“I see the classics all around me, but that’s me,” says eminent classicist Mary Beard. “I like studying the ancients—it’s partly because they’re interesting, but they also give me a way of focusing back on to the things about our own culture that they would find odd,” she adds.

Mary Beard is one of the 2019 recipients of the J. Paul Getty Medal for contributions to the arts, along with painter, photographer, and bookmaker Ed Ruscha and multimedia artist and photographer Lorna Simpson.

One of the English-speaking world’s best-known historians and public intellectuals, she is dedicated to sharing the wonderment of the ancient world with people today through her books, television appearances, blogging, and social media, and to challenging what we think we know about people who lived two millennia ago.

Join Beard in her office at the University of Cambridge and on a visit to some of her favorite antiquities collections in this short video.

Transcript

MARY BEARD: Let me start by saying I do not love the ancient Roman and Greeks, I don’t even like them very much, but I think they’re extremely interesting. I think the world would be a worse place if we didn’t study them, because we wouldn’t, obviously, miss great literature, we’d miss exciting history, but more to the point, we’d miss a different way of seeing ourselves.

JAMES CUNO: Mary Beard is funny, smart, critical. She’s a voracious reader. She’s a great intellectual. She’s a public figure. She’s everything that you would want in a Getty medalist.

MARY BEARD: I think of myself in a whole different set of ways. I enjoy telling stories, so partly I’m a storyteller. But I also want people to listen to me and to think about what bigger levels are there, how we understand the ancient world, which goes beyond narrative.

What is the narrative that we tell, not… not focused on. Who gets left out of this narrative? Why do we not see the women in the slaves, etc? I think it’s narrative with an added edge, as if all one was going to do was repeat what the Greeks and Romans told you about themselves. Well, better to leave it to them.

JAMES CUNO: Mary’s framing of questions with regard to the ancient world, with regards to social relations, with gender, with power relations. It makes us look at the ancient world fresh and anew, and makes us think differently about how we have come to understand it and how it has influenced our lives.

The Getty is honored to name Mary Beard recipient of the 2019 J. Paul Getty medal.

MARY BEARD: Why I like studying the ancients is partly because they’re interesting. They give me a way of focusing back onto the things about our own culture that they would find odd. So it’s a bit like being an anthropologist. And it’s extremely good fun.

MARY BEARD: Let me start by saying I do not love the ancient Roman and Greeks, I don’t even like them very much, but I think they’re extremely interesting. I think the world would be a worse place if we didn’t study them, because we wouldn’t, obviously, miss great literatu...