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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Confronting the Classics - Mary Beard's latest hardback
This book is the fruit of many years of scholarship: it is, primarily, a collection of essays and reviews which deal with aspects of classical culture. This is not a book intended for undergraduates or scholars per se: it is not a heavyweight purely academic tome but accessible to all. The extended essay/review format allows for the treatment of many subjects but these...
Published 13 months ago by amacater

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars it's not a intro for newbies
This book is a collection of book reviews and unfortunately you need to know quite a lot about the subject matter to get everything and unfortunately that's why I bought the book.

It's well written and entertaining in places but not an introduction. Slightly shame facedly the only chapter I fully understood was the one about Asterix the Gaul.
Published 8 months ago by gerryg


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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Confronting the Classics - Mary Beard's latest hardback, 9 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations (Hardcover)
This book is the fruit of many years of scholarship: it is, primarily, a collection of essays and reviews which deal with aspects of classical culture. This is not a book intended for undergraduates or scholars per se: it is not a heavyweight purely academic tome but accessible to all. The extended essay/review format allows for the treatment of many subjects but these remain reviews: this is Prof. Beard of the London Review of Books / TLS rather than the bright TV presenter cycling round Rome or the chatty tone of A Don's Life.

I would recommend this to anybody whose interest has been piqued by Mary Beard's TV programs and wants to explore aspects in a little greater depth - all the chapters contain end note references to the books reviewed.

As noted elsewhere in her blog, Prof. Beard paid tribute to her editor, Peter Carson. This book was edited by him up until his death and he is the dedicatee. It is beautifully printed and in a good quality binding and a tribute to a great editor, whose own translations of Tolstoy are about to be published.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars it's not a intro for newbies, 15 Aug 2013
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gerryg - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations (Hardcover)
This book is a collection of book reviews and unfortunately you need to know quite a lot about the subject matter to get everything and unfortunately that's why I bought the book.

It's well written and entertaining in places but not an introduction. Slightly shame facedly the only chapter I fully understood was the one about Asterix the Gaul.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Personal Views of the Classics, 12 Jun 2013
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Not surprisingly, as it is a collection of lectures by the author, the book lacks coherence. However, each of the lectures gives a fascinating personal view on a variety of classical topics. Mary Beard is one of our foremost classicists and her insights shed light on some controversial areas; for this reason the book is well worth reading. It is, however, one to dip into from time to time rather than reading from cover to cover. Finally, unlike Prof Beard's recent TV programmes, this book is not really for the general reader.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "...but mainly the Romans.", 21 July 2013
By 
Keith Giles (Deneysville, Free State, ZA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations (Hardcover)
"Confronting the Classics" lives up to the claim on the cover that it is "learned, trenchant and witty";we have come to expect nothing less from the classy classicist Mary Beard. However, we all have our favourite areas of the classics and if Ancient Greece is yours then you might come away feeling a trifle short-changed. I am a devotee of the Romans, so I was not too concerned about this, and the middle three sections of the book were a delight. I could not see where Section Five fitted into the scheme of things. It looked very much as if this omnium- gatherum had been tacked on to the end of the book simply to pad it out.

An extended version of Sections Two, Three and Four devoted solely to the Romans would have been a better bet, and would have gained five stars I am sure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Value and Scholarship, 13 July 2013
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This review is from: Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations (Hardcover)
First off, if you own a Kindle, download the book for a measly fiver. The Kindle edition is perfect and just what you would expect from a quality e-book.

Now on to the content; this is a highly readable, entertaining yet illuminating read on the Classics in 2013. The topicality and up to date nature of this work is one of its greatest strengths - it really covers in great detail the state of the subject and classical history generally in the new millenium, its continuing relevance - politically, sociologically, psychologically and culturally - as a field of research and highlights the dominant academic debates that now animate the subject.

The vast majority of the chapters are in the shape of reviews of books pertaining to the classical world and the book is organized in sections and chapters covering many aspects (though not all) of the discipline, with a heavy emphasis on Ancient Rome. The chapters are intelligent, witty, trenchant and take sides on some of the murkier, more debated issues of Roman history, such as the role and life of ordinary folk in the empire, as opposed to the elite who dominate the written sources that have come down to us. Mary Beard's style is accessible but no less astute for it and her developed sense of judgement explains something of her success as a classical scholar.

