Professor Mary Beard: Every Inch a Fascinating Woman

mbMary Beard, professor of Classics at Newham College, Cambridge, is quite unusual. She is one of very few academics to be highly regarded by their peers despite having taken a stroll down media lane. Her latest publication is entitled Laughter in Ancient Rome. She also presents the TV series Meet the Romans. Mary Beard is the Classics Editor of the Times Educational Supplement.

It is nice to hear people speaking their mind when the diplomats remain quiet. Mrs Beard became infamous at the time of 9/11 by suggesting that, “however tactfully you dress it up, the United States had it coming. Bullies, even if their hearts are in the right place will, in the end, pay the price.”

Predictably enough, she was promptly accused of supporting terrorists. This, however, was not the case. Indeed, Mrs Beard was as appalled by these tragic events as any one of us. Her words reflected but the unspoken views of many. There are bound to be consequences when a nation’s foreign policy is rightly or wrongly thought to be offensive.

Professor Beard was born in Shropshire and was the first in her family to obtain a university degree. At school she was very good at Latin and made her first visit to Pompeii when she was 18 year old. As a student she was a devotee of black feminist Angela Davis. During her career Mrs Beard has repeatedly taken a stand against elitism and authoritarianism. She is passionate in the belief that the classics are for everyone – not just the privileged few.

Controversy visited Mrs Beard once again when she was invited on to the panel of BBC Question Time in January of 2013. She was pilloried for suggesting that the town of Boston in Lincolnshire would be able to cope with, and indeed benefit from, continuing European migration. She based her argument on a specific document from Boston Council that made this very point. Her clear understanding of the extraordinary contribution made by newcomers to the comfort, culture and vitality of Britain is most refreshing. She pointed out that, “European migrants make little use of benefits, the healthcare system or social housing.”

Some of Mary Beard’s Question Time critics – collectively known as The Trolls – saw it fit to ridicule her appearance and even went on to utter death threats. All this just because Mrs Beard refused to toe the populists’ line and insisted on saying once again what she believes to be true.

Professor Beard pointed out that although someone on Twitter had threatened to blow up her house, she had not been as severely abused as some other forthright women. She is absolutely comfortable with herself and has said, “I’m every inch the 57-year old wife, mum and academic, half proud of her wrinkles, her crow’s feet, even her hunched shoulders from all those misspent years poring over a library desk.”

Mrs Beard’s lack of pretence, her honesty and the boundless joy with which she makes the classics come alive are heart-warming and set her miles apart from the politically-correct, and thus utterly boring, crowd.

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