Exercise 1 – Part 1

A. Listen to Part 1 of the interview. What does she think is the right (and the wrong) way to get people interested in ancient history? What does she think we can learn from history?

B. Now listen again. Complete sentences 1-5.

1   If a place name ends with –chester or –caster, it means that it…

2   London is the capital of Britain because…

3   In 63 BC there was a terrorist plot in Rome to…

4   When Cicero discovered the plot, he decided to…

5   Mary Beard compares this situation with…



Professor Beard thinks the right way is to ask people questions about their contemporary culture and geography. The wrong way is to look at obscure and complicated ancient literature.

She thinks we can learn how to deal with a lot of political issues we have these days.


1   … once had a Roman fort or military camp there.

2   … the Romans made it the capital.

3   … assassinate leaders and take over.

4   … tell the Senate about it and then execute the leading conspirators without trial.

5   … responses to modern-day terrorism.


I = Interviewer, M = Mary Beard

Interview with a professor of Classics – Part 1

I   Professor Beard, what’s the secret to getting people interested in the Romans, in ancient history?

M   Well, you have to go about it in the right way, really. Um, you know, and I think perhaps starting from rather arcane and difficult bits of literature isn’t the right way. But, you know, one thing that you see in Britain, you know, one thing that we know is that an awful lot of our culture and our geography and our place names and so on are actually formed by the Romans, you know. You ask somebody, um, “Why do you think so many English place names end in –chester or -caster, you know, Manchester or Doncaster?” And they’ll often say, “I don’t know.” And then you say, “That’s because that bit – –caster – is from the Latin for ‘military camp,’ and every place that ends –caster or –chester once had a Roman fort on it.” And I’ve got a pretty 99% success record with getting people interested after that, because suddenly it is a question, not of these, um, uh, remote people who wrote some literature that you probably suspect would be boring; it’s the people who formed the geography of our country and much of Europe. Why is London the capital of, of Britain? It’s because the Romans made it so.

I   What do you think we can learn from Roman history?

M   In political terms many of the issues and questions and dilemmas that we face now, uh, were faced by the Romans. And in many ways we’re still thinking about and using their answers. I mean, one classic example of that is a famous incident in Roman history in 63 BC where there’s a terrorist plot in, in the City of Rome to, to assassinate the political leaders, to torch the city, um, and to take over – revolution. Um, and that plot is discovered by, uh, one of the most famous Romans of all, Marcus Tullius Cicero, you know, the great orator and wit of Roman culture. And he discovers the plot. He lays it before the Senate. He then decides to execute the leading conspirators without trial, summary execution. Um, and a couple of years later he’s exiled. Now, in many ways that’s the kind of problem we’re still facing, uh, with modern responses to terrorism. I mean, what…how far does, how far should homeland security be more important than civil rights, you know? Uh, you know, what about those people in Guantanamo Bay without trial? Um, you know, where, where does the boundary come between the safety of the state and the liberty of the citizen? Now, the Romans were debating that in the 60s BC. And in many ways we’re debating it, uh, along the same terms. And in part we’ve learned from how they debated those rights and wrongs.

Part 2

A. Now listen to Part 2. Mark the sentences T (true) or F (false).

1   Mary Beard would not like to go back in time to any historical period.

2   She thinks that women have a better life now than at any time in the past.

3   She doesn’t think that men would suffer from going back in time.

4   On her program. Meet the Romans, she decided to focus on the celebrities of the ancient world.

5   She thinks that most history textbooks don’t answer questions about how people dealt with practical issues in the past.

6   She thinks that questions about practical issues are just as interesting as why Julius Caesar was assassinated.

7   She doesn’t think we can learn much from studying the assassination of Caesar.

B. Listen again. Say why the F sentences are false.




 F (She says “…for men there’s considerable disadvantages about the past…”.)

 F (She focused on ordinary people.)



 F (She says it “has formed how we look at every other assassination since…”)


Interview with a professor of Classics – Part 2

I   If you could go back in time, is there one particular historical period that you’d like to go back to?

M   I think it would be a terrible kind of, uh, punishment to be made to go back in history, particularly if you’re a woman, you know. There’s, um, you know, there is not a single historical period in world history where women had halfway as decent a time as they do now. So, deciding to go back there, uh, you know, that would, that would be a self-inflicted punishment. I think I’d rather go in the future. Um, and there’s also, I mean, even for men there’s considerable disadvantages about the past, you know, like, you know, no antibiotics and no aspirin.

