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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 13:19:11


Hi Mary....
Firstly was that really you that came on a MN thread whilst your roman tv series was on???
And my actual question, when did your love for history start? What kicked it all off for you and made you realise it was a passion?

I know it's technically two questions.....well three..but two are intertwined and the first is just nosey slightly relevant.

WEll it started when I was young.. back in the British Museum.
But I LOVED archaeology when I was a teenager...not just for the academic side, I confess.
I remember going off on these great digs.. you excavated hard all day, and partied by night (and your parent thought you had a highbrow hobby)

NotGeoffVader Tue 09-Oct-12 13:19:24

Many thanks for answering my question. I shall be looking forward to the new series, and the book! I'm currently working on being a 'scientist' - doing a masters in ecology-related topic, but when that's done, may well pursue history and literature. Anything but working (joke)!

BoffinMum Tue 09-Oct-12 13:19:41

Festina lente, puellae. Maria districtata.

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:21:38


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?

The academic job market is not great right now, and it is awful just going from short term job, to short term job.
More people do get a permanent position than we imagine, but I still say to may would be PhD students.. yo have to want to do this badly enough that if you dont get a job directly out of it, it will still seem worth it.
Some of my Phd students and friends have gone on to all kinds of different careers.. many are pleased to have done the PhD

NettleTea Tue 09-Oct-12 13:22:28

thanks for answering my question, and Im buzzing that it was considered a cracker!!
we have the remains of a Roman bloomery site on our farm - would you like to come and have a nose about????

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:23:35



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?

That is true, there are fewer applicants per place.. but we say (and I believe it to be true) that they are highly self selected. It is often the brightest kids in a school that choose to do Latin... certainly Cambridge college dont find the classicists thicker than the norm. Far from it!

BoffinMum Tue 09-Oct-12 13:25:18

Nettle, what is a bloomery site??

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:26:29


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?

Let me answer the Biscuitq... formicae (that I think is the Latin for Garibaldi).

For coffe I shall choose a nice glass of Falernian, and the companion...?Difficult.. Livia would be a bit terrifying, Julia a bit too much like Samantha Brick (so hard being pretty)... I fear I might settle for a scholarly chat with Emperor Claudius

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:27:04


Welcome to Mumsnet again, Mary. Thank you for coming.

Quid est vestrum crustulum acceptissimum?

(not sure if I've got that right but I know you would want us to have a go!)

Better than I could do

NettleTea Tue 09-Oct-12 13:27:57

Its for Iron production. the weald was one of the most industrialised areas once the Romans came - they undertook massive deforestation and replanting to supply iron to the rest of the empire. We have quarries and our woodland was probably planted by them too, given the tree species.

BoffinMum Tue 09-Oct-12 13:28:24

Mary, by the way, I just wanted to say that I recently had to spend two days in Portcullis House at something, including a local overnight, as a bf mother, lugging a refrigerated bag of expressed breast milk around with me, and the fact that you had been on the radio talking about your own management of breastfeeding whilst trying to cope with badly timed academic meetings was a great source of inspiration and succour. So thanks for that. [flowers]

BoffinMum Tue 09-Oct-12 13:29:58

Falernian sounds jolly nice. grin

BoffinMum Tue 09-Oct-12 13:30:28

thanks is what I meant to type in the other post

TunipTheVegemal Tue 09-Oct-12 13:30:30

' formicae (that I think is the Latin for Garibaldi).'

You mean the Romans thought of them as squashed ant biscuits instead of squashed fly biscuits?

PatrickMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 09-Oct-12 13:30:48

Last question for Mary please...

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:31:24


Salve Mary,

I'm a former student of yours and loved my time at Newnham- it shaped who I am and how I think. Thanks for all you did. smile However, ten(ish) years on, busy juggling work and a young family, I can't remember much of the actual Latin, Greek, history and philosophy I learnt then, let alone find time to argue out the questions that enthused us all then. blush

Any tips for me and others in a similar position on how to revive the interest (of the sort that can be fitted into commuting time and other small corners of the day)? Or should we just give up and wait until the kids are older? confused

Gratias tibi ago.

Hi and Salve...
It does come back very quickly... I would kick start it with a session such as we did at Cheltenham Literary festival on Sunday...we did i hour reading some Juvenal. And we (same team, me, Peter Stothard and Llew Morgan) will be doing a London hour next yeat at the British Museum reading a bit of Virgil.

If you inject an hour like that, then go back to a Loeb.. and see if you find what interests again.. and explore all tose byways you didnt get to

BoffinMum Tue 09-Oct-12 13:32:52

Thank you, Mary, for coming on and being such fun. grin

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:33:17


Hi Mary, just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed your series on the Romans.
My question - what's your favourite Roman site?

I have a great soft spot for Wroxeter in UK (partly sentimental, I dug there).. and otherwise has to be Pompeii

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:35:08


Salve Mary

I'd like to second Nasturtium Salad's question. I'm another Classics graduate (graduated from Oxford in '87!) who has fallen firmly off the wagon. I think I'd struggle now with the Cambridge Latin Course: Caecilius est where?!

Perhaps a week-long or weekend summer school for Lapsed Classicists. There's probably enough of us now in lucrative employment (yes you can get a good job after a Classics degree) that the course could make a profit.

:thinks wistfully about a child-free/work-free week reading Virgil:

That is great .. ask the MN Academy. Think it could be great actually!

marybeard Tue 09-Oct-12 13:38:36

Thanks everyone... really enjoyed that. Sorry if I couldnt get to every question (though I THINK we covered all topics).

If you want more, we have a MN Academy weekend on Roman History in London. Check out the website. It will be a ball.. (a pilum, I mean)

freerangelady Tue 09-Oct-12 13:38:50

Huge thanks to Mary for answering all these questions - I've found it really interesting and am looking forwards even more to this weekend now!

I'm also a bit overexcited that you may read a book little ol me recommended!

Thanks again.

PatrickMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 09-Oct-12 13:39:28

Mary, thank you for taking the time to answer all our questions! Looking forward to seeing you this weekend at the Roman History course.

ScaryBOOAlot Tue 09-Oct-12 13:39:29

A mumsnet weekend, child free, reading classics and drinking wine - now that would be awesome.

Thank you so much Mary!

TunipTheVegemal Tue 09-Oct-12 13:40:02

Thank you very much Mary, nice to see you here again! thanks

WingDefence Tue 09-Oct-12 13:40:19

Thank you so much Mary! Looking forward to the lapse-classicists MN Academy course already wink

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