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Webchat with Mary Beard, Tuesday 9 October 12.30-1.30pm

(136 Posts)
PatrickMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 04-Oct-12 11:34:39

Hi everyone,

We are delighted to welcome the inimitable Mary Beard to Mumsnet for a live webchat on Tuesday 9 October between 12.30-1.30pm.

Mary Beard (who needs no introduction to many of you, we're sure!) is a Professor of Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge, and the classics editor of the TLS. Her books include the acclaimed and best-selling Pompeii, The Roman Triumph, The Parthenon (in the Wonders of the World series of which she is general editor) and It’s A Don’s Life. She is the winner of the Wolfson Prize for History for Pompeii (Profile, 2008), writes a highly successful blog for The Times and recently presented a wonderful BBC TV series on the Romans.

Alongside fellow Classicist Emily Pillinger, Mary will be contributing to a lively 2-day Roman History course as part of the Mumsnet Academy, on 13-14 October at Faber and Faber, London. This is a fantastic opportunity to meet Mary while brushing up on the history of a society that, in many ways, shapes the way we live today. No previous knowledge of Roman History required. Sign up here.

Put 9 October in your diary or if you can't join us live, post a question to Mary in advance.

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:01:00


Hello Mary, I really enjoyed your series on the Romans, although my 20 month old DD was not too keen on my diverting attention away from her!
Are you pleased to see more women presenting the sciences on TV? If I think back to my childhood it was all old, fusty men. Are we likely to get a greater uptake of women studying history and other topics because they're encouraged by you? I hope so!

I think it is great to see more women doing science .. and especially women who really know something, not just 'presenting'. I think these are really important factors in the whole role model thing

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:02:44


Hi Mary, I have been trying to make sense of the transition from the Roman Empire to the Holy Roman one, when centurions disappeared off, and popes came on the scene, as I have it all very muddled in my head. So far I have read Gibbons, but I am wondering if there are other useful things I could read about this period that might help be get a better understanding.

By the way I am a university lecturer in education not a million miles from you, and thought you did a cracking job on Jamie's School given what you had to work with.

I think recognising one's limitations was the key on Jamie.

There are good things on later antiquity now.. try Bryan Ward Perkind, Peter Heather, Averil Cameron.. all good starts

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:03:29


I am so glad to hear that people don't lose their Latin for not practising it! I use Latin pretty much every day (but I'm not a Classicist, so I suppose there is are jobs out there ...). But it's nice to think the Greek I thought had atrophied might be possible to get back.

Its a bit like riding a bike!

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:05:17


I know I've already had a question, but can I ask another one?!

If so, and at the risk of an incitement to libel, would you care to match modern world "celebrities" (politicians, entertainers, world leaders etc.) to their Roman equivalents? Who are the 20th/21st century Augustus, Virgil, Caligula, Catullus, Livia Drusilla, Pliny or Messalina?

Nick Clegg had better make sure he doesnt end up like Germanicus.. golden boy, but nasty end

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 09-Oct-12 13:06:32

Good to know! smile

(I'm assuming you don't mean, it involves jumping red lights at the corner by Sidgwick Avenue ...)

ScaryBOOAlot Tue 09-Oct-12 13:07:22

Off to spend way too much money on books now grin

I love Christian Jacq for Egyptian historical fiction, but you have to be prepared to take half of it with a pinch of salt.

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:08:33


Hello Mary. Really enjoyed the Romans series and teenage Dd loved a recent repeat of your Pompeii programme. (As an aside, she is doing Latin at school and I can't believe Caecilius and Metella are still going strong).

My question is: What would you like to do to AA Gill if you could get your hands on him?

Well I would get him to take him out to lunch at a very nice place, I would have half a bottle of wine at his expense, and I would give him a nice but firm supervision on women careers (esp re tv).

The whole thing was very odd.. but in the end quite reassuring for me. I mean, it was a bit of a slap in the face, but I soon realised it was silly.. and it really did mark the kind of remark that most people seemed to think was silly, out of order and off the point .. and they said so. Phew.

TunipTheVegemal Tue 09-Oct-12 13:08:36

smile I think Horrible Histories is so universally loved that comparing Meet The Romans to it is almost certainly meant as a compliment.
Clearly that must be a very good tv production company and I hope they make lots more of both!

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:09:45


Hello Mary,

I loved your series The Romans, particularly the way you bought the stories to life using the tombstone inscriptions. My question is simply:

Do you have anymore TV programmes coming up?

Thank you.

Yes.. we hope to have something next year... have to get my book finished first (it's on Roman Laughter)

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 09-Oct-12 13:10:32

I'm sure you could get more than half a bottle of wine out of him. It might go sour under his influence, though.

