Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations

Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations

Mary Beard

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 0871408597

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


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. 17 illustrations

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interpretation itself’. It is an excellent subject for that project. Almost every aspect of the ‘Laocoon’ has been hotly contested at some point since its rediscovery. Even the apparently simple ‘fact’ that the sculpture described by Pliny is one and the same as the Vatican ‘Laocoon’ has not proved quite so simple. True, the subject matter matches (Laocoon, sons and writhing serpents); and the find spot, though vague in the Renaissance sources, could conceivably be compatible with a ‘palace of

accounts of Greece in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that – impressive though the archaeological remains were – the inhabitants were a pale and disappointing shadow of their ancient ancestors. If they had gone to the country expecting to meet ‘the descendants of Miltiades and Cimon’, travellers found instead brigands, cheats and hucksters; and the women, as Valérie de Gasparin was sadly forced to acknowledge, bore precious little resemblance to the Venus de Milo. Partly in reaction

such a regime; nothing but admiration for the strange paradox that Frazer’s writings explored the farthest-flung regions of the world, while Frazer himself rarely left his study. ‘Authority on savages – but he has never seen one’, declared (approvingly, it seems) the headlines of several articles; and they went on to reassure their readers that Sir James ‘is fond of saying that he has never seen a savage in his life; his books are the outcome of research into original scientific work.’ This was,

English accounts of Fraenkel’s life mentions his wandering hand or what went on in his tutorials with women. The closest we get is a single sentence in Nicholas Horsfall’s account in Briggs and Calder’s Biographical Encyclopaedia of famous classicists: ‘He did enjoy, warmly, but most decorously, female beauty’. Most ‘decorously’? Either this is staggering naivety on the part of Horsfall, or it is a guarded hint to those already in the know (in other words, most of the Oxford Classics

risk of trusting me with the Classics side at the TLS. Mary-Kay Wilmers and Bob Silvers have been my generous editors at the London and New York Review of Books (and it has been fun getting to know everyone involved with those papers, especially Rea Hederman). The TLS has been my second home for two decades now, and all the staff there (not least Maureen Allen) know how much they mean to me. I first met Peter Stothard when he started to edit the TLS in 2002. Since then he has been an

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