cover image Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations

Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations

Mary Beard. Norton, $28.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-87140-716-0

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.)