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Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations

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Mary Beard is one of the world's best-known classicists - a brilliant academic, with a rare gift for communicating with a wide audience both though her TV presenting and her books. In a series of sparkling essays, she explores our rich classical heritage - from Greek drama to Roman jokes, introducing some larger-than-life characters of classical history, such as Alexander Mary Beard is one of the world's best-known classicists - a brilliant academic, with a rare gift for communicating with a wide audience both though her TV presenting and her books. In a series of sparkling essays, she explores our rich classical heritage - from Greek drama to Roman jokes, introducing some larger-than-life characters of classical history, such as Alexander the Great, Nero and Boudicca. She also invites you into the places where Greeks and Romans lived and died, from the palace at Knossos to Cleopatra's Alexandria - and reveals the often hidden world of slaves. She brings back to life some of the greatest writers of antiquity - including Thucydides, Cicero and Tacitus - and takes a fresh look at both scholarly controversies and popular interpretations of the ancient world, from The Golden Bough to Asterix. The fruit of over thirty years in the world of classical scholarship, Classical Traditions captures the world of antiquity and its modern significance with wit, verve and scholarly expertise.


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Mary Beard is one of the world's best-known classicists - a brilliant academic, with a rare gift for communicating with a wide audience both though her TV presenting and her books. In a series of sparkling essays, she explores our rich classical heritage - from Greek drama to Roman jokes, introducing some larger-than-life characters of classical history, such as Alexander Mary Beard is one of the world's best-known classicists - a brilliant academic, with a rare gift for communicating with a wide audience both though her TV presenting and her books. In a series of sparkling essays, she explores our rich classical heritage - from Greek drama to Roman jokes, introducing some larger-than-life characters of classical history, such as Alexander the Great, Nero and Boudicca. She also invites you into the places where Greeks and Romans lived and died, from the palace at Knossos to Cleopatra's Alexandria - and reveals the often hidden world of slaves. She brings back to life some of the greatest writers of antiquity - including Thucydides, Cicero and Tacitus - and takes a fresh look at both scholarly controversies and popular interpretations of the ancient world, from The Golden Bough to Asterix. The fruit of over thirty years in the world of classical scholarship, Classical Traditions captures the world of antiquity and its modern significance with wit, verve and scholarly expertise.

30 review for Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations

  1. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    "I do not want to belong to any club that would have me as a member," said Groucho Marx in his most frequently quoted line - one that I thought of several times while reading Confronting the Classics. Good grief, Mary Beard is doing just what I've done! She's taken a bunch of reviews, tidied them up a bit, stuck on some linking text, and called it a book! I mean, come on. I've tried her formula, and I know all the drawbacks. No doubt the individual reviews are quite good, but the construction is "I do not want to belong to any club that would have me as a member," said Groucho Marx in his most frequently quoted line - one that I thought of several times while reading Confronting the Classics. Good grief, Mary Beard is doing just what I've done! She's taken a bunch of reviews, tidied them up a bit, stuck on some linking text, and called it a book! I mean, come on. I've tried her formula, and I know all the drawbacks. No doubt the individual reviews are quite good, but the construction is choppy and fragmented. It has no coherence. And she's never really addressing the reader. A lot of the time, it's painfully obvious that she's invited me into her text and then, in an elementary faux pas that no society hostess would dream of committing, she's blatantly ignoring me while she talks to the author instead. What kind of behavior is that? Embarrassingly, though, Professor Beard is able to muster one point in her defense: her method appears to work. Despite doing three years of Latin at school, I have never felt very interested in classical studies. I passed my Latin O-level with difficulty and have never learned any Greek. I am extremely vague on classical history. But having read a few dozen of her reviews, I discover that I am rather better informed about the subject than I was before. Book reviewing, as everyone on this site knows, is an enjoyable spectator sport. I found myself paying close attention as she rapped one author over the knuckles for analyzing Latin dramas that possibly never existed, or spent half a page discussing why another didn't bother to mention in his biography of a certain famous classicist that the gentleman in question had a habit of sexually harassing his female students. She made the subject exciting. It becomes apparent than many of the so-called experts in this field are perilously close to the boundary which separates speculative research from out-and-out fraud. The facts are hard to obtain, and the temptation to extrapolate and add more or less fictitious details is enormous. She can spot them cheating when I'd gullibly swallow their stories, and it's fun to watch. And while you do that, in a manner that's familiar to anyone who hangs out on this site, you find yourself learning. After all, if you don't familiarize yourself with the background you can't follow the match. Well... I don't know. It's hard to argue with results; maybe this isn't such a bad format after all. In fact, I almost wonder if I shouldn't try it again myself...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    This is the perfect Goodreads book - a collection of old book reviews. Taken from the Times literary Supplement, the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books, slightly reworked,starting from the 1990s but mostly from this century. They are lively and witty pieces, all of the books reviewed are from the field of Classics, Mary Beard being Mary Beard only three (if my count be true) get an unambiguous thumbs up, this is possibly a spoiler, so if you don't want to know look away now - This is the perfect Goodreads book - a collection of old book reviews. Taken from the Times literary Supplement, the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books, slightly reworked,starting from the 1990s but mostly from this century. They are lively and witty pieces, all of the books reviewed are from the field of Classics, Mary Beard being Mary Beard only three (if my count be true) get an unambiguous thumbs up, this is possibly a spoiler, so if you don't want to know look away now - Asterix and the Actress, Bilingualism and the Latin Language, and another one which I have forgotten, as you can tell I wasn't taking notes. The others are weighed in the balance and if not exactly always found wanting at least probed and questioned. Some of the books that she enjoys too are fr from perfect, she finds T.P. Wiseman's Remus: A roman Myth quite inspired even if she is plainly not entirely convinced by his belief that various Roman myths were created and fixed in the Roman imagination by a series of plays (none of which unfortunately have survived, and for none of which is there any evidence that they ever had existed in the first place) she chews up a few biographies of Emperors (Augustus and Hadrian) like a lion gnawing on an antelope so that I was eventually impressed by the boldness of writers in dumping four hundred pages plus of mostly speculation on the reading public that entirely avoids the substantive political issues of their reigns. The problem is not a shortage of source material, it is not even biographies, the problem is the desire to write cradle to grave biographies of the sort you can buy about our contemporaries. In one passages she is discussing the (baleful) influence of Robert Graves' I Claudius on academic assumptions about Augustus and his wife Livia, mentioning how low budget it was and how it was tarted up and made to look classier for USA audiences for example by cutting the scene in which Caligua tells Claudius that he has carried out a caesarian on his sister and eaten their baby (he was the father), and then digresses to Robert Graves attending an opening night party for the actors for an earlier stage version. At the party Graves insisted that Jesus lived until he was eighty and after the end of his public career devoted his time to inventing spaghetti (not the best use of his time as the fork was not in common use in the region for centuries to come), Graves gave a magic stone to the cast to ensure the success of the show - it was a flop. This is a book that probably requires you to know a bit of ancient history, but I found her discussions of Thucydides (his Greek is so obscure that scholars are still in the process of working out what he might have been saying - none of which has stopped Donald Kagan from using him to advance his theories on how he believes the Cold war should have been fought), Cicero, the removal and restoration of plundered Art (which curiously enough never goes back to where it was taken from). Anyway as it was one of those days when I had to go on a journey and in this case spend the best part of four hours on buses having a new topic to read about every eight or so pages was just about perfect, I didn't even notice going past the "Pig and Butcher" pub. Perfect as well as a Goodreads book, she closes with a mini-manifesto for reviewing:reviews are a cruicial part of the ongoing debate that makes a book worth writing and publishing; and they are a way of opening up the conversation that it provokes to a much wider audience (p.284).

