Lecture 3: Lucretia and the Politics of Sexual Violence

Professor Dame Mary Beard gave her first of six Gifford lecturesThe video of Beard’s lecture is embedded below (followed by a short summary) for those who were unable to attend in person, or for those who’d like to watch it again. An audio only version can also be found at the end of this post. In order to further facilitate discussion Jo Thor will offer her initial reflections on the lecture. Jo is currently a final year PhD candidate at New College, University of Edinburgh. We’d like to reiterate that we warmly welcome anyone wishing to engage with Beard’s lectures to contribute their comments and questions below.

In this third lecture Professor Dame Mary Beard focused on the “various forms of sexual violence in the mythical history of ancient Rome” that were an integral part of its development. As she said, “The bottom line here is that early Roman history is bound up with rape, that almost all Roman stories of the foundational moments of their city feature violence against women as the immediate cause.” As she further explained,

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Lecture Two: Whiteness

Earlier this evening Professor Dame Mary Beard gave her first of six Gifford lecturesThe video of Beard’s lecture is embedded below (followed by a short summary) for those who were unable to attend in person, or for those who’d like to watch it again. An audio only version can also be found at the end of this post. In order to further facilitate discussion Ines Silva offers her initial reflections on the lecture. Silva is currently a Classics PhD student at the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh. We’d like to reiterate that we warmly welcome anyone wishing to engage with Beard’s lectures to contribute their comments and questions below.

Earlier this evening Professor Dame Mary Beard opened her lecture on “whiteness” by talking about a controversy that erupted a few years ago over an animated cartoon for children produced by the BBC. The center of the controversy revolved around the depiction “of a high-ranking Roman official as not white” that caused some (Paul Joseph Watson in particular) to criticize its historical accuracy and offer their own explanations for why the BBC, in an educational show, would intentionