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Mary Beard (classicist)

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Subject: Glossary of ancient Roman religion, List of Question Time episodes, Catullus 16, Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire, Jupiter (mythology)
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Mary Beard (classicist)

Mary Beard
Mary Beard being filmed in Rome
Born Winifred Mary Beard
(1955-01-01) 1 January 1955
Much Wenlock, Shropshire, England
Alma mater University of Cambridge
Occupation Classical scholar
Awards Wolfson History Prize (2008) for Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town[1]
OBE (2013)

Winifred Mary Beard, OBE, FBA, FSA (born 1 January 1955)[2] is an English Classical scholar.

She is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge,[3] a fellow of Newnham College, and Royal Academy of Arts professor of ancient literature. She is also the classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement, and author of the blog, "A Don's Life",[4] which appears in The Times as a regular column. Her frequent media appearances and sometimes controversial public statements have led to her being described as "Britain's best-known classicist".[5]


  • Youth and education 1
  • Career 2
  • Honours 3
  • Books 4
  • Personal life 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Youth and education

Beard, an only child,[6] was born on 1 January 1955 in Much Wenlock, Shropshire. Her mother, Joyce Emily Beard, was a headmistress and an enthusiastic reader.[5][7] Her father, Roy Whitbread Beard,[7] worked as an architect in Shrewsbury. She recalled him as "a raffish public-schoolboy type and a complete wastrel, but very engaging".[5]

Beard attended Shrewsbury High School, a private school for girls. During the summer she participated in archaeological excavations; this was to earn money for recreational spending.[6]

At the age of eighteen she was interviewed for a place at Newnham College, Cambridge, and sat for the then-compulsory entrance exam.[6] She had thought of going to King's, but rejected it when she discovered the college did not offer scholarships to women.[6] Although studying at a single-sex college, she found in her first year that some men in the university held dismissive attitudes toward the academic potential of women, and this strengthened her determination to succeed. She also developed feminist views that remained "hugely important" in her later life, although she later described "modern orthodox feminism" as partly cant.[5] Beard has since said that "Newnham could do better in making itself a place where critical issues can be generated" and has also described her views on feminism, saying "I actually can't understand what it would be to be a woman without being a feminist."[8] Beard received a BA (Hons) at Newnham, which in time was converted to an MA.[9][10] She remained at Cambridge for her 1982 Ph.D. thesis entitled, The state religion in the late Roman Republic: a study based on the works of Cicero.[7]


From 1979 to 1983 Beard lectured in Classics at King's College London. She returned to Cambridge in 1984 as a Fellow of Newnham College and the only woman lecturer in the Classics faculty.[5][7] Rome in the Late Republic, which she co-wrote with the Cambridge ancient historian Michael Crawford, was published the same year.

Beard became Classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement in 1992.[7]

Arms of the University of Cambridge

Shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, Beard was one of several authors invited to contribute articles on the topic to the London Review of Books. She opined that many people, once "the shock had faded", thought "the United States had it coming", and that "[w]orld bullies, even if their heart is in the right place, will in the end pay the price"[11] (the so-called "Roosting Chickens argument"). In a November 2007 interview, she stated that the hostility these comments provoked had still not subsided, although she believed it had become a standard viewpoint that terrorism was associated with American foreign policy.[5]

In 2004, Beard became Professor of Classics at Cambridge.[3][7] She also was elected Visiting Sather Professor of Classical Literature for 2008–2009 at the University of California, Berkeley, where she has delivered a series of lectures on "Roman Laughter".[12]

In December 2010, on BBC Two, Beard presented the graphic historical documentary, Pompeii: Life and Death in a Roman Town, submitting remains from the town to forensic tests, aiming to show a snapshot of the lives of the residents prior to the eruption of Vesuvius.[13] In 2011 she took part in a television series, Jamie's Dream School on Channel 4, and for BBC Two in 2012 she wrote and presented the three part television series, Meet the Romans with Mary Beard, which concerns how ordinary people lived in Rome, "The world's first global metropolis". Beard is a regular contributor to the BBC Radio 4 series, A Point of View, delivering essays on a broad range of topics including Miss World[14] and the Oxbridge interview.[15]

Beard received considerable online abuse after she appeared on Question Time from Lincolnshire in January 2013 and spoke positively about immigrant workers living in the county.[16][17] Beard quoted abusive comments that she had received on her blog as a result,[18] and reasserted her right to express unpopular opinions and to present herself in public in an authentic way.[19] On 4 August 2013, she received a bomb threat on Twitter, hours after the UK head of that social networking site had apologised to women who had experienced abuse on the service. Beard said she did not think she was in physical danger, but considered it harassment and wanted to "make sure" that another case had been logged by the police.[20]

In July 2013, she wrote and presented Caligula with Mary Beard, broadcast by BBC Two, where she attempts to sort the truth from the myth.