  3. 4 out of 5

    Myke Cole

    I always feel like there's something wrong with me when I have an allergic reaction to a book that is so popular and successful, written by an author as universally loved and respected as Beard. But this book gave me a rash, for two reasons: 1.) It's a collection of wonderful essays that are fascinating and illuminating explorations of a range of aspects of the classical world, including underserved areas like laughter, and the lives of freed slaves. BUT Every single chapter is 50% what I've just d I always feel like there's something wrong with me when I have an allergic reaction to a book that is so popular and successful, written by an author as universally loved and respected as Beard. But this book gave me a rash, for two reasons: 1.) It's a collection of wonderful essays that are fascinating and illuminating explorations of a range of aspects of the classical world, including underserved areas like laughter, and the lives of freed slaves. BUT Every single chapter is 50% what I've just described, and 50% Beard attacking previous scholarship on the topic, often with a kind of condescending insouciance that I'm more used to with sealioning Twitter trolls. Confronting the Classics isn't a book of history, it's a book of Beard's reviews, and who the heck wants to read that? Not me. The final chapters aren't even discussion of classics at all, but of the academics (like Beard) who interpret them for us. It's self-licking ice cream cone territory, an exercise in ego rather than scholarship. 2.) I really got off the bus when Beard nostalgically gives a pass to the groping of history students in her chapter on Eduard Fraenkel. She acknowledges that it's sexual harassment, but she also waxes eloquently on the link between pedagogy and eroticism, which, frankly, turned my stomach. If this is a thing to be nostalgic about, then clearly I'm missing the point. I'm surprised that Beard hasn't been more seriously taken to task for her casual treatment of what I regard as a very serious crime.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Manray9

    Mary Beard’s Confronting the Classics is an uneven jumble of essays and book reviews previously published in the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books. It has generated many favorable reviews in various media and been roundly praised by dozens of GR members. It struck me as lackluster and uninteresting. The back flap mentions a New York Times description of Beard as “the closest thing, if it exists, to a celebrity classics professor.” That, in fac Mary Beard’s Confronting the Classics is an uneven jumble of essays and book reviews previously published in the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books. It has generated many favorable reviews in various media and been roundly praised by dozens of GR members. It struck me as lackluster and uninteresting. The back flap mentions a New York Times description of Beard as “the closest thing, if it exists, to a celebrity classics professor.” That, in fact, may be the problem. It barely passed my threshold into Three Star territory.

