Mary Beard VI


Still under construction 25 Aprl 2016

Getting round to it some day.


When Rome was virtuous, its streets were dirt,
Its art vague tracks few ever travelled on,
Growing to highways memorable as stone
When emperors ruled like gods, their likeness caught

For all time, good for oggling and for sport:
Statues put up are easily pulled down
And faces cut off prove their power gone.
Caricatured, they keep their power to hurt.

Buried, forgotten, banished from the world,
Some are dug up again, recalled at last.
Mary Beard wears her hair long like a girl,
As if to mock the present with the past,

And likewise Rome, outmoded, left to die,
Lives still – damnatio memoriae.


Current edit: 25 June 2015:

This is my final sonnet on Mary’s six lectures. The picture is of Germanicus, a member of the imperial family conscripted into Christianity long after he was only a statue. The Latin phrase is a modern invention and it basically means “memory be damned.” So long as we try to exclude something, we acknowledge its existence. Mary refuses to dye her grey hair or style it. She is excluding old age and acknowledging it at the same time. Behind every elder there is a young person and Mary represents this well, showing both sides of the coin. It is quite fascinating and it is also very appropriate for a historian. That’s real scholarship for you – complete honesty, not hiding anything. I admire her but the poems are not eulogies – they develop a theme.


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