That said, the book offers a great deal more than (mere) social and political history - in it we find discussions on authorities like Thucydides and Tacitus and the difficulties that come with relying on inexact and liberal translations of these works, especially when these translations become currency for what the authors said and intended.

(The beautiful subtleties of elite Greek and Latin are very much lost in translation and if anyone should have the time, energy and inclination to devote to gaining a degree of mastery in either or both languages, I would strongly urge them to do so - the pay off of engaging with Latin poetry, for example, is well worth it and worth a million sudoku puzzles! In addition, England is blessed with a plethora of affordable and exciting summer schools in Greek and Latin - in my experience, classicists tend to be very passionate and committed students, whether officially affiliated to institutions or not. As ever, it is important not to let envious half-educated philistines put you off such an enriching mission)

In conclusion, this is a highly up to date, topical book, written in an appealing manner that should be required reading for anyone interested in the classics and offers a fine introduction to the subject to those on the periphery who would like to know more about the classical roots of our civilization.

This book earns a well-deserved five stars from this reviewer.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absorbing glimpse of Academe's inner circle, 24 July 2013
By 
G. M. Sinstadt - See all my reviews
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This is not a book for the layman, nor does it pretend to be. Therefore the views of this layman - who acquired it partly by chance and partly from having enjoyed the lighter side of Professor Beard's writing -should be taken for what they are worth.

Confronting the Classics is a collection of book reviews contributed to various publications over a number of years, together with an Introduction and an Afterword. The Introduction is the equivalent of an angler tossing bait into the water to entice the quarry. Here are hints of many juicy bits to follow, and sure enough they do, surrounded by a great deal of erudite observation on the way of life and thought in ancient Greece and Rome.

Not all of this could be expected to wow the lay reader, but plenty does - for example, the suggestion that the Palace at Knossos (which this lay reader has visited) are a case of "rebuilding ruins"; or the details of daily life for a squaddie stationed at Hadrian's Wall; and much more. Made readable by an author who can invoke the Carry On Films and make them relevant, or who can offer a comprehensive guide to the Asterix books both in the original French and thier English translations.

The fact that these are reviews of books by other academics of course offers ample scope for points scoring in a notoriously competitive field. They are not resisted but are invariably fair and balanced. In any case, the clever professor makes that very point in her Afterword. Or that's how it seemed to this lay reader.
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25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 17 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations (Hardcover)
I was beginning to think Professor Beard's publications were becoming "Caviar to the general" to quote Shakespeare, and that her work was tied in to her excellent televisual persona. This has come has a nice, and thoroughly enjoyable, surprise.

What Confronting The Classics is, is a wonderful collection of articles and reviews by Professor Beard on a wide range of matters Classical, ranging from Greek history , Greek Tragedy, Greek poetry, both epic and pastoral, Latin literature, history, and philology, and the reception of the ancient world, i.e. The Classical Tradition.

Professor Beard also acts as a wonderful contrast to TP Wiseman's interpretations of the Remus myth in "Who Wanted Remus Dead", which was a review of Wiseman's books on the Romulus and Remus myth. This, too, was wonderfully showcased in a recent In Our Time documentary on Radio 4, concerning the Remus myth, wherein Professor Beard engaged with TP Wiseman on the Remus debate.

Professor Beard also reviews the wonderful philologist, Professor J N Adams' Bilingualism & The Latin Language, within her article "South Shields Aramaic", and the true nature of ancient Roman bilingualism. As a philologist, Professor Adams contributed the ground-breaking Latin Sexual Vocabulary in the early 1980s, and Professor Beard is a beacon of truth in describing Professor Adams' work on bilingualism as "Marvellously informative". It also makes for two excellent reviews of Professor Adams' work on Bilingualism and the Latin Language, as I seem to recall reading Leofranc Holford-Streven's review for the London Review of Books recently.

Professor Beard also provides an excellent critique of the wonderfully enthusiastic Professor Edith Hall's wonderful Dionysus Since 69, which details modern-day reception of Greek Tragedy. I can remember, when I was doing my Masters on Classical Tradition, and locating a bizarre version of Euripides' Bacchae which was performed in New York, circa 1991, and feel that Greek Tragedy is open to many interpretations. Professor Hall is utterly aware, and utterly enthusiastic about reception of Greek Tragedy, be it within Shaw's Major Barbara, and her earliest monogram, Inventing the Barbarian, changed the way academics, and Classics students, consider Greek Tragedy, after such stale texts as HDF Kitto's Greek Tragedy. I would also, and I digress here, add that Professor Hall is extremely clued-in on the reception of Homer, having recently read a magazine article in which she mentioned O Brother Where Art Thou and its Homeric roots. I also happen to agree with Professor Beard, having also read Wole Soyinka's adaptation of the Bacchae, that "Every worthy political cause" of the past three decades has "Found support through performances of Greek Tragedy".

