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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 ...

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 ...

Speaking up for Latin and Greek

Mary Beard, 9 May 1991

Changes in the Roman Empire: Essays in the Ordinary 
by Ramsay MacMullen.
Princeton, 399 pp., $35, December 1990, 0 691 03601 2
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... Twenty-five years ago M.I. Finley made a plea in the TLS for ‘unfreezing the Classics’. The discipline of ancient history, he argued, was in crisis: submerged in the stultifying traditions of old-fashioned Classical philology, cut off from dialogue with ‘proper’ history, political science and sociology, it was no longer part of any wider cultural debate ...

Not You

Mary Beard, 23 January 1997

Compromising Traditions: The Personal Voice in Classical Scholarship 
edited by J.P. Hallett and T. van Nortwick.
Routledge, 196 pp., £42.50, November 1996, 0 415 14284 9
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... For more than two thousand years, classical culture – as a set of institutions and as a way of life – has been lamenting its own imminent extinction. By inventing the idea of ‘barbarity’ to be the antitype of their own ‘civilised’ values, the ancient Greeks prompted the fear that those barbarians (real or, for the most part, imaginary) would sooner or later triumph ...

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, at least, still sells briskly to locals and tourists alike ...

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 ...

Straight Talk

Mary Beard, 9 February 1995

Marginal Comment 
by Kenneth Dover.
Duckworth, 271 pp., £20, November 1994, 0 7156 2630 2
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... All you need to do, if you want the nation’s press camped on your doorstep, is to say that you once had a wank in 1947.’ Alan Bennett’s remark is quoted with obvious feeling by Kenneth Dover in a late-inserted footnote to his autobiography, Marginal Comment. Someone, he explains, had leaked part of the typescript of his book to the Evening Standard, who, on the scent of celebrity masturbation, had splashed (under the headline ‘Oxford Don Takes Memoirs In Hand’) his account of a ‘strange occasion’ in 1944 in the Italian hills ...


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 ...
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 ...

No More Scissors and Paste

Mary Beard: R.G. Collingwood, 25 March 2010

History Man: The Life of R.G. Collingwood 
by Fred Inglis.
Princeton, 385 pp., £23.95, 0 691 13014 0
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... In February 1938, R. G. Collingwood, then Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford and aged only 48, suffered a small stroke. It was the first of a series, each one more serious than the last, that would kill him within five years. The usual treatment in the 1930s was less effective than modern medical intervention but rather more enjoyable ...


Mary Beard: Nero’s Ups and Downs, 2 September 2004

by Edward Champlin.
Harvard, 346 pp., £19.95, October 2003, 0 674 01192 9
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... The most lasting memorial to the Emperor Nero is the Colosseum, even if that was not the intention. In fact, the new Flavian dynasty which took control of Rome in AD 69 erected this vast pleasure palace for the people precisely in order to obliterate Nero’s memory. It was a calculated decision to build a public amphitheatre on the site of the artificial lake that had been one of the most infamous features of Nero’s palace, the Golden House: what had been private imperial property was here seen to be given back to the citizens of Rome ...

Bench Space

Mary Beard: Norfolk Girl gets Nobel Prize, 15 April 1999

Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life 
by Georgina Ferry.
Granta, 425 pp., £20, November 1998, 1 86207 167 5
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... Women scientists – even the most distinguished of them – have a notoriously hard time. In feminist mythology at least, plagiarism by their male colleagues, belated recognition (if recognition at all) and early death (something to do with all that radiation) regularly combine to outweigh the charisma that might attach to scientific discovery. The paradigm case is Rosalind Franklin, who died of cancer at 37 and was posthumously written out of the story of the discovery of DNA, in which she had played a crucial part ...

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 ...

Banter about Dildoes

Mary Beard: Roman Shopping, 3 January 2013

Shopping in Ancient Rome: The Retail Trade in the Late Republic and the Principate 
by Claire Holleran.
Oxford, 304 pp., £65, April 2012, 978 0 19 969821 9
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... 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 that mixes extravagant claims for the styles, workmanship and glorious colours of the shoes, with what sounds like a well practised hard-luck story lamenting his life of unremitting toil and all the mouths he has to feed ...


Mary Beard: Set in Tunisia, 14 December 2006

... The practical mechanics of crucifixion have had a lurid hold on the popular imagination for at least two millennia. The idea that St Peter was crucified upside down was no sooner taken as a sign of his self-proclaimed unworthiness to share the fate of Jesus, than it was reinterpreted as a mark of his common sense. Even a poor fisherman knew that hanging head down brought the oblivion of unconsciousness much more quickly than the usual upright, and excruciatingly painful, position ...

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