Professor Mary Beard has just aired the first episode of her new series, Meet the Romans. Having just finished watching it, I do not hesitate to recommend it with high praise.
Listening to the first episode, I felt like I was seeing what the new era of Classics would look like: When people first began studying the Classics in earnest, they reminisced of the ‘glory of old’ and ‘better times’. The tone was moralizing, and the focus was on the grandeur of Rome and the strength of the empire. This was followed by a strong reaction: Catullus 16 (definitley X-Rated), and the Pro Caelio took the place of Catullus 64 and Cicero’s On Friendship. Now Mary Beard seeks to change the discourse again – to view Rome as another culture made of people very much like ourselves, who worked and suffered and rejoiced just as we do. I felt as though she had brought Roman Culture to the present; it was easy to envision myself there and to see how the pattern of human existence could play over and over, changing only in its technology.
It is fair enough to say that there is a bit of speculation in Mary Beard’s work, but it is speculation of the reasonable and sound sort; it does not mislead, only embellishes. She is taken a foreign and dusty piece of history often seen as irrelevant at best and elitist at worst, and made it pleasantly accessible and relevant to the general public. When I find myself teaching in several years, I will definitely be showing this in my classroom.