Furthermore, Professor Beard also writes reviews on such wonderful subjects as "What made the Greeks Laugh", which is a review of Stephen Halliwell's work on laughter in Greek texts from Homer onwards. There's the wonderful painting that Professor Beard includes of Coypel's image of Democritus, the laughing philosopher, from Abdera. I am mindful of Juvenal's description of Democritus being born under Abderan skies, and how Abdera and its inhabitants were, indeed, the "Butt of jokes". So, again, I can agree with Professor Beard's remarks that "Cicero, too, could use the name of the town as short-hand for a topsy turvy mess".

The trouble, however, with writing a review of this book is that, as a former classics scholar, I could write forever on Professor Beard's book, whereas I should be encouraging people to buy her book on amazon.co.uk. Yes, people should buy Professor Beard's books, be they the person in the street, but also the student, about to study classics, or the academic, who wishes to review, or use Professor Beard as secondary source material.

I am also heartily glad that Professor Beard has given people an insight into such excellent figures as Oliver Taplin, Professor J N Adams, Professor Edith Hall, Froma Zeitlin, the excellent late John Winkler, and Paul Cartledge. Many of these names have brought back memories for me, and I was lectured by two of them, too.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable essays, 17 Jan 2014
This review is from: Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations (Hardcover)
This is a book of book reviews. Their author, Mary Beard, is an academic, blogger and all-round patron saint of the classics. She has "adapted and updated" the reviews which first appeared in the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books or the Times Literary Supplement. They all concern some aspect of ancient Greece or Rome and are all of a high standard. Sometimes a single book is reviewed; sometimes two or three related ones. Usually it is the subject of the book under review that is the focus as much as the book itself. These are really essays on the current state of classical studies. Indeed, Mary Beard claims that "reviews have long been one of the most important places where classical debates take place".

The thirty-one reviews are divided into five sections: ancient Greece; early Rome; imperial Rome; ordinary Roman life; the classics from the viewpoint of tourists or scholars. The first review concerns Minoan Crete; the last is an appreciation of Astérix. In between, the articles are as varied as the classical world itself, for example: Thucydides and his impossibly difficult-to-read Greek; What made the Greek laugh?; How great was Alexander?; The myth of Cleopatra; Cicero; Hadrian and his villa; Ex-slaves and snobbery; Boudicca; Pompeii for tourists.

The New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books and the Time Literary Supplement are all publications for a general but discerning readership. I assume that a discerning viewer of May Beard's TV programmes would enjoy these reviews, as would any classicist. The reviews are short, on average eight pages, so this is a book to dip in and out of. The reviews are also clever, entertaining and often surprising. Moreover, they still perform their original function of providing a critique of a selection of books on classical subjects published over the last twenty years.

FOR EXAMPLE, number 17, "Bit-Part Emperors", is an 8 page review of Cynthia Damon's book Tacitus: Histories I. The first page describes Nero's suicide in 68 AD, the "year of the four emperors" that followed and the final the triumph of Vespasian. Tacitus is first mentioned on the second page. The next few pages discuss Tacitus as an historian of the early imperial age and how his "Annals" are more widely read than his "Histories". It is not until the sixth page that Cynthia Damon's book is mentioned. Mary Beard then discusses the difficulty of translating the Latin of Tacitus without losing its power and subtlety. Galba was the first emperor after Nero. He lasted only a few months before being murdered but he did have enough time to adopt Piso, who was murdered with him. The articles goes on to discuss Piso's family and how a century later it produced the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Cynthia Damon's book is never mentioned again. This is an extreme example. In other reviews far more attention is given to the book under review but it does show the primacy of the subject over the reviewed book.

