A Day in the Life of a Classicist

This week, Philippa speaks with PROFESSOR MARY BEARD; author, presenter of the recent Caligula and writer of the popular blog A Don's Life.

Rounding off our Day in the Life series, Mary tells Iris about book reviewing, travelling, and what her latest projects are.



Out of all the activities you regularly do within your field- teaching, travelling, writing, presenting, lecturing, editing, blogging, being a literary judge- have you an especial preference?

It all depends and varies. Right now if you asked me what I would most like to do, it would be getting a week in the library uninterrupted!


What are you working on at the moment?

I am finishing a book on Roman laughter (laughter not comedy!) and starting a new history of Rome. (Ambitious...?)


For your documentaries Meet the Romans and Caligula; and in your book Confronting the Classics, you alight on original topics- such as laughter in the ancient world- and break much fresh ground. How do you choose these topics?

Gosh that is very hard to say. I thought of laughter while sitting next to a swimming pool in Los Angeles. I was being asked for a title for a big lecture series and I had just finished my book on the Roman triumph, and I realised I would like to take on something a bit less public and military... and laughter just came into my head somehow.


What are you hoping to do for your next project?

As I said, I have a project to write a history of Rome. But I am also going to finish off for publication another series of lectures I did on Washington DC on images of Roman Emperors in later art.


Could you describe a typical weekday of yours in Cambridge in term-time?

There isn’t such a thing as a typical day- except that they are all long. I think most of us are up and working by 7:30 and don’t let up until midnight or so. Some days are packed with teaching and meetings, others I try to free at least half the day for preparation. It really does take hours to write a single lecture.


How about life at the TLS?

I go into the TLS office about twice a month, more in the vacations. It’s huge fun. I go through the piles of new books that have come in, think which should be reviewed, and by whom. Then I have to persuade people to take the books on... and when they come in I edit them, think about pictures, occasionally fact check. Getting a review into print is a bigger job than you’d imagine.


Your blog, A Don's Life, is very popular- how much time do you devote to it?

I blog twice a week, and it takes something between 45 mins and an hour each time.


What are your hopes for the future of Classics in schools?

That it will go from strength to strength (surprise, surprise). And that more kids will have a chance to get to grips with the ancient languages.


Which has been your most memorable Classical trip?

All sorts... so hard to say. The most unexpected was going to visit the Rio Tinto mines in Spain that had been originally worked by the Romans. A strange lunar landscape.


If not a Classicist, what would you have been?

Unemployed probably.



Credit for main image: Robin Cormack