Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations

Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations

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by Mary Beard
     
 

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A National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, this is “the perfect introduction to classical studies, and deserves to become something of a standard work” (Observer).
Mary Beard, drawing on thirty years of teaching and writing about Greek and Roman history, provides a panoramic portrait of the classical world, a book in which we encounter not only… See more details below

Overview

A National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, this is “the perfect introduction to classical studies, and deserves to become something of a standard work” (Observer).
Mary Beard, drawing on thirty years of teaching and writing about Greek and Roman history, provides a panoramic portrait of the classical world, a book in which we encounter not only Cleopatra and Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Hannibal, but also the common people—the millions of inhabitants of the Roman Empire, the slaves, soldiers, and women. How did they live? Where did they go if their marriage was in trouble or if they were broke? Or, perhaps just as important, how did they clean their teeth? Effortlessly combining the epic with the quotidian, Beard forces us along the way to reexamine so many of the assumptions we held as gospel—not the least of them the perception that the Emperor Caligula was bonkers or Nero a monster. With capacious wit and verve, Beard demonstrates that, far from being carved in marble, the classical world is still very much alive.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Offering up 30 years of pointed insights and inquisitions, Cambridge classics professor Beard (The Fires of Vesuvius) returns with a collection of primarily reprinted reviews of her classicist peers’ work that somehow manages to touch on nearly every notable person, place, and event associated with the Ancient world. But for Beard, while the classics have always been a dialogue with the dead, “the dead do not include only those who went to their graves two thousand years ago.” Rather, “the study of the Classics is the study of what happens in the gap between antiquity and ourselves.” It’s the back-and-forth sparring between betweeded Oxford dons, it’s Picasso and Shakespeare, it’s Ben-Hur and Gladiator—it’s anything that engages in or, as the wonderful title suggests, confronts that gilded and gargantuan Greco-Roman world. So, the chapter about King Minos’s legendary palace is much more concerned with how and why Arthur Evans decided to elaborately, and disastrously, restore the site in the early 20th century. The discussion of Cleopatra turns around history’s ever-changing, mostly guessing portrait, and ends with Beard finally advising that we just “stick with the Augustan myth and Horace’s ‘demented queen.’” And then there’s her fascinating, gentle dig at the “obsessive, retiring Victorian academic” Charles Frazer. All in all, a smart, adventuresome read. Illus. & photos. (Sept.)
Booklist
“In this thought-provoking collection of essays and book reviews, Cambridge classicist Mary Beard explores the reasons that ancient Greece and Rome still matter…. Lively and engaging, Beard’s scholarship brings Pericles, Antony, Nero—and other ancient titans—back to life.”
M. Carter - The Wall Street Journal
“Essayists are like dinner guests: The best are amusing and erudite, the worst think they are. If Cambridge professor Mary Beard's conversation is anything like her wise and elegant book reviews for the Times Literary Supplement, London Review of Books and New York Review of Books, 31 of which are collected in Confronting the Classics, she must be very popular indeed…. Throughout, readers will learn something new or look at familiar topics afresh, alternately nodding and grinning.”
Independent Sunday (UK)
“Beard is the best…communicator of Classics we have.”
Sunday Times (UK)
“Witty, erudite collection…To Beard, the classical past is alive and kicking—and she has the great gift of being able to show just why classics is still a subject worth arguing about.”
Sunday Telegraph (UK)
“Highly engaging.”
Kirkus Reviews
This collection by Beard (Classics/Cambridge Univ.; The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found, 2008, etc.) provides a traditional classical education, and there's no need to learn a dead language. Not only do the pieces illustrate the author's extensive knowledge of all things ancient, but they could also serve as a guide to writing highly literate book reviews. Beard's clear way of explaining times and people we may or may not have heard of makes learning not only fun, but satisfying, and her prose style is easy without being annoyingly breezy. She examines books on the decline of Latin and Greek studies and wonders why we bother reading about their decline when we really don't care about them anyway. By definition, classics are in decline, she notes, since they're about the art, culture, history and philosophy of the ancient world; yet, as we see in one excellent section of this book, constantly changing views and new translations keep interest alive. Among the other topics treated with enjoyable erudition: our fascination with Alexander the Great, in a version created by Rome; Cleopatra, more Greek than Egyptian; and Mark Antony, a foolish drunk. Beard also decries the difficulty of translating Thucydides and Tacitus, reveals that most of Cicero's writing was part of a single legal case and introduces us to Philogelos' joke book from A.D. 400. (Some things are always funny.) Beard's reviews confirm her knowledgeable professionalism as she decries the conjectures of biographers who write "careful ancient history," hedging all their bets with weaselly phrases such as "would have," "no doubt" and "presumably." While we're at it, we learn that the ancients weren't that great; they just had good spin doctors. Remember, the winner always writes the history. A top-notch introduction to some fairly arcane material, accessible but not patronizing.
The Economist
“Engaging…impressive… Through her lively discussion of modern scholarship, Ms. Beard succeeds in her goal of proving that study of the Classics is “still a ‘work in progress’ not ‘done and dusted’."”
Daily Telegraph (UK)
“With such a champion as Beard to debunk and popularise, the future of the study of classics is assured.”
M. Carter - Wall Street Journal
“Essayists are like dinner guests: The best are amusing and erudite, the worst think they are. If Cambridge professor Mary Beard's conversation is anything like her wise and elegant book reviews for the Times Literary Supplement, London Review of Books and New York Review of Books, 31 of which are collected in Confronting the Classics, she must be very popular indeed…. Throughout, readers will learn something new or look at familiar topics afresh, alternately nodding and grinning.”
A.E. Stallings - American Scholar
“Many of us studied classics not only to read what was written in Latin, but also because poets, writers, and thinkers had blazed a brilliant trail. Beard conveys in her survey of the subject and the people who study it the excitement and romance of that tradition. For someone who has argued vehemently against the need to be glamorous, she makes the study of classics irresistibly attractive.”
Nick Romeo - The Daily Beast
“Beard’s essays in this volume range from humor in ancient Greece to the reputation of the emperor Caligula to the restoration of Roman sculpture. She writes with grace and wit on a vast array of subjects, and she has a novelist’s gift for selecting odd and revealing details.”
Library Journal
This collection comprises a decade's worth of Beard's (classics, Univ. of Cambridge; The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found) book reviews, mostly from the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review of Books, plus one lecture not previously published. Owing to her characteristic friendly yet probing style, Beard is well known as a popularizer of classical studies. These reviews are ideal for providing a basic understanding of classical studies, as they not only pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of the books she reviews but also elucidate the sometimes tricky nuances of current approaches in the field. Of course, much of the content is specific to the books being reviewed, but the work follows a chronological arrangement, with the first section on ancient Greece, the next on early Rome, the third on Imperial Rome, and so forth, with later pieces focusing on the classicists themselves across the subsequent centuries. Therefore the book lends itself well to reading straight through, rather than being read as a disjointed collection. VERDICT Not to be missed by fans of Beard, this will also appeal to readers generally interested in classical studies. [See Prepub Alert, 4/1/13.]—Margaret Heller, Domincan Univ. Lib., River Forest, IL

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780871407160
Publisher:
Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date:
09/09/2013
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
1,374,356
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

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