ANOTHER EXAMPLE is number 23, "South Shields Aramaic", which reviews J. N. Adams's Bilingualism and the Latin Language. This 8-page article starts with a discussion of some late Roman school textbooks, notable for being written in both Latin and Greek. Adams's book is first mentioned on the third page where it is praised as a "marvellously informative study". The discussion of the use of languages other than Latin continues for the rest of the article with frequent references to the book under review. The article's title comes from a Roman tombstone found in South Shields. It was erected by a man from Palmyra to commemorate his British wife. The inscription on the tombstone is in Latin and Aramaic. A photo of the tombstone is reproduced.

A THIRD EXAMPLE is number 7, "Hannibal at Bay", a 5 page review of two books: Robert Garland's Hannibal and D.S. Levene's Livy on the Hannibalic War. The first two pages discuss Hannibal's successful invasion of Italy and how he was eventually defeated not by the heroic Roman generals who confronted him face to face in battle but by Fabius Maximus, who used guerrilla tactics to force him out of Italy in a very un-heroic and un-virtuous way. Robert Garland's book receives its first and only mention on the second page, noting that the eventual loser, Hannibal, is still popularly remembered whereas the victor, Fabius, is popularly forgotten. Levene's book is first mentioned on the third page. Mary Beard goes on to discuss the Roman historian Livy's account of this war and its continuation out of Italy into Sicily, Spain and Carthage. Livy has gone out of fashion. His reliance on secondary sources, his complicated prose and his uneven handling and sometimes misunderstanding of his sources has not helped his reputation. Levene wants to rehabilitate Livy both as a writer of history and as a writer of literature. Mary Beard agrees, but with reservations.
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5.0 out of 5 stars nothing if not critical, 13 Nov 2013
By 
Stanley Crowe (Greenville, SC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations (Hardcover)
I enjoyed this book very much, but anyone tempted to buy it should understand what it is: a collection of review essays on classical figures and topics, sensibly organized both chronologically and thematically -- but it is emphatically NOT itself a history of the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome. Those "confronting the classics" are the authors of the books that Beard is reviewing, and throughout Beard reviews them with an eye to their adequacy or otherwise as historians. So the book isn't history -- it's ABOUT history and what it is to try to do history well. That means that it's about how people handle evidence, especially the very fragmentary evidence that we have from so long ago. There are documents, there are artifacts, and there are the results of archeological activity. How do we, in the 21st century, put such stuff together to tell a convincing (aspiring to "true") story about Octavius or Alexander or Boadicea? It's tempting to say that the ancient world had its historians too -- Tacitus, Suetonius, Thucydides et. al. -- but they wrote decades or even centuries after the events they relate, so they have to be looked at with pretty cool scrutiny. So -- to sum up, a general reader who is interested in history and in the problems of writing history will find this book accessible and enjoyable. And you learn things! It's something to know that we know quite a bit about Augustus's life before he took care of Antony and Cleopatra but very little about the four decades of his rule as emperor. Beard speculates interestingly on why that is so. In general, we get a sense of the fragments of knowledge that seem beyond dispute and then are brought face to face with the obvious difficulties of "connecting the dots," as we would now say. Beard also has quite a bit to say about modern representations of historical figures in popular culture ("Cleopatra," "I, Claudius," etc.) and she ties in her discussions of these with the critiques of the usually more serious scholarship represented by the books under review in each chapter. Her style is direct and engaging -- she doesn't assume a lot of prior knowledge on her readers' parts -- and she usually finds the places in the books she reviews where the writer makes plausible connections and claims, but most importantly she has a great eye for the implausible, and she is very clear about when and why we should find this or that claim about Nero, Caligula, Julius Caesar, Cicero and others questionable. And she doesn't seem to have an agenda -- she's not pushing her view of the "truth" about Alexander or Cleopatra or whomever; she's talking about how fascinatingly elusive these figures and their cultures remain. Recommended for the critical reader!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Raisin-laden muesli, 31 Oct 2013
By 
F. R. Jack (Dorset, England) - See all my reviews
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A series of edited book reviews and by its nature breakfast rather than dinner. Neatly divided into themed sections. Slightly too much focus on the perceived limitations of the reviewed texts but for the most part a delightful romp through a breathtaking range of topics. A light, down-to-earth and humorous experience as always from Professor Beard, a National Treasure IMHO, peppered with amusing anecdotes and observations. Dodgy foundation myths of Rome, roving arms of Roman statues, The Golden Bough and Asterix. Hugely enjoyable in the round and I think probably taught me much more than I realised as I went along for the ride. I would definitely recommend this book.
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