6 April 2016
Professor Mary Beard, one of Britain's best known classicists, was awarded the Bodley Medal, the Bodleian Libraries' highest honour, yesterday following her talk at the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival.
Beard appeared in conversation with Bodley's Librarian Richard Ovenden, who introduced her as a 'prodigious scholarly phenomenon.' Speaking in front of a packed audience at the Sheldonian Theatre, Beard discussed her life and work ranging from her childhood interest in the ancient world to her latest book, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, and her role as an outspoken female academic.
Speaking about why people should be interested in the Romans, Beard said: 'They're just so damn interesting. As a colleague of mine once said, there's nothing bad about catering to the nation's curiosity. And there's lot to be curious about the Romans. If you live in this country, I don't think you have any choice about whether to be interested in the Romans. They're underneath us. We're walking around on top of them.'
At the end of the talk, Ovenden presented her with the Bodley Medal, which is awarded by the Libraries to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the worlds in which the Bodleian is closely connected including literature, culture, science and communication. Past winners include physicist Stephen Hawking, film director Nicholas Hytner, novelist Hilary Mantel, writer and actor Alan Bennett and inventor of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
'As they say at the Oscars, I am accepting this on behalf of myself and on behalf of the Romans,' said Beard to rousing applause.
Beard holds a chair of classics at the University of Cambridge and is classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement. She is well known for her numerous books and television documentaries on the classical period including the Wolfson Award-winning book Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town and the BBC television documentary series Pompeii and Meet the Romans with Mary Beard.
The Bodleian Libraries is a cultural partner of the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival, which runs 2-10 April 2016. Events are taking place at the Bodleian's Weston Library and Divinity School as well as at venues across the city. For more information, visit the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival website.