A National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, this is “the perfect introduction to classical studies, and deserves to become something of a standard work” (Observer).
Mary Beard, drawing on thirty years of teaching and writing about Greek and Roman history, provides a panoramic portrait of the classical world, a book in which we encounter not only Cleopatra and Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Hannibal, but also the common people—the millions of inhabitants of the Roman Empire, the slaves, soldiers, and women. How did they live? Where did they go if their marriage was in trouble or if they were broke? Or, perhaps just as important, how did they clean their teeth? Effortlessly combining the epic with the quotidian, Beard forces us along the way to reexamine so many of the assumptions we held as gospel—not the least of them the perception that the Emperor Caligula was bonkers or Nero a monster. With capacious wit and verve, Beard demonstrates that, far from being carved in marble, the classical world is still very much alive.
Offering up 30 years of pointed insights and inquisitions, Cambridge classics professor Beard (The Fires of Vesuvius) returns with a collection of primarily reprinted reviews of her classicist peers' work that somehow manages to touch on nearly every notable person, place, and event associated with the Ancient world. But for Beard, while the classics have always been a dialogue with the dead, "the dead do not include only those who went to their graves two thousand years ago." Rather, "the study of the Classics is the study of what happens in the gap between antiquity and ourselves." It's the back-and-forth sparring between betweeded Oxford dons, it's Picasso and Shakespeare, it's Ben-Hur and Gladiator it's anything that engages in or, as the wonderful title suggests, confronts that gilded and gargantuan Greco-Roman world. So, the chapter about King Minos's legendary palace is much more concerned with how and why Arthur Evans decided to elaborately, and disastrously, restore the site in the early 20th century. The discussion of Cleopatra turns around history's ever-changing, mostly guessing portrait, and ends with Beard finally advising that we just "stick with the Augustan myth and Horace's demented queen.' " And then there's her fascinating, gentle dig at the "obsessive, retiring Victorian academic" Charles Frazer. All in all, a smart, adventuresome read. Illus. & photos.