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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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... 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 either monument. Predictably perhaps, Marx’s tomb has ...

With the wind in our shrouds

Mary Beard, 26 July 1990

The Making of ‘The Golden Bough’: The Origin and Growth of an Argument 
by Robert Fraser.
Macmillan, 240 pp., £35, July 1990, 0 333 49631 0
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... up, so it was reported, when a German aeroplane circled overhead; when he had singed off half his beard and his eyebrows in an exploding meths stove, he quickly reassured his wife that he was all right and got straight back to his books. The latter incident ended up as a cartoon (one of Lady Frazer’s treasured possessions) showing a group of ...

One of the Lads

Mary Beard, 18 June 1998

Hadrian: The Restless Emperor 
by Anthony Birley.
Routledge, 424 pp., £40, October 1997, 9780415165440
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... clear, however, that their admiration extended to an emperor like Hadrian, who not only grew a beard, Greek-philosopher style, but even flaunted a young Greek boyfriend. And not just a boyfriend, but one whom the besotted emperor embarrassingly made into a god, after his mysterious death on the Nile. Similarly, Romans might admire a ruler who took the ...

Don’t forget your pith helmet

Mary Beard: The Tourist Trap, 18 August 2005

Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece 
by Patrick Leigh Fermor.
Murray, 248 pp., £8.99, July 2004, 0 7195 6692 4
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Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese 
by Patrick Leigh Fermor.
Murray, 336 pp., £8.99, July 2004, 0 7195 6691 6
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Words of Mercury 
by Patrick Leigh Fermor, edited by Artemis Cooper.
Murray, 274 pp., £7.99, July 2004, 9780719561061
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... old-fashioned English gentleman … Tall, dignified, flowing hair, burning eyes and a long white beard.’ Predictably enough, Leigh Fermor is disdainful of modern mass tourism in Greece. After conjuring up a picture in Roumeli of the modern Athenian taverna (‘Docile flocks converge on them, herded by button-eyed guides … all Manchester, all Lyons, all ...

Builder of Ruins

Mary Beard: Arthur Evans, 30 November 2000

Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth 
by J.A. MacGillivray.
Cape, 313 pp., £20, August 2000, 0 224 04352 8
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... piece of Morris wallpaper). But later in the century, artists, film-makers and novelists (notably Mary Renault) in their turn found inspiration in what he and his team had created. There are very few movies set in the heroic age of Greece that do not derive their backdrop, at least in part, from the ‘Palace of Minos’. This popularity is hardly ...

Pull as archer, in lbs

Mary Beard, 5 September 1996

Cambridge Women: Twelve Portraits 
edited by Edward Shils and Carmen Blacker.
Cambridge, 292 pp., £30, February 1996, 0 521 48344 1
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A Woman in History: Eileen Power 1889-1940 
by Maxine Berg.
Cambridge, 292 pp., £45, April 1996, 0 521 40278 6
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... kinds of personal and academic relationships. One of the very first Newnham students, for example, Mary Paley, married the economist Alfred Marshall, who in the 1890s led the opposition against allowing women to use the title BA (apparently changing his mind since the earliest days, when he had persuaded his future wife to sit the examination in Moral ...


Mary Beard, 26 October 1989

After Thatcher 
by Paul Hirst.
Collins, 254 pp., £7.99, September 1989, 0 00 215169 3
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Out of Apathy: Voices of the New Left Thirty Years On 
Verso, 172 pp., £22.95, August 1989, 0 86091 232 9Show More
Essays on Politics and Literature 
by Bernard Crick.
Edinburgh, 259 pp., £25, August 1989, 0 85224 621 8
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... If you want to see the cutting edge of Thatcherism, go to Basingstoke. There, as we learn in Paul Hirst’s After Thatcher, the local council (careful, no doubt, with its ratepayers’ money) has allowed an insurance company to take over and manage a large part of the town’s shopping centre. In the interests of ‘safety’, this company now patrols the area with security guards, whose job it is to exclude the more ‘undesirable’ elements of the local population ...

How do you see Susan?

Mary Beard: No Asp for Zenobia, 20 March 2003

Cleopatra: Beyond the Myth 
by Michel Chauveau, translated by David Lorton.
Cornell, 104 pp., £14.95, April 2002, 0 8014 3867 5
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The Roman Mistress: Ancient and Modern Representations 
by Maria Wyke.
Oxford, 452 pp., £40, March 2002, 9780198150756
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... Cleopatra’s last public appearance in the city of Rome was in the form of a wax model, complete with model asp, carried in the victory parade of Octavian in 29 BC. Octavian – a bloodthirsty ideologue in the civil wars – was by then well on his way to reinventing himself as Rome’s benevolent autocrat, its first (and almost only) ‘good’ Emperor, Augustus ...

