Personality and intellect have vaulted Mary Beard to near cult status

December 22, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

When Mary Beard first went on television in Great Britain after her book on Pompeii was published, she did not look like a woman you might see narrating a documentary.

She was more than 50 years old, the wrinkles in her face were not camouflaged by makeup, and her prominent front teeth were not straight. Her long, grayish hair is commanded by whatever breeze is blowing by. Indeed, she was mocked by the late television critic A.A. Gill, who in the Sunday Times said she should be kept away from the television cameras altogether.

Beard had a word or two for Gill. “There have always been men like Gill who are frightened of smart women who speak their minds”, she wrote in the Daily Mail. “The point is not what I look like, but what I do.”

If Gill thought he was speaking for the television-viewing public, he could not have been more wrong. In the last decade, Mary Beard has become one of the most beloved and one of the most watched personalities on television. Her status, according to The Guardian, is nearing that of a cult”

Beard is a celebrity, a national treasure, and easily the world’s most famous classicist. Her latest book, Women and Power, about the long history of the silencing of female voices, was a Christmas bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic. In the eight years since her debut TV documentary, Pompeii, she has conquered the small screen. She is one of a trio of presenters who will, in March, front Civilisations – a new, big-budget version of Kenneth Clark’s 1969 series Civilisation, the most revered cultural TVseries in the BBC’s history. Source: The cult of Mary Beard | News | The Guardian

What makes Beard so engaging is her personality, her enthusiasm for the Romans, and, above all, her knowledge. She followed up her series on Pompeii: Life and Death in a Roman Town (2010) with series titled Meet the Romans with Mary Beard (2012) and Caligula with Mary Beard (2013). All of the episodes of these series are available on YouTube.

Beard is a professor of classics at Cambridge University and the author of a number of books about the ancient Romans. A couple of the most recent ones are  SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (2015) and Women & Power: A Manifesto (2017). She is also one of Britain’s great public intellectuals, commenting on all sorts of issues on Twitter and in her Times Literary Supplement blog, A Don’s Life.

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