Professor Mary Beard, chair of Classics at Cambridge and classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement, was awarded the Bodley Medal, the Bodleian Libraries’ highest honour on April 5, following a talk at the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival.

Beard, described as “a prodigious scholarly phenomenon” by Bodley’s Librarian Richard Ovenden, appeared to a full audience in the Sheldonian Theatre and talked about her life, work and role as a female academic.

Upon receiving the medal, Beard noted that she was “accepting this on behalf of myself and on behalf of the Romans”. She also commented that the Romans remain and should remain culturally relevant in Britain, and that she finds them to be “damn interesting”.

©Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. Photography: John Cairns
©Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. Photography: John Cairns

The Bodley Medal is awarded by the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to “the worlds in which the Bodleian is closely connected, including literature, culture, science and communication”.

Being the most recent recipient of the medal, Beard joins the likes of past winners such as physicist Stephen Hawking, inventor of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee and actor Alan Bennett.

Mary Beard 1
©Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. Photography: John Cairns.

In her award citation, Beard is described as “a regular media commentator on both the modern and the ancient world”.  She is “well-known” for having her books and television documentaries on the classical period, such as 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.

A delighted Beard told Cherwell, “It is a great thing to be awarded.

“I feel extremely honoured and, when I look at the past recipients, very humbled. I guess I must have grown up at last”.

Beard being awarded the medal was “note[d] with pleasure” by the Faculty of Classics of the University of Cambridge. Newnham College, which Beard is affiliated to, and the Cambridge University Classics Society were, however, unavailable for comment.

“As a colleague of mine once said, there’s nothing bad about catering to the nation’s curiosity. There’s a 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.”


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