  5. 5 out of 5

    notgettingenough

    The thing about a good bookshop is that it encourages speculation. This was another book I picked up in Daunt Books on Marylebone High St. Mary Beard will be familiar in particular to the British, but I'm guessing to a lot of other English speakers, as a high profile academic, with a public presence I imagine is unusual for somebody in this discipline. She is the Classics editor of the TLS and it is a hodge podge collection of book reviews she has written over quite a long period of time, linked The thing about a good bookshop is that it encourages speculation. This was another book I picked up in Daunt Books on Marylebone High St. Mary Beard will be familiar in particular to the British, but I'm guessing to a lot of other English speakers, as a high profile academic, with a public presence I imagine is unusual for somebody in this discipline. She is the Classics editor of the TLS and it is a hodge podge collection of book reviews she has written over quite a long period of time, linked together by various themes, that form the basis for this book. The units are small, I found myself looking forward to a tale and a cuppa for a week or two. I hadn't done any Classics since school and this was a bit of an eye-opener for me. I hadn't realised just how much surmising has come from so little evidence. How many careers, books - an entire academic industry, not to mention a popular one too - has been extracted in a manner that one could rather precisely say 'literally' brings to mind blood from a stone. The big theme of this book is explaining how our view of this ancient period is dictated by interpretation in a way that makes me, as a historian of more modern times, aghast. It's all made up! Almost. The characters, the stories, the very palaces we visit to pay homage to our ideas of how things were. I exaggerate a little, of course: it isn't ALL made up. Rest here: https://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpre...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

    I enjoyed Mary Beard’s book on Pompeii, and I think I’ve read a couple of others, or at least seen her work cited. She’s always struck me as pretty level headed, unlikely to get carried away with conjectures, so I wasn’t really surprised by the fairly sceptical tone of most of these reviews (though I did begin to wonder if anyone, anywhere, could produce work she’d give the green light). It’s a little odd reading a book of essays that are adapted (I’m not sure how much they’ve been changed) from I enjoyed Mary Beard’s book on Pompeii, and I think I’ve read a couple of others, or at least seen her work cited. She’s always struck me as pretty level headed, unlikely to get carried away with conjectures, so I wasn’t really surprised by the fairly sceptical tone of most of these reviews (though I did begin to wonder if anyone, anywhere, could produce work she’d give the green light). It’s a little odd reading a book of essays that are adapted (I’m not sure how much they’ve been changed) from reviews of particular books: some of them seemed very disconnected from the books they purportedly reviewed, which worked fine in this context, but seemed a bit odd when she did start discussing the books. It’s not just criticism of other people’s theories, although there’s a lot of it there: there’s a general survey of the literature, some discussion of issues that the study of the classics faces in general, some windows into little bits of history. Mostly, though… it is a book about other books; a rather disparate collection, however much I might want more. The essays are fine, and I did enjoy reading it, but I didn’t feel like I really learned anything new. Just what not to believe!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    Mary Beard’s writing is accessible, but not condescending to the general reader. She keeps academic score settling to a minimum. You may be already well versed in the classics or a person trying to figure the people, customs and events both great and small from 20 centuries ago out for the first time or, more likely, between those poles. Maybe you have been to Italy, marveled at the Coliseum, the aqueducts and the Pantheon, made a trip to the foot of Mount Vesuvius and wondered about the people Mary Beard’s writing is accessible, but not condescending to the general reader. She keeps academic score settling to a minimum. You may be already well versed in the classics or a person trying to figure the people, customs and events both great and small from 20 centuries ago out for the first time or, more likely, between those poles. Maybe you have been to Italy, marveled at the Coliseum, the aqueducts and the Pantheon, made a trip to the foot of Mount Vesuvius and wondered about the people of Pompeii and Herculaneum going about their business one minute, being engulfed in boiling lava and ash the next. Or you studied Plato, Aristotle and the rest of the great minds of fifth century BCE and remained interested in them or saw the amphitheaters where “Antigone” and “Electra” were first performed. No matter, just about anyone not in grad school in Classics will learn something new or find a new way to look at familiar topics. Beard discusses the boredom and gloom of Roman soldiers stationed in cold, rainy Britain, unlike the sun kissed plains of Umbria as can be. Regarding slavery in Rome, she makes the point that for many slavery was a temporary condition and not a life sentence and that many (perhaps even a majority) of the free population were ex-slaves or closely related to them must have made a difference in how former slaves were treated by the ordinary man or woman. Her vey cogent chapter on the Roman military makes the point that while Rome, both the Republic and then the Empire, was a militarized state constantly at war at the margins of its settled territory, armed soldiers weren’t allowed into the capital itself. There was an emphatic split between the demilitarized center and the zone of military activity, a split reflected by the standard Latin for “at home and abroad”, domi militiaeque. Beard shows how we construct versions of the classical world to suit ourselves. Alexander the Great’s reputation is an obvious example. For many he has remained a positive example of a great general heroically leading his army to victory in battles increasingly distant from Greece. Dante had him in the seventh circle of hell, screaming in pain in a river of boiling blood, surrounded by such monsters as Attila the Hun and Dionysus the tyrant of Sicily. A contemporary historian summarized his career: “He spent much of his time killing and directing killing and, arguably killing is what he did best.” In addition to Alexander, fifth century B.C. Athens is viewed through a contemporary and anachronistic lens. We have chosen to invest the fifth-century Athenians with the status of 'inventors of democracy'; and have projected our desire for an origin onto them. While our word 'democracy' derives from the Greek Beard says that “As far as we know, no ancient Greek ever said so and anyway democracy isn't something that is 'invented' like a piston engine. This is an excellent book for anyone interested in the classical world and those who study it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gerald Sinstadt

