Media Studies in the Ancient World

Confronting the Classics by Mary Beard

What’s it about?
Confronting the Classics is a series of book reviews written for the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books, or the Times Literary Supplement over the years by the author. Mary Beard is a famous classicist (if there is such a thing as a famous classicist), and her reviews are all trying to answer the question: why does this particular book she’s reviewing matter to you, a non-classicist?

Why should you read it?
I loved it for a few reasons.

  1. I have a not-so-secret fondness for Ancient Rome. Mary Beard has a great skeptical eye through which to take a second look at some books I’ve read.
  2. Not to mention suggestions for all kinds of new books to read. Seriously, this one made my to-read list grow.
  3. She asks the serious question: why is Asterix so funny? Why do so many people (including me) love Asterix?
  4. I like her approach to book reviewing – asking why a particular book matters to someone who isn’t a classicist allows her to explore all kinds of questions. What was the woman’s voice in Ancient Greece (about Sappho)? What did the ancients find funny? Why do we still find most of those jokes funny?
  5. So much of what we know about the ancient world is because of what’s been written down. That’s biased in certain ways, with certain people wanting to influence how someone else was perceived. (e.g. Augustus burning anything about Cleopatra that didn’t fit how he wanted Roman society to see her). She takes a critical eye that reminded me a lot of modern media studies – there’s a thread in common with, say, Anne Helen Petersen.

Overall, I enjoyed it. You might too.