Your His­tory

The clas­si­cist and Cam­bridge pro­fes­sor re­veals her dis­dain for the mythos of Alexan­der the Great, and why she hunts for sto­ries of for­got­ten Ro­mans

History Revealed - - CONTENTS -

With clas­si­cist Mary Beard

Mary's lat­est project is Civil­i­sa­tions, a ten-part BBC Two se­ries ex­am­in­ing art and vis­ual cul­ture from around the world, co-pre­sented by fel­low his­to­ri­ans Si­mon Schama and David Olu­soga. It airs in spring 2018.

Q If you could turn back the clock, which sin­gle event in his­tory would you want to change?

I rather fancy turn­ing Alexan­der the Great into a hope­less mil­i­tary dis­as­ter. It is partly the glam­or­i­sa­tion of Alexan­der's suc­cess, and the (prob­a­bly false) sense that he was on some heroic mis­sion to take cul­ture to the East, that has so firmly em­bed­ded that clash of cul­tures. West versus East. In re­al­ity, I sus­pect that he was a bru­tal young man with a drink­ing habit. I would rather like to take him down a peg or two.

Q If you could meet any fig­ure from his­tory, who would it be?

I would al­ways want to swap notes with a woman. One favourite would be Agrip­pina, Em­peror Nero’s mother. She has had a very bad press, ac­cused of wheedling her son onto the throne and of hav­ing an in­ces­tu­ous af­fair with him; he soon tired of her, the story goes, and had her mur­dered. It is part of a pat­tern with the high-rank­ing ladies of im­pe­rial Rome – they are al­ways treated as treach­er­ous (and as a dab hand with poi­son). It is a dread­ful stereo­type, I sus­pect, but I need to come face to face to be quite sure.

Q If you could visit any his­tor­i­cal land­mark in the world to­mor­row, where would you go?

Back to Pom­peii. That’s not very orig­i­nal, but it is one place where you can re­ally feel you are in the Ro­man world. It is not so much any sin­gle build­ing in par­tic­u­lar – though there are some won­der­fully pre­served bathing com­plexes, where you re­ally get a feel for what it must have been like. It is more the fact that if you are lucky you can still wan­der down back­streets and see noth­ing from the 21st cen­tury. You can still hop across the streets on the fa­mous step­ping stones, as if you were there in AD 79.

Q Who is your un­sung his­tory hero?

Mine are all the un­sung clean­ers, bath at­ten­dants, nan­nies and laun­dry work­ers of the Ro­man world. We know much less about them than we do about the so­called ‘great men’, but we can dis­cover more than you think. Per­haps my favourite is a woman from Rome it­self called Al­lia Potes­tas, who is de­scribed at length on her tomb­stone. From that we learn that she lived in a mé­nage à trois with two young men, and that she was al­ways the first one up and the last to go to bed. Pre­dictably, when Al­lia died the guys went their sep­a­rate ways.

Pom­peii was a Ro­man town close to Naples, buried by ash from Ve­su­vius in AD 79

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.