    This is not a book for the layman, nor does it pretend to be. Therefore the views of this layman - who acquired it partly by chance and partly from having enjoyed the lighter side of Professor Beard's writing -should be taken for what they are worth. Confronting the Classics is a collection of book reviews contributed to various publications over a number of years, together with an Introduction and an Afterword. The Introduction is the equivalent of an angler tossing bait into the water to entice This is not a book for the layman, nor does it pretend to be. Therefore the views of this layman - who acquired it partly by chance and partly from having enjoyed the lighter side of Professor Beard's writing -should be taken for what they are worth. Confronting the Classics is a collection of book reviews contributed to various publications over a number of years, together with an Introduction and an Afterword. The Introduction is the equivalent of an angler tossing bait into the water to entice the quarry. Here are hints of many juicy bits to follow, and sure enough they do, surrounded by a great deal of erudite observation on the way of life and thought in ancient Greece and Rome. Not all of this could be expected to wow the lay reader, but plenty does - for example, the suggestion that the Palace at Knossos (which this lay reader has visited) are a case of "rebuilding ruins"; or the details of daily life for a squaddie stationed at Hadrian's Wall; and much more. Made readable by an author who can invoke the Carry On Films and make them relevant, or who can offer a comprehensive guide to the Asterix books both in the original French and thier English translations. The fact that these are reviews of books by other academics of course offers ample scope for points scoring in a notoriously competitive field. They are not resisted but are invariably fair and balanced. In any case, the clever professor makes that very point in her Afterword. Or that's how it seemed to this lay reader.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Karen Wellsbury

    Not my favourite MB. Part explanation/ discussion and part dissection of other books/ media regrading ancient Rome/ Greece.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Allegra Byron

    Leer a Mary Beard es un placer en sí mismo.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kyo

    An interesting read about (recent) studies about the Classics. The chapters are in general a nice length and many of them are reviews of (recently) published books/articles about the classics (so be warned, if that's not for you, you might want to put this book down again!). I thought it was quite ironic that Beard complains a few times about writers who don't publish pictures of things described in their book or accuses others of being difficult to understand if the reader wouldn't have a certa An interesting read about (recent) studies about the Classics. The chapters are in general a nice length and many of them are reviews of (recently) published books/articles about the classics (so be warned, if that's not for you, you might want to put this book down again!). I thought it was quite ironic that Beard complains a few times about writers who don't publish pictures of things described in their book or accuses others of being difficult to understand if the reader wouldn't have a certain background, because Beard herself was sometimes guilty of this fault herself. Anyway, I'd recommend this book to anyone who's interested in Classics/classical scholarship and wants to read a varied, not too difficult, book about it! Happy reading :)!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Iset

    This is another one of those books where it is not at all what I thought it would be. I have enjoyed Mary Beard’s works in the past, and was looking forward to a humorous yet incisive popular overview of key classical authors and areas of interest in the field of classics. Well, the text is a nice easy read, marked by Beard’s characteristic witty style, but it’s really a series of her book reviews compiled into a book, and often doesn’t review the classics themselves (what I was hoping for), but This is another one of those books where it is not at all what I thought it would be. I have enjoyed Mary Beard’s works in the past, and was looking forward to a humorous yet incisive popular overview of key classical authors and areas of interest in the field of classics. Well, the text is a nice easy read, marked by Beard’s characteristic witty style, but it’s really a series of her book reviews compiled into a book, and often doesn’t review the classics themselves (what I was hoping for), but the books written about the classics. So, in the end not what I wanted to read at all, but interesting enough that I don’t regret the read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Peter Mcloughlin

    Mary Beard in this collection of essays on the classical world is about modern interpretations by scholars and the public as much as it is about the ancient Greeks and Romans. There is a bit of a stigma attached to the classics they seem to reek of old school (especially old British Public school) about them. It used to be that education in the classics was a passage into the British colonial elite of the 19th century and modern classics have retained the taint of being for upper crust old whit Mary Beard in this collection of essays on the classical world is about modern interpretations by scholars and the public as much as it is about the ancient Greeks and Romans. There is a bit of a stigma attached to the classics they seem to reek of old school (especially old British Public school) about them. It used to be that education in the classics was a passage into the British colonial elite of the 19th century and modern classics have retained the taint of being for upper crust old white men. This is unfortunate a large part of the west and it culture was formed in the classical would and amputating the classics in education would disfigure our knowledge of our culture. The Greeks and Romans of 2000 or so years ago are very different than what we think they are. They have been reinterpreted in the modern period in ways that fit their era. Yes old colonizers and some Nazi's were enthusiasts of the classics but so were the founding fathers and Karl Marx. The classical world has not only been used by elites but by radicals as well. Rosa Luxembourg's communist uprising in Post WWI Germany was called the Sparticist movement after the Slave revolt in the Roman Republic in 70BCE. the book itself is a collection of essays and interpretive looks at Greek and Roman topics including the archeology of Knossus the area mentioned in the Myth of the Minotaur and the home of Mycenae. We learn about the cat fights among archeologist over interpretation and how infighting among archeologist is fiercer than other disciplines. We see interpretations in books like I Claudius and the later TV series to understand popular consciousness of characters like Livia and Caligula. The classics have always been an interest of mine but Beard's essays may appeal to a newcomer. A fun book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Trice