I   Today, we live in a celebrity culture, but in Meet the Romans you focus on the lives of the ordinary people in Rome. Was that a conscious decision, to try to get people away from celebrity culture?

M   I was rather pleased that people did actually find, you know, the non-celebrity, um, version of the Romans interesting. Um, and in some ways if it, if it was a small antidote to modern celebrity culture, I’m extremely pleased. Um, I think that that wasn’t quite what was driving me, though, because, uh, I think the celebrities of the ancient world are so remote from us in some ways. Um, and one of the things that puts people off ancient history is that, you know, you know, the big narrative books, the kind of the history of “the big men,” you know, never seem to answer all those questions that we know we all want to know about the ancient world, you know, or any period in the past, you know: where did they go to the loo, you know. Um, and actually I think people are often short-changed, uh, about, um, the…in, in terms of providing an answer to questions which are really good ones, you know. Um, you know, in the end most of us, most women – don’t know about men – most women, you know, do really want to know what having a baby was like, um, uh, before the advent of modern obstetrics, you know. That’s a big question. It’s not, you know, it’s not, simply because it’s, uh, intimate and female doesn’t mean it’s a less important question than why Julius Caesar was assassinated. And actually world history contains a lot more people like me and my family and women and slaves and people who, you know, want to do many of the things that we want to do, you know. But they can’t clean their teeth because there’s no such thing as an ancient toothbrush, you know. Now, how does that feel? And I’m not saying in that I guess that those big blokeish issues aren’t important, you know. The assassination of Julius Caesar, you know, is an event in world history that has formed how we look at every other assassination since, you know. When Kennedy’s assassinated we see that partly in relationship to that, that formative defining bit of political assassination in Rome. But it’s not the only way that Rome is important.

Part 3

Now listen to Part 3. Answer the questions.

1   How important does Mary Beard think accuracy is in historical movies?

2   What historical movie did she really enjoy and why?

3   How does she feel about the fact that there are so many historical movies nowadays?


1   not particularly important

2   Gladiator because she thought it was a good re-creation of ancient Rome and because it showed a realistic image of Roman combat.

3   She is very pleased about it because it brings history into the popular consciousness and it shows that it can be enjoyable.


Interview with a professor of Classics – Part 3

I   As a historian, how important do you think it is that historical movies should be accurate?

M   I’m not sure quite how keen I am on accuracy above everything else. The most important thing, if I was going to make a historical movie, I’d really want to get people interested. And I think that, that, um, film and television, um, program makers can be a bit, can be a bit sort of nerdish about accuracy.

I   remember a friend of mine once told me that, uh, he’d acted as advisor for some Roman film and the, the crew were always ringing up when they were on location, um, saying things like, “Now, what kind of dog should we have?” You know, “Should it, you know, if we’re going to have a dog in the film, should it be an Alsatian or, you know, a Dachshund or whatever?” And to start with he said he’d go to the library and he’d kind of look up and he’d find a breed. And eventually after question after question he’d think, look, these guys are getting the whole of Roman history in, in the big picture utterly wrong, and yet there they are worrying about the damned dogs, you know.

I   Can you think of any historical movies that you’ve really enjoyed?

M   I absolutely loved Gladiator. Um, you know, never mind its horribly schmaltzy plot, you know; I thought in all kinds of ways it was just a wonderful, uh, brilliant, and I don’t know if it was accurate, but a justifiable recreation of ancient Rome. Um, the, the beginning scenes of Gladiator which show, you know, Roman combat, um, just in a sense punctured the kind of slightly sanitized version of, you know, legionaries standing, you know, with their, all their shields, you know, face to–, you know, facing the enemy, um, you know, all looking ever so kind of neat and tidy. I mean, it was messy and it was bloody and it was horrible. And it was such a different kind of image of, uh, Roman combat that I remember we set it in Cambridge as an exam question, you know, um, you know: how, how would, how would students judge that kind of representation of Roman warfare.

 It’s very interesting that there seem to be more and more historical movies recently, and many have won Oscars. Is that because history has all the best stories?

M   Yes, there’s no such good story as a true story – and that’s what history’s got going for it, you know, actually. Um, you know, non-fiction in a, in a kind of way is always a better yarn than fiction is. Um, and I think it’s, you know… I feel very pleased because, uh, I think, you know, for one thing it gets, it gets some of the best stories from history into the popular, into popular attention, popular consciousness. But I think also, I mean, it shows that you don’t always have to be deadly serious about history. I mean, you know, history, like classics, you know, is often treated as something which is good for you; but isn’t actually going to be much fun, you know. You’ll be improved by knowing about it but it probably will be a bit tedious in the process. And I think that, you know, showing that history can be larky, it can funny, it can be surprising, um, it can be something that you can sit down and have a good two and a half hours at the cinema enjoying, is really all to the good.