WingDefence Tue 09-Oct-12 13:10:34

Thanks for answering my question Mary thanks

I'd like to echo the post far, far above about having a refresher course for ex-Classicists. I still have all my old texts, and more besides, but using my old lexicon to decypher NT greek on the odd occasion is the nearest I get to it now!

I've just realised, has anyone asked The Biscuit Question? biscuit blush

BoffinMum Tue 09-Oct-12 13:11:28

Thanks Mary. I am going to be naughty and venture another question:

How did one city become so powerful ahead of its rivals? I am aware that noble families that were not from Rome basically became adopted by Rome so they could be officially Roman, and play a part in civic life. So how did Rome manage to get itself into a position of such power and influence given its apparent geographical disadvantages?

NettleTea Tue 09-Oct-12 13:11:36

can you ever forgive the Romans for burning down the library at Alexandria? How do you think the world might have been different if this knowledge hadnt been lost for centuries?

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:11:56


Hello ?

I loved Latin at my (state) school and the knowledge that that period of study gave me has been useful on a daily basis. Do you have any vides on how Latin can be brought back into schools so that everyone gets a go? I've been thinking of offering a Latin club to older kids at my child's primary school ? could you advise on decent and simple texts, please? (Oh, and keep up the good work!)

That would be a great idea. The best intro book to use is Minimus by Barbara Bell. Friend of the Classis (run by P Jones and Jeannie Cohen) can help with set up and sometime books

TunipTheVegemal Tue 09-Oct-12 13:12:03

It was great that the Gill thing turned out to be a golden opportunity for hundreds of people, men and women, to say 'well actually we want woman presenters who actually know stuff, we're not that bothered what they look like'.

I think they need to film you kindly but firmly educating A.A. Gill. It would make good tv. Like Jamie's Dream School but with minor celebrities instead of teenagers.

BoffinMum Tue 09-Oct-12 13:12:39

I think we should have an adapted biscuit question and ask Mary what her preferred Roman coffee time snack of choice would be, and also which Roman she would prefer to share it with?

TunipTheVegemal Tue 09-Oct-12 13:13:36

WingDefence I attempted to ask the biscuit q IN LATIN but clearly my Latin is so crap these days it was incomprehensible grin

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:13:55


can you ever forgive the Romans for burning down the library at Alexandria? How do you think the world might have been different if this knowledge hadnt been lost for centuries?

That's a real cracker.. and a mystery. I wish we knew who was REALLY guilty (I like t think that there are other suspects).
Looking on the brightside (I know that's hard in this case!), I like to think that we would have been a bit swamped by all that knowledge. Maybe it was better to lose it and rediscover some of it?? Though I would love to have all of Tacitus and Ovid!

WingDefence Tue 09-Oct-12 13:14:07

As a complete aside, I finally made it to Pompeii this spring with my husband and 3 year-old son in tow. They loved it but I really adored it. I even got a picture of me taken outside a house owned by a Caecilius!

I think it was really the only thing on my bucket list grin

SkippyYourFriendEverTrue Tue 09-Oct-12 13:14:17


From what I've seen Classics has fewer applicants per place than most Cambridge subjects.

Does this mean that the calibre of Cambridge Classics undergraduates is less than that of Cambridge students more generally?

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 09-Oct-12 13:16:01

tunip, you need to translate Boffin's longer question into Latin. Come on now, it can't be that hard! wink

(No, I've no clue either.)

WingDefence Tue 09-Oct-12 13:16:03

Oh Turnip that's what 'crustulum' was!!

MNHQ can you please direct Mary to the thread about classical MN? It was brilliant.

Pantah630 Tue 09-Oct-12 13:16:51

Thanks Mary, I shall add some Saylor to my next book order. Ive spent the morning at work reading Livy it's raining and quiet, don't tell the boss about the foundation of Rome. The translation by de Salincourt is very readable, I'm hoping by note taking it will stay in smile

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:17:30


Hi Mary, as a highly successful female academic, what advice would you have for an early career academic (PhD 2008, lecturer for 4 years) on managing a research career alongside having children? I'm 6 months pregnant and already having to turn down so many funding opportunities, conferences etc. My universtity's maternity leave arrangements are excellent, but it's the longer term that worries me. Many thanks. (Incidentally I'm also a Classics graduate, although I now lecture in linguistics!)

Hi I think it is really tough. For years I struggled, and people said .. gosh look at her, such potential, but her career is going nowhere.
Best advice I think is to hang on in there, dont imagine that with small kids you can right big books.. and make sure you keep on people's intellectual agendas.. punchy review, short article.

The key is that they shouldnt forget you exist.

Jammother Tue 09-Oct-12 13:18:19

Hi Mary

Do you think that studying Classics at an advanced level (PhD) is still worth pursuing as so many young academics can only gain short term temporary employment for many years thus making financial security, domestic stability and being able to have a family almost impossible?

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