    okay, I admit it: I thought the book looked interesting in general, but I really bought it for the one essay/chapter on Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. I read from the beginning of this book through that particular essay, and then a bit further... and then I kind of lost motivation. It's still sitting on my bedroom bookshelf, which implies it being on deck for being picked up again, and I did find it interesting, but it also felt highly focused on the small details that are importa okay, I admit it: I thought the book looked interesting in general, but I really bought it for the one essay/chapter on Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. I read from the beginning of this book through that particular essay, and then a bit further... and then I kind of lost motivation. It's still sitting on my bedroom bookshelf, which implies it being on deck for being picked up again, and I did find it interesting, but it also felt highly focused on the small details that are important to translators, but which didn't seem so important to the level at which, e.g., I'm reading the above mentioned history. In that particular article she discusses the translation of a particular word and the nuance she was suggesting for a correction of the translation didn't seem to change the overall meaning or understanding of events or speeches. Perhaps at some future date I will arrive back at that essay and find it helps me to an ah-ha moment, but at present, it is interesting while inessential to my reading/studies.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Good bullshit antidote. Beard has a gift for taking the cherry from everyone's pie. My favorite part went something like "if you are reading a biography of an ancient individual and it is more than a couple hundred pages, you can be guaranteed it is mostly fiction."

  16. 4 out of 5

    Susanna - Censored by GoodReads

    3.5 stars.

  17. 5 out of 5

    fonz

    3,75 Bueno, un pelín engañosa la sinopsis, más que conjunto de ensayos se trata de una recopilación de reseñas sobre libros de historiografía grecorromana (más romana que griega), si exceptuamos la crítica al álbum "Astérix y la Traviata", de Uderzo. Las reseñas siguen todas la misma estructura y no sé si se han reescrito para la ocasión, básicamente Beard presenta un tema, se extiende tres o cuatro páginas sobre él y finalmente entra a comentar un par de obras ensayísticas, las reseñadas, sobre 3,75 Bueno, un pelín engañosa la sinopsis, más que conjunto de ensayos se trata de una recopilación de reseñas sobre libros de historiografía grecorromana (más romana que griega), si exceptuamos la crítica al álbum "Astérix y la Traviata", de Uderzo. Las reseñas siguen todas la misma estructura y no sé si se han reescrito para la ocasión, básicamente Beard presenta un tema, se extiende tres o cuatro páginas sobre él y finalmente entra a comentar un par de obras ensayísticas, las reseñadas, sobre dicho tema, obras que en su mayoría se llevan unos cuantos palos repartidos con implacable parsimonia británica. Dicho esto, en general me lo he pasado bastante bien leyendo el libro aunque quizá es demasiado para británicos en ocasiones (normal, son reseñas publicadas en medios ingleses en su mayoría). A pesar de que no se profundiza todo lo que yo hubiese deseado en alguno de los temas tratados y que el conjunto carezca de cohesión y sea un mero cajón de sastre, Mary Beard es una reseñista muy inteligente que sabe hacer las preguntas adecuadas y meter el dedo en el ojo, resulta amena, y consigue despertar el interés, aunque a veces se pase de categórica en sus valoraciones, hay unos cuantos "estoesasíporquelodigoyo" repartidos por el libro que dan cosica. El capítulo de Tucídides me ha flipao particularmente, como los antiguos tenían un nivel de sofisticación que nos cuesta asumir o imaginar. En concreto, partes de la crónica de la Guerra del Peloponeso son ininteligibles si están correctamente traducidas y no adaptadas, porque simplemente no podemos entender muchos de sus giros, sus juegos de palabras, sus referencias culturales, es como si dentro de dos mil años alguien intentara leer el Ulises de Joyce desconociendo gran parte del contexto en el que fue escrito. Otro tema que me ha parecido muy interesante es que aunque tengamos material grecorromano para analizar durante varias vidas, la cantidad de lo que se ha perdido es inmensa, existen muchos autores latinos y griegos de los que sólo se les conoce por referencias o fragmentos de un par de frases. A pesar de la abundancia de restos, escritos, obras artísticas, etc, todo lo que se sabe de la Antiguedad está envuelto en niebla. Y finalmente me ha gustado mucho el apartado de reseñas de ensayos sobre la vida cotidiana en Roma, que presenta un Imperio mucho más heterogéneo de lo que se piensa, tanto en población, como en idioma como en el ejército o en costumbres. Y es que la mayoría de los testimonios sobre Roma que nos han llegado son de fuentes pertenecientes a las élites sociales e intelectuales o textos dirigidos a ellas. Ah, y el capítulo de Astérix (soy muy fan) aunque breve, está muy bien, Beard conoce perfectamente los tebeos de Astérix y su reseña es bastante certera.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    I truly wanted to give this book a 5-star rate. But I simply cannot do that based on the reason that any author who thinks they ought to make a book consisting merely of their own book reviews, is missing the point of books in the first place. And that is coming from the perspective of an enthusiastic book reviewer. I love reviews because people give so generously of their time to not only read but review a book for literally no payment at all. This book turns this around. It brings reviews repa I truly wanted to give this book a 5-star rate. But I simply cannot do that based on the reason that any author who thinks they ought to make a book consisting merely of their own book reviews, is missing the point of books in the first place. And that is coming from the perspective of an enthusiastic book reviewer. I love reviews because people give so generously of their time to not only read but review a book for literally no payment at all. This book turns this around. It brings reviews repackaged as book stories. While I remain a sceptic on whether several reviews a worthy book maketh, what great reviews Mary Beard has written! We hear from some of the key topics making the rounds in classics nowadays, She starts with the Greeks (always a good start) and we get stories about Knossos and the Minoan Culture, Sappho and early feminism, we hear from Cicero, Alexander and so much more. Then we turn to the Romans.... and enjoy reading about the early Roman culture, and the Roman Empire Making of, as it were! And all about their politics. We hear about Roman Emperors and Roman Culture from the bottom up. Truly a remarkable work by Mary Bead. But I wasn't a fan of the review format. I truly think it more suitable for blogs instead. For that, she gets 4 stars.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Jenkins

