Mary Beard is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, classics editor of The Times Literary Supplement and author of the blog, A Don’s Life which also appears in The Times. Often described as Britain’s best-known classicist, Mary’s latest book SPQR: a history of ancient Rome is one of our most popular non-fiction titles.
Your latest book SPQR is a big favourite here in Suffolk. What do you think it is about the Romans that continues to catch the public imagination?
I am really pleased it is a favourite… More to do with the Romans than me I think. The Romans capture our imagination because they are so deeply embedded in our culture… Most of us know about how wicked many of the Roman Emperors were, but we say “I am Spartacus”, and we love Gladiator. The Romans speak to our naughty side, but they also remind us of higher things: Civil liberties, Citizenship, Freedom.
Apart from your own books where would you recommend a new reader to start to read the classics?
Tom Holland’s Rubicon is great. A really good story of the most turbulent time of Rome. If you want to see how ancient myth works in the modern era, I recommend Helen Morales’ Very short introduction to Classical Mythology, A great glimpse of why it all matters.
Who were your literary heroes as you were growing up?
A difficult one. In fiction I have to confess I loved Jane Eyre. All about how to be a woman.
What is on your reading list at the moment?
Odd things. I am reading J Brotton’s book about the sale of King Charles I’s pictures and I am mugging up on Mexican Art (Yes!)
Given a time machine and the ability to go backwards or forwards what date would you set the clock for and why?
Oh dear. Can I please stay where I am?? I am really interested in Ancient Rome, but would hate to live there. And who knows what the future holds?