Exercise 2

A. Listen to five people talking about history. Match the speakers (D, He, Ha, Ad, and An) with the people they admire. What reasons do they give?

___ Filippo Brunelleschi

___ Bess of Hardwick

___ Julius Caesar

___ Nelson Mandela

___ Queen Elizabeth I

B. Listen again. Who (D, He, Ha, Ad, or An)…?

___ doesn’t mention a specific time they would like to go back to

___ would like to listen to some philosophers talking

___ is studying the period they would like to go back to

___ has read a lot about a specific person

___ would like to go back to the most recent historical period



Andrew     Filippo Brunelleschi

Daisy     Bess of Hardwick

Adam     Julius Caesar

Heather     Nelson Mandela

Harry     Queen Elizabeth I


Harry doesn’t mention a specific time they would like to go back to.

Adam would like to listen to some philosophers talking.

Daisy is studying the period they would like to go back to.

Andrew has read a lot about a specific person.

Heather would like to go back to the most recent historical period.


I = Interviewer, D = Daisy, He = Heather, Ha = Harry, Ad = Adam, An = Andrew


 Is there a period of history that you would like to go back to?

D   I’d really like to go back to Tudor England, sixteenth-century England.

 Why that period?

D   Well I’m doing a PhD in the music of that period and I just think it’s such a fascinating time because there was so much change happening and the way people lived their lives, their religion, the way the politics of the country was working. It must have been a really exciting time to live.

 Is there a person from history that you admire or find especially fascinating?

D   There was a lady called Bess of Hardwick, um, who owned a lot of property in Derbyshire. She was a real social climber, and she lived through Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I and into a bit of James I as well. Um, so she had a really long life, a really exciting life and she started from absolutely nothing and worked her way right to the top. I think she must have been a really amazing lady to know.


I   Is there a period of history that you would like to go back to?

He   I think I would have loved to be around in California in the sixties. I think it, it sounds like it was a really exciting time. I think, er, there was a lot of frightening things happening, in Vietnam, and, but it– but people were excited and, um, excited about the potential, I think of, of something new and really exploring their freedom, I guess.

I   Is there a person from history that you admire or find especially fascinating?

He   I think I most admire Nelson Mandela. I’m South African. So, uh, he’s the first person that comes to mind. I think he was, um, an incredible person and an amazing leader. So, um, yeah, I would have loved to have met him.


I   Is there a period of history that you’d like to go back to?

Ha   Um, ooh, that’s a really, that’s a weird one. I don’t know. Um, history was pretty brutal, life was really quite hard. Um, I mean, there are some parts, some aspects of it that I’d like, where time was slower, life was defined by the seasons and daylight, um, and you didn’t have the same sort of pressures as you do now. So, I’d like aspects of it, but I’m not sure I’d really like to go back to the actual way of life.

I   Is there a person from history that you admire or find especially fascinating?

Ha   Um, probably, uh, probably Queen Elizabeth I, because she, she managed to be the queen in a society where women weren’t expected to have or hold or command any power and respect and that they were meant to do the bidding of men and their families and she actually stood up and was a person to be counted.


 Is there a period of history that you would like to go back to?

A   Yes, there’s a period I’d like to go back to, absolutely! I love ancient Greece. I love, uh, ancient Athens. I think it would be so amazing to spend time there and see what it was like being in the Agora with, you know, uh, Plato and Aristotle and talking. And, uh, that entire world would be very, very interesting to me.

 Is there a person from history that you admire or find especially fascinating?

A   Hmm. A person from history that I find, ah, that I admire. There are a lot of people, I study a lot of ancient history, so I would love to meet Julius Caesar or someone like that who really transformed the entire world with his actions and you know he has a very unique personality, he was a very cocky person and it’d be fun to, uh, just see what he was like in person and see how he was able to kind of take over the entire Roman Empire by himself.


 Is there a period of history that you would like to go back to?

A   I think I’d like to go back to, um, the Renaissance, like, the fourteenth and fifteenth century. Maybe in Italy.

I   Is there a person from history that you admire or find especially fascinating?

A   I’ve read a lot about, uh, Filippo Brunelleschi who was in Florence, in Italy, during the Renaissance and helped build the Duomo, the dome in Italy.

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