    The number one reason this book receives criticism is that it is a series of book reviews written by Mary Beard and then complied into a book. While this should have been made clearer on the covers, it also makes complete sense given the overall topic of the book. This is an analysis of the past, current and future study of Classics, and what better way to do that than reviewing such analyses by others? Other negative commenters state that the essays are mis-matched and the book is difficult to The number one reason this book receives criticism is that it is a series of book reviews written by Mary Beard and then complied into a book. While this should have been made clearer on the covers, it also makes complete sense given the overall topic of the book. This is an analysis of the past, current and future study of Classics, and what better way to do that than reviewing such analyses by others? Other negative commenters state that the essays are mis-matched and the book is difficult to follow. I disagree, considering Mary Beard always comes to a strong and well-defended conclusion in her essays. The wide range of topics in her essays allow for an unmatched breadth of knowledge in classics, while still sticking to an overall theme which she repeatedly comes back to. Overall this book is a wonderful addition to an introspective study of Classics. [edit] In addition, other reviewers on this platform suggest that Mary Beard is overly critical of the authors of the books she is reviewing. I believe this was intentional. In choosing such critical essays, Mary Beard is highlighting areas of weakness in Classical studies and subsequently poses questions for further avenues of research.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Flapper72

    I love Mary Beard books - just the informative yet approachable way they're written. I'm not a complete ancient world geek but it is interesting. In this book, Mary looks at the 'evidence' about Ancient Rome from specific books/documents and then talks through whether things that we've always accepted as being fact actually are. Each chapter is very discrete looking at one particular author or evidence source and it was an interesting read. Not the best book I didn't think but worth a read all t I love Mary Beard books - just the informative yet approachable way they're written. I'm not a complete ancient world geek but it is interesting. In this book, Mary looks at the 'evidence' about Ancient Rome from specific books/documents and then talks through whether things that we've always accepted as being fact actually are. Each chapter is very discrete looking at one particular author or evidence source and it was an interesting read. Not the best book I didn't think but worth a read all the same. It's amazing how, when it all comes down to it, there really is relatively little evidence. Even the language in which things are written is, very much, open to interpretation but the nuances of that are very much beyond my intellect. Anyway, do we really know a great deal at all? Leaves you with more questions than answers but it seems popular media (books of the time, Hollywood, even Asterix) have a lot to answer for!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Zachary Taylor

