SPQR ~ the book by Mary Beard

November 24, 2015 in Rome

SPQR by Mary BeardThe day after I sent out the SPQR Fellowship 2015 Review to one and all, I opened the New York Times to find on the front page of the Book Review a review of SPQR: The History of Rome. That got my attention. The review was very positive about the book and the author, Mary Beard. I immediately went to Amazon to order it, only to see the hard cover was Temporarily out of stock. No problem. I prefer reading on my iPad. More immediacy.

From the review I learned that the author, Mary Beard is “a professor of classics at Cambridge University, the author of a shelf of books, a stalwart on BBC television and radio, and the author of a witty and combative blog, “A Don’s Life,” written for the website of The Times Literary Supplement.” Impressive, indeed.

I downloaded the book and read the first paragraph of the prologue. Bravo. It expresses so well what I believe about Rome and why I think every Western student should experience the Eternal City. I have copied it here:

ANCIENT ROME IS important. To ignore the Romans is not just to turn a blind eye to the distant past. Rome still helps to define the way we understand our world and think about ourselves, from high theory to low comedy. After 2,000 years, it continues to underpin Western culture and politics, what we write and how we see the world, and our place in it. The assassination of Julius Caesar on what the Romans called the Ides of March 44 BCE has provided the template, and the sometimes awkward justification, for the killing of tyrants ever since. The layout of the Roman imperial territory underlies the political geography of modern Europe and beyond. The main reason that London is the capital of the United Kingdom is that the Romans made it the capital of their province Britannia –a dangerous place lying, as they saw it, beyond the great Ocean that encircled the civilised world. Rome has bequeathed to us ideas of liberty and citizenship as much as of imperial exploitation, combined with a vocabulary of modern politics, from ‘senators’ to ‘dictators’. It has loaned us its catchphrases, from ‘fearing Greeks bearing gifts’ to ‘bread and circuses’ and ‘fiddling while Rome burns’ –even ‘where there’s life there’s hope’. And it has prompted laughter, awe and horror in more or less equal measure. Gladiators are as big box office now as they ever were. Virgil’s great epic poem on the foundation of Rome, the Aeneid, almost certainly found more readers in the twentieth century CE than it did in the first century CE.

And that is only about ancient Rome. It does not address painting or architecture.

Sooo, I just started the book. (I am also fascinated by the author and must mention a New Yorker profile of her by Rebecca Mead.) I should update this post along the way. I wanted to post it now for the benefit of any architecture students who found their way to this site because they are going to Rome with  the University of Minnesota’s School of Architecture and Department of Landscape Architecture Spring Semester Study Abroad to Rome and Istanbul. I trust you are considering applying for the 2016 SPQR Fellowship.

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