Classics: A Very Short Introduction

Classics: A Very Short Introduction

Mary Beard

Language: English

Pages: 160

ISBN: 0192853856

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

We are all classicists--we come into touch with the classics on a daily basis: in our culture, politics, medicine, architecture, language, and literature. What are the true roots of these influences, however, and how do our interpretations of these aspects of the classics differ from their original reality? This introduction to the classics begins with a visit to the British Museum to view the frieze which once decorated the Apollo Temple a Bassae. Through these sculptures John Henderson and Mary Beard prompt us to consider the significance of the study of Classics as a means of discovery and enquiry, its value in terms of literature, philosophy, and culture, its source of imagery, and the reasons for the continuation of these images into and beyond the twentieth century. Designed for the general reader and student alike, A Very Short Introduction to Classics challenges readers to adopt a fresh approach to the Classics as a major cultural influence, both in the ancient world and twentieth-century--emphasizing the continuing need to understand and investigate this enduring subject.

About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.




















Plutarch (ca. 46 CE—after 119 CE), and in fact his Tragedy of Julius Caesar (written ca. 1599) owes a debt to Plutarch’s Lives. Shakespeare read the Lives not in the original Greek, however, but in Sir Thomas North’s English translation. The title page of the first edition of North’s Lives, published in London in 1579, is shown at left. At right is the title page of a 1623 edition of Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies. It Makes You Think Over the centuries

classics and other disciplines have been defined and redefined. Over the centuries questions brought to classics and to classical texts have included (and still do) most of the core issues in subjects that we commonly think of as far removed from the study of Greece and Rome, but which arose directly out of work on the ancient world and its literature. Greek philosophy, for example, and particularly the work of Plato and Aristotle, generated debates not only in what is now thought of as

in the picture presses viewers to feel how the difficulty of reading intervenes between us and the meaning of the painting. This statue of the German polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe by the sculptor Fritz Schaper was completed in 1880. It still stands in a park (the Tiergarten) in Berlin. In order to know what is contained within the painting, its viewer must recognize that the picture dramatizes the formula ET IN ARCADIA EGO. In order to know what is contained within the tomb, these

dotted with ruins of its classical past. Everywhere that was once part of the Roman Empire, from Scotland to the Sahara, still carries the physical traces of its ancient history. Some of the best-preserved Roman towns are in the deserts of Tunisia, with houses, temples, amphitheaters, and mosaics that more than rival the remains of Pompeii; and a monument such as Hadrian’s Wall still makes a powerful impression, as it cuts clear across Northern England, where once it defined the Roman boundary

location of the temple, the “snaking” path of the road, “slithering along the cliffs.” A visit to Bassae, in other words, is still presented to us as an exploration into wild, unknown territory. This is just how it figures, for example, in an early 1970s novel by Simon Raven, Come Like Shadows, where Major Fielding Gray, who is rewriting a script for a film of Homers Odyssey, turns up at “Vassae,” apparently in a state of collapse, “sobbing his heart out about Greek hexameters and compressed

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