    One would not expect a collection of book reviews by a Classics professor at a prominent university in Britain to make for a pleasurable read. Typically, book reviews—especially those written by classicists and published in heady academic journals—fail to capture a sense of wonder or excitement. Somehow, Mary Beard pulls this off with her brilliantly witty and subversive Confronting the Classics, a compendium of thirty-one reviews written by her for the London Review of Books, the New York Revie One would not expect a collection of book reviews by a Classics professor at a prominent university in Britain to make for a pleasurable read. Typically, book reviews—especially those written by classicists and published in heady academic journals—fail to capture a sense of wonder or excitement. Somehow, Mary Beard pulls this off with her brilliantly witty and subversive Confronting the Classics, a compendium of thirty-one reviews written by her for the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement and adapted for the sake of this remarkable volume. Let the record show, Confronting the Classics is a collection of reviews, many of which are not necessarily related to each other than the fact that they all deal with some aspect of the classical world. Beard makes this very clear in her Preface, so that none should be surprised at the book’s content or composition. And, in any event, book reviews are fun to read, as they often do much more than merely summarize what an author has to say about her particular subject. As Beard notes early on, “reviews have long been one of the most important places where classical debates take place” (x). At the end of the book, Beard explains how reviews “have a vital job to do as a basic quality-control mechanism . . . If the Latin is all wrong, or the mythology and dates all mixed up, then someone has got to say so” (284). True to her word, Beard never shies away from dismantling a fellow classicist’s dubious claims, even if she knows the author herself. “I never put something in a review that I would not be prepared to say to the author’s face,” she says. One has to admire her critical eye and principled skepticism. Both make for an extraordinarily enjoyable read. Beard’s reviews cover many different aspects of the ancient world, from the political theory found in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, to the machinations of the imperial Roman court, to the daily lives of Roman freedmen. The final section, titled “Arts & Culture; Tourists & Scholars,” deals with the post-classical history of Classics itself, with a excellent chapter on what has made (and still makes) the adventures of Astérix and his Gallic compatriots so popular for millions of Europeans. Nearly all of Beard’s essays tackle important questions in Classics, save for a few less than stellar chapters that discuss the lives of British academics and antiquarians. Her best include “Which Thucydides Can You Trust?” (Pericles’ plan in the Peloponnesian War, “far from being a stroke of cautious genius, as Thucydides thought . . . was leading Athens to almost certain defeat”), “Alexander: How Great?” (Alexander is as much a product of Roman invention as of accounts of “what really happened” between 334 and 323 BCE), “Roman Art Thieves” (“Repatriation never restores the status quo ante: it is always another stage in the moving history of the art object”), “Bit-part Emperors” (“Expecting a student with two or three years’ Latin to take on the Annals is in some ways like offering Finnegans Wake to a non-Anglophone equipped only with a Basic Proficiency Certificate in English”), and “Fortune-telling, Bad Breath and Stress” (“It is almost impossible to identify clearly divergent strands of elite and popular taste,” as “cultural and aesthetic choices at Rome were broadly the same right across the spectrum of wealth and privilege”). Throughout the book, Beard also makes her disdain for modern biographies of prominent ancient characters known and consequently takes aim at classical historiography itself. “Historians start their books with a ritual lament about ‘the sources’ and their inadequacy,” she explains. “But that is part of the ancient historical game: first pick your question, then demonstrate the appalling difficulty of finding an answer given the paucity of the evidence, finally triumph over that difficulty by scholarly ‘skill.’ Prestige in this business goes to those who outwit their sources . . . and who play the clever detective against an apparent conspiracy of ancient silence” (173). What are we to take from all this? As a reader, tread with caution. When an author starts to talk about what an ancient character “would have” seen or experienced, note that this is probably the stuff of sheer fantasy. While Confronting the Classics is not aimed at specialists, it nevertheless upends many conclusions drawn by some of the most prominent experts in Classics. I therefore suspect that even the most committed students of antiquity will find pleasure in this book. Perhaps most importantly, Beard’s reviews call attention to a number of hotly debated issues in the field today, many of which remain unsolved. Most of the books she critiques are well worth any classicist’s time, especially if one wants to decide whether Beard is correct in her appraisals. In fact, I plan to pick up a copy of T. P. Wiseman’s Remus: A Roman Myth—discussed in Beard’s chapter titled “Who Wanted Remus Dead?”—to see for myself if his conclusions are as conjectural as Beard claims. In the end, Confronting the Classics was one of the most fun books I have ever read about the ancient Mediterranean world. That Classics can boast a celebrity professor of Beard’s acumen should be a source of pride for those in the field. It certainly is for me.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Moisés

    No es una colección de ensayos como se publicita, sino una serie de reseñas de la autora de obras sobre la historia grecorromana. Con todo, la espléndida capacidad divulgadora de Beard sigue aquí, y sus reflexiones sobre la manera en que construimos la historia opacan las pocas partes menos inspiradas.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nabila

    It's a book of book reviews. Which you only find out as you start reading it. Not on the back cover, or in the introduction or anywhere you would quite like that level of detail. Oh, sorry, my bad, this is stated clearly...during the epilogue. The reviews themselves are fine, but had I known it was a book of book reviews, I probably wouldn't have picked it up.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Filip

    A collection of book reviews by Mary Beard provides new insights on a thousand years of Antiquity (and two thousand years of Antiquity studies). Those with a keen interest in Greece and Rome will find this a great read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Donald Schopflocher

    A book of essays on wide-ranging topics in classics, most of which started as book reviews, and all of which characterized by Mary Beard's sage remarks and trademark skepticism.

