwhile, some sparks had flown towards the walls, and already the volumes of another bookcase were crumpling in the fury of the fire.’ So, in the final pages of The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco destroys ‘the greatest library in Christendom’, hidden away in the impenetrable labyrinth of his macabre abbey. The reader cannot help but feel some satisfaction ...
20 August 1992
Origins of the Sacred: The Ecstasies of Love and War 
by Dudley Young.
Little, Brown, 379 pp., £16.99, May 1992, 0 356 20628 9
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... The ‘Glory that was Greece’ has had a hard time recently. Big guns have been drawn up against our accustomed admiration of the Greek genius, our collusive Philhellenism. It is very heavy artillery indeed. First, Martin Bernal’s enormous Black Athena (two volumes already, with two more to come) – a brave piece of iconoclasm that questions not only the primacy of the Greek cultural achievement ...

Sappho speaks

Mary Beard

11 October 1990
The Woman and the Lyre: Women Writers in Classical Greece and Rome 
by Jane McIntosh Snyder.
Bristol Classical Press, 199 pp., £25, May 1989, 1 85399 062 0
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The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece 
by J.J. Winkler.
Routledge, 240 pp., £30, February 1990, 0 415 90122 7
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Greek Virginity 
by Giulia Sissa, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.
Harvard, 240 pp., $29.95, March 1990, 0 674 36320 5
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... It is against the nature of things that a woman who has given herself up to unnatural and inordinate practices ... should be able to write in perfect obedience to the laws of vocal harmony, imaginative portrayal, and arrangement of the details of thought.’ For David Robinson, writing in the Twenties and reprinted in the Sixties, the ‘perfection’ of Sappho’s verse was clear enough proof of ...
13 May 1993
Her Share of the Blessings 
by Ross Kraemer.
Oxford, 286 pp., £19.50, September 1992, 0 19 506686 3
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... you end up with such a universal category that it is of hardly any help in the analysis of different religious movements. Kraemer opts, in an unnervingly wholehearted way, for a version of Mary Douglas’s old system of social and religious classification: ‘grid and group’. Mary Douglas mapped all the forms of social organisation onto two axes. The first, the ‘grid’ axis ...

No Concubine

Mary Beard

28 June 1990
The Oxford Book of Marriage 
edited by Helge Rubinstein.
Oxford, 383 pp., £15, March 1990, 0 19 214150 3
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The Oriental, the Ancient and the Primitive: Systems of Marriage and the Family in the Pre-Industrial Societies of Eurasia 
by Jack Goody.
Cambridge, 542 pp., £37.50, February 1990, 0 521 36574 0
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... of ending their marriages. Part of the pleasure of the volume comes from its sometimes unexpected juxtapositions: a letter from Karl Marx to his wife Jenny following directly on Wordsworth writing to Mary; an 11th-century Chinese poet apparently voicing many of the same sentiments on the death of his wife as the very British Henry King, whose ‘Exequy’ comes next. It is, of course, the strength of ...

Diary

Mary Beard: On Moving

4 April 1996
... The American Dream starts from a covered wagon; it takes mobility for granted. Recent censuses show that more than 43 million Americans move house each year. This is an annual migration roughly equivalent to the entire population of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin (or, alternatively, every single American in their twenties) relocating every 12 months; and it all seems to pass relatively ...

Bound for the bad

Mary Beard

14 September 1989
Loss of the Good Authority: The Cause of Delinquency 
by Tom Pitt-Aikens and Alice Thomas Ellis.
Viking, 264 pp., £14.95, July 1989, 0 670 82493 3
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... Alice Thomas Ellis has a delicate touch with her fictional delinquents. In The Birds of the Air, her second novel, Sam, the nearly criminal son of a respectable academic couple, reveals all those conflicting qualities that make the young offender so hard to deal with and to understand. We feel at the same time revulsion and a sneaking admiration. True, Sam is in many ways an offputting specimen: he ...

‘Cancer Girl’

Mary Beard

6 July 1995
The Diary of a Breast 
by Elisa Segrave.
Faber, 287 pp., £9.99, April 1995, 0 571 17446 9
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... Cancer must sell almost as many books as cookery: not just old-fashioned self-help guides to detection or prevention, tips on how to survive the chemotherapy or colostomy (now lavishly illustrated with the kinds of photograph that were once allowed only in medical textbooks), but also a vast range of new-style ‘cancer journals’. These are first-person accounts – diaries, memoirs or letters – ...

What belongs

Mary Beard

7 April 1994
On the Museum’s Ruins 
by Douglas Crimp.
MIT, 348 pp., £24.95, November 1993, 0 262 03209 0
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... There are more than ninety Holocaust Museums in the United States. Thousands of Americans, it seems, are forsaking their traditional Sunday-afternoon session of art-appreciation or dinosaur-gazing, in favour of an hour or two in front of some of the most horrifying images of the 20th century: naked corpses, emaciated survivors, gas chambers. Film footage, of murder, death and dying, that would cause ...

Sun and Strawberries

Mary Beard: Gwen Raverat

19 September 2002
Gwen Raverat: Friends, Family and Affections 
by Frances Spalding.
Harvill, 438 pp., £30, June 2001, 1 86046 746 6
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... The ghosts we deserve’ was the Listener’s headline for Simon Raven’s review of Gwen Raverat’s Period Piece in December 1952. Most reviewers had gushed with sentimental enthusiasm for these memoirs of a late Victorian academic childhood in Cambridge, so helping to make them one of the most ‘unlikely bestsellers’ of the later 20th century (the book has never been out of print and in Cambridge ...

Half-Wrecked

Mary Beard: What’s left of John Soane

17 February 2000
John Soane: An Accidental Romantic 
by Gillian Darley.
Yale, 358 pp., £25, September 1999, 0 300 08165 0
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John Soane, Architect: Master of Space and Light 
by Margaret Richardson and Mary-Anne Stevens.
Royal Academy, 302 pp., £45, September 1999, 0 300 08195 2
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Sir John Soane and the Country Estate 
by Ptolemy Dean.
Ashgate, 204 pp., £37.50, October 1999, 1 84014 293 6
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... John Soane (‘architect to the Bank of England &c &c &c’, as the inscription proclaims) in the burial ground next to Old St Pancras Church – the romantic spot where Shelley first caught sight of Mary Godwin, but now part of some lugubrious gardens sandwiched between the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, the mainline railway and St Pancras Coroner’s Court. ‘Listing’ has done little to protect ...

The Wives of Herr Bear

Julia Briggs: Jane Harrison

21 September 2000
The Invention of Jane Harrison 
by Mary Beard.
Harvard, 229 pp., £23.50, July 2000, 0 674 00212 1
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... of enlightened thinking by exploring its ‘subconscious’, its sources in a spirit world characterised by ideas of purity and danger, ancient matriarchal powers and the anger of the vengeful dead. MaryBeard is suspicious of such over-simplifications, however. Hers is an anti-biography, which confronts previous versions of Harrison’s life: Sandra Peacock’s hagiography of 1988, which read the ...

Under Rhodes

Amia Srinivasan: Rhodes Must Fall

30 March 2016
... that stands on the façade of Oriel College, of which Rhodes was an alumnus and benefactor. Critics have been quick to register their disapproval. Some historians have compared RMF to Islamic State. MaryBeard warned that to remove the statue would be to erase history. One of the RMF organisers, the South African Rhodes scholar Ntokozo Qwabe, has been attacked in the press for the ‘hypocrisy’ of ...

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