In April 2013, she was named as Royal Academy of Arts professor of ancient literature.[21]

In August 2014, Beard was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to the September referendum on that issue.[22]



  • Rome in the Late Republic (with Michael Crawford, 1985, revised 1999); ISBN 0-7156-2928-X
  • The Good Working Mother's Guide (1989); ISBN 0-7156-2278-1
  • Pagan Priests: Religion and Power in the Ancient World (as editor with John North, 1990); ISBN 0-7156-2206-4
  • Classics: A Very Short Introduction (with John Henderson, 1995); ISBN 0-19-285313-9
  • Religions of Rome (with John North and Simon Price, 1998); ISBN 0-521-30401-6 (vol. 1), ISBN 0-521-45015-2 (vol. 2)
  • The Invention of Jane Harrison (Harvard University Press, 2000); ISBN 0-674-00212-1
  • Classical Art from Greece to Rome (with John Henderson, 2001); ISBN 0-19-284237-4
  • The Parthenon (Harvard University Press, 2002); ISBN 1-86197-292-X
  • The Colosseum (with Keith Hopkins, Harvard University Press, 2005); ISBN 1-86197-407-8
  • The Roman Triumph (Harvard University Press, 2007); ISBN 0-674-02613-6
  • Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (2008); ISBN 1-86197-516-3 (US title: The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found; Harvard University Press)
  • Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations (Profile Books, 2013); ISBN 1-78125-048-0
  • Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking Up (University of California Press, 2014); ISBN 0-520-27716-3
  • SPQR: A history of Ancient Rome (Profile Books, 2016); ISBN 9780871404237

Personal life

In 1985 Beard married Robin Cormack. She had a daughter called Zoe in 1985 and a son called Raphael in 1987.

See also


  1. ^ Vanessa Thorpe (29 April 2012). "Mary Beard: the classicist with the common touch". The Guardian. 
  2. ^ "Prof Mary Beard, OBE Authorised Biography | Debrett's People of Today". 1955-01-01. Retrieved 2015-07-29. 
  3. ^ a b "Appointments, reappointments, and grants of title".  
  4. ^ "A Don's Life". Retrieved 19 November 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Paul Laity (10 November 2007). "The dangerous don" (interview).  
  6. ^ a b c d "Interview with Mary Beard, the classical world's most provocative figure | Books". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-07-29. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f "BEARD, Prof (Winifred) Mary".  
  8. ^ Story: Ashley Chhibber  . "Interview: Mary Beard | Interviews | The Cambridge Student". Retrieved 2014-08-26. 
  9. ^ "The Cambridge MA: : Student Registry". 26 January 2012. Retrieved 19 November 2012. 
  10. ^ Collins, Nick (12 February 2011). "Oxbridge students' MA 'degrees' under threat". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  11. ^ Mary Beard (4 October 2001). "11 September".  
  12. ^ "The Sather Professor".  
  13. ^ Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (2008); ISBN 1-86197-516-3 (U.S. title: The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found; Harvard University Press)
  14. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - A Point of View, On Age and Beauty". 2011-11-13. Retrieved 2015-07-29. 
  15. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - A Point of View, The Oxbridge Interview". 2011-11-27. Retrieved 2015-07-29. 
  16. ^ Dowell, Ben. "Mary Beard suffers 'truly vile' online abuse after Question Time".  
  17. ^ "Cambridge professor under fire for Boston immigration comments on BBC Question Time", Boston Standard, 21 January 2013
  18. ^ Beard, Mary (27 January 2013). "Internet fury: or having your anatomy dissected online".  
  19. ^ Lark Turner (15 February 2013). "In Britain, an Authority on the Past Stares Down a Nasty Modern Storm". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 February 2013. I've chosen to be this way because that's how I feel comfortable with myself," Beard said. "That's how I am. It's about joining up the dots between how you look and how you feel inside, and I think that's what I've done, and I think people do it differently. 
  20. ^ "Bomb threat tweet sent to classicist Mary Beard - BBC News". Retrieved 2015-07-29. 
  21. ^ "Mary Beard named as Royal Academy of Arts professor of ancient literature", The Independent, 10 April 2013
  22. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories | Politics". 2014-08-07. Retrieved 2014-08-26. 
  23. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60367. p. 9. 29 December 2012.
  24. ^ [2]
  25. ^ Kirsten Reach (14 January 2014). "NBCC finalists announced".  
  26. ^ "Announcing the National Book Critics Awards Finalists for Publishing Year 2013". National Book Critics Circle. 14 January 2014. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 

External links

  • Mary Beard's blog at The TLS
  • Works by or about Mary Beard in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Beard, Mary (8 September 2000). "The story of my rape". The Guardian. 
  • Beard, Mary (14 February 2014). "The Public Voice of Women". London Review of Books. 
  • Debretts People of Today
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