  26. 4 out of 5

    John

    I listened to this on Audible. A recycled collection of Beard's reviews and essays for a number of publications. If thinking about the classical world is your thing, and not totally ignorant of Roman history, you will find Beard's treatment to be refreshing and appropriately critical. For example, she repeatedly calls modern biographers of ancient figures to account for their unfounded speculations. My favorite essays concerned the I, Claudius TV show and the Classicist R.G. Collingwood. Note: the I listened to this on Audible. A recycled collection of Beard's reviews and essays for a number of publications. If thinking about the classical world is your thing, and not totally ignorant of Roman history, you will find Beard's treatment to be refreshing and appropriately critical. For example, she repeatedly calls modern biographers of ancient figures to account for their unfounded speculations. My favorite essays concerned the I, Claudius TV show and the Classicist R.G. Collingwood. Note: the recording was a bit annoying; it was obvious there were a number of re-recordings that were edited in. Apparently the narrator had a hard time of it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    A frequent reader of Mary Beard’s blog, I was very interested in this collection of her popular criticism. Bundled together in one volume, Beard’s reviews of her peers’ popular publications are both insightful and interesting. In particular, the criticism of Donald Kagan’s book on the Peloponnesian War is particularly interesting. I love Kagan’s book, but Beard’s criticism has given me pause. She talks about how, like Kagan, others have drawn upon Cleon as a source of support for their arguments A frequent reader of Mary Beard’s blog, I was very interested in this collection of her popular criticism. Bundled together in one volume, Beard’s reviews of her peers’ popular publications are both insightful and interesting. In particular, the criticism of Donald Kagan’s book on the Peloponnesian War is particularly interesting. I love Kagan’s book, but Beard’s criticism has given me pause. She talks about how, like Kagan, others have drawn upon Cleon as a source of support for their arguments, and declared that Thucydides gave too much credit to Pericles. All of this discussion was new for me. Beard criticizes Everitt’s book on Augustus for failing to explore the basis of his power. She points out that Augustus overturned the Republican traditions of Rome in ways that Julius Caesar failed to achieve, and Everitt does little to explain how. She points out that, in 28 BC, Augustus reviewed the Senate wearing full armor under his tunic and frisking all of the constituent members. This must have been intimidating. Beard’s treatment of Nero was also fascinating to me, as we frequently only hear the version in which Nero is an egomaniacal sociopath. In each review, Beard criticizes gaps and presents different points of view. To the interested reader of the classics or the history of antiquity, this is all very interesting. Interspersed throughout are, as well, wonderful quotes. Post the assassination of MLK, Aeschylus was quoted publicly: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” By bringing popular references to antiquity, Beard successfully makes antiquity more relevant to today. See my other reviews here!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lynne

    I loved this book because it made me think. Mary Beard did a fantastic BBC television series called 'Meet the Romans' where she brought alive everyday life in Rome. She was passionate about the subject matter and that really came across strongly. This book is a collection of reviews of other people's books which have already been published elsewhere but for me it does work as a book in its own right. The topics are very wide ranging and Mary Beard is particularly good at pointing out what the ri I loved this book because it made me think. Mary Beard did a fantastic BBC television series called 'Meet the Romans' where she brought alive everyday life in Rome. She was passionate about the subject matter and that really came across strongly. This book is a collection of reviews of other people's books which have already been published elsewhere but for me it does work as a book in its own right. The topics are very wide ranging and Mary Beard is particularly good at pointing out what the right questions to ask might be and how the topics have been treated in the past, and in other media such as drama or cartoons. For me the book made me think about the ways in which how things are understood change with time and place. The chapters are short, beautifully written and are a way of evoking the current situation of classics, particularly in Britain.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Grady McCallie

    Collections of book reviews can be great, but if an author has certain habits of thought or writing, they tend to become painfully obvious. In this collection - mostly reviews from the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and the London Review of Books - Mary Beard maintains a style of easy erudition. Yet, while reviewing book after book, Beard tends to fault authors for drawing too many conclusions from too little data. If they all took her criticism seriously, one imagines Collections of book reviews can be great, but if an author has certain habits of thought or writing, they tend to become painfully obvious. In this collection - mostly reviews from the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and the London Review of Books - Mary Beard maintains a style of easy erudition. Yet, while reviewing book after book, Beard tends to fault authors for drawing too many conclusions from too little data. If they all took her criticism seriously, one imagines the field of ancient history would be a lot more vague and less interesting. Unlike many authors, Beard usually begins her reviews from a tangent that only just relates to the subject of the book(s) she's reviewing. So, she shares a lot of insight and general information, even if a reader isn't particularly interested in the subject of the review.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Hamid

    Mary Beard really is a gem. This is a collection of her essays (or reviews) of literature around topics such as Cicero and Nero. In each piece she takes the role of Professor attending a viva and, in good humour, agrees, disagrees and takes to task top writers in their classical field. Throughout, Beard - and this is where the effortlessness comes in - shows off her own scholarship and academic style. She makes me regret not reading Classics under her. As a result of the broad range of topics cov Mary Beard really is a gem. This is a collection of her essays (or reviews) of literature around topics such as Cicero and Nero. In each piece she takes the role of Professor attending a viva and, in good humour, agrees, disagrees and takes to task top writers in their classical field. Throughout, Beard - and this is where the effortlessness comes in - shows off her own scholarship and academic style. She makes me regret not reading Classics under her. As a result of the broad range of topics covered, this stands as an incredibly strong introduction to classical historiography in general and you'll come out of this book with twenty more books to add to your reading list. A must-have for the amateur-classicist and students of the field alike.

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