Mary Beard III


A painting contest, eighteen forty-seven,
Enticed young men to wield like knives their eyes,
Stabbing Vitellius just for a prize.
All Rome and Paris watched them getting even,

Those gladiators of the easel, boys driven
To taunt the emperor before he dies
Again, a gourmand stuffed with cruelties.
Does art redeem what cannot be forgiven?

Was it redemption that the chisel smote
From marble, dragging tyrants out of stone
Forever? Mary strikes a softer note:
An emperor’s life and form were not his own.

Domitian loaded mirrors on the wall
To watch his back and help with self-recall.


Current edit: 24 June 2015

October 11 2015

This is my sonnet to Mary’s third lecture here:

There is enough material in that lecture for dozens of sonnets. Mary’s style of history is allusive, creating a multi-layered picture where conclusions are tentative and ultimately personal, even inventive. That is how history has always been quarried in the past and only now are we becoming aware of it, as glimpsed in dictums like “history is written by the winners”. I use Mary here again as a vehicle linking past and present. It is after all her history that she is presenting in the lectures. The sonnets however are not just summaries of her lectures – I throw in some reflections of my own, as here about the statue being a liberated tyrant.

Current edit: 15 June 2014


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