Mary Beard Q&A: “Rome would have been ghastly for a woman without a fortune”


The classicist professor at the University of Cambridge talks Brexit, her Mastermind specialist subject and the best advice she’s ever received.

What’s your earliest memory?

Collecting eggs from some rather frisky hens near my home in Shropshire. It gave me a lifelong fear of flapping wings.

Who was your childhood hero? And who is your adult hero?

I had a terrible fondness for the Ladybird book about Florence Nightingale when I was a child. I haven’t really had an adult hero. The more you know, the more (delightfully) flawed any candidate seems.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

Dave Goulson’s A Sting in the Tale (which is, as the title puns, about bees). It managed to communicate the potential excitement of that kind of science – something I had never got before.

What political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

In general I think political figures are best not looked up to! But I would very happily spend a long evening with Hillary Clinton.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

The reign of the Emperor Nero, 54-68 CE. But I know I would be awful at it.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Most of history is so unattractive as a substitute for the 21st century, and ancient Rome would be ghastly, especially for an ordinary woman without a fortune. Can I opt for the future?

What TV show could you not live without?

I think I could live without TV much more easily than I could live without radio. Life would be pretty unimaginable without the Today programme.

Who would paint your portrait?

I would like to risk the brilliant eye of Jenny Saville (though probably with clothes on).

What’s your theme tune?

I have hundreds depending on the time of day and the mood. But I don’t think I …read more

Source:: New Statesman

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