What Might Have Happened Upstairs

Mary Beard: Pompeii, 16 September 1999

Pompeii: Public and Private Life 
by Paul Zanker, translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider.
Harvard, 262 pp., £30.95, March 1999, 0 674 68966 6
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... One good thing about volcanic eruptions is that they rarely come without warning. Days or weeks of insistent rumbling, smoke pouring ever more energetically from the crater, followed by a few light drizzles of ash, are usually enough to ensure that all those with common sense, determination and some means of transport have fled to safety hours before the lava starts to flow or the pumice to rain ...


Mary Beard: On rape, 24 August 2000

... In September 1978​ , on a night train from Milan, I was forced to have sex with an architect on his way to the site of a biscuit factory he was designing somewhere outside Naples (or so he claimed). It’s a simple enough story. I was a graduate student, changing trains at Milan, and laden with luggage for a term’s research in Rome. There were a couple of hours to wait for the most convenient train south, so I went to the station bar on the look-out, I suppose, for an opportunity to wheel out my still very faltering Italian ...

Degradation, Ugliness and Tears

Mary Beard: Harrow School, 7 June 2001

A History of Harrow School 
by Christopher Tyerman.
Oxford, 599 pp., £30, October 2000, 0 19 822796 5
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... At Christmas 1859, one of the 19th century’s most celebrated headmasters suddenly, and for no obvious reason, resigned his job. The Rev. Charles Vaughan had taken charge at Harrow in 1845, when the school was close to collapse. There were just 69 boys on the roll (many of whom were seriously in debt to the local loan shark); even by Victorian standards the boys’ lodgings were a health hazard, with not even a bathtub between them, still less a bathroom; the headmaster’s house had burned down the year before, thanks to a fault in the new heating system ingeniously, but incompetently, improvised by the maths master ...
The Dons 
by Noël Annan.
HarperCollins, 357 pp., £17.99, November 1999, 0 00 257074 2
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A Man of Contradictions: A Life of A.L.Rowse 
by Richard Ollard.
Allen Lane, 368 pp., £20, October 1999, 0 7139 9353 7
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... Noel Annan will be best remembered for Our Age, his grand, confident and sometimes very funny memoir written in the late 1980s, looking back at that generation of the British élite which came of age between the two world wars and so (as the book’s subtitle claimed) ‘made postwar Britain’. Here he reflected on their social connections, their shifting political and intellectual priorities, their sexual preferences, and their apparently glittering careers ...

Lucky City

Mary Beard: Cicero, 23 August 2001

Cicero: A Turbulent Life 
by Anthony Everitt.
Murray, 346 pp., £22.50, April 2001, 0 7195 5491 8
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... Marcus Tullius Cicero was murdered on 7 December 43 BC: Rome’s most famous orator, off-and-on defender of Republican liberty and thundering critic of autocracy. He was finally hunted down by lackeys of Mark Antony, a member of Rome’s ruling junta and principal victim of Cicero’s dazzling swansong of invective: more than a dozen speeches called the Philippics, after Demosthenes’ almost equally nasty attacks on Philip of Macedon, three centuries earlier ...

Four-Day Caesar

Mary Beard: Tacitus and the Emperors, 22 January 2004

Tacitus: Histories I 
edited by Cynthia Damon.
Cambridge, 324 pp., £17.99, December 2002, 0 521 57822 1
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... The Emperor Nero died on 9 June 68 CE. The Senate had passed the ancient equivalent of a vote of no-confidence; his staff and bodyguards were rapidly deserting him. The Emperor made for the out-of-town villa of one of his remaining servants, where he pre-empted execution by committing suicide. An aesthete to the end, he insisted that marble be collected to make a decent memorial, and as he lingered on the choice of suicide weapon, he repeated his famous last words – ‘Qualis artifex pereo’ (‘What an artist the world is losing by my death’) – interspersed with some appropriately poignant quotes from the Iliad ...

Martinis with the Bellinis

Mary Beard, 31 July 1997

The Roy Strong Diaries 1967-87 
Weidenfeld, 461 pp., £20, May 1997, 0 297 81841 4Show More
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... Two photographs in The Roy Strong Diaries 1967-87 sum up his achievement as museum director: ‘The National Portrait Gallery before, and after’ – before and after, that is, the ‘reign’ (his word) of Strong. The first is a predictably gloomy view of a classically old-fashioned museum: wood-block floor, two benches in the centre of the gallery, paintings crammed onto the walls (20 assorted 17th-century portraits are visible in this shot alone), and no trace of an information panel beyond the tiny labels perched under each picture ...

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