Mary Beard

Professor of Classics at Cambridge University

Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge University, is a scholar of wide-ranging intellect whose work has stimulated scholarly dialogues about Roman society for almost a quarter of a century. Throughout her career she has combined contributions to specialist literatures with writing for general audiences, and her commentaries and reviews appear regularly in the Guardian, London Review of Books and Times Literary Supplement, for which she is Classics editor.

Her interests range from Latin poetry to Greek sculpture, gender constructs in Roman society to cinematic interpretations of Homeric epics. Most recently, she has dealt with architectures, the transformation of ancient sites into tourist venues, and the shifting political meanings of famous buildings in two learned and gracefully written contributions to the Wonders of the World series: The Parthenon (2002) and The Coliseum (co-authored with Keith Hopkins, 2005).

The specific field in which Dr. Beard has made perhaps the greatest scholarly contributions has been Roman religion. Her essay in Pagan Priests (a book she co-edited) is provocative, even for those who disagree with its conclusions, and her two-volume Religions of Rome (written with John North and Simon Price), which one reviewer called indispensable, has become a central reference for both novices and experts in the field. One thing that distinguished Dr. Beard's work on religion is the variety of angles, that of sexual politics, literacy, ritual practice, and so on from which she has approached it.

Dr. Beard's dedication to sharing the fruits of her scholarship with wide audiences, so evident in recent works such as The Parthenon, The Coliseum, and her co-authored Classics: A Very Short Introduction (2000), is not a recent development. Her very first book, the co-authored Rome in the Late Republic (1985), now in its second edition, was aimed at and immediately benefited undergraduates, graduate students, and their teachers alike.

Dr. Beard's methodology embodies the interdisciplinary traditions of Classics Studies in the best ways. From the start of her career, she has embraced approaches linked to comparative mythology, historical analysis, and feminist theory. She moves comfortably between literature and archeology, and shares responsibility for a regular report on inscriptions in a flagship journal (Journal of Roman Studies).

A recurring strength is the seriousness with which she takes into account the history of scholarship. And recently, she has given this interest a very personal treatment in her study of Jane Harrison (1850-1928), a British classicist who, like Beard, was a fellow at Newham College. In The Invention of Jane Harrison (2000), Bear contemplates the inseparability of personal experience and scholarship. Her study of Harrison has become among the most influential and widely praised of her works. Celebrated for its style and creativity as well as its erudition, one reviewer lauded it as (f)elicitously composed and exhaustively documented, while another described it as compulsively readable and effervescently brilliant.

As of 2007, Mary Beard has published her most recent book, The Roman Triumph (Harvard University Press 2007) and will be delivering the Sather Lectures at the University, California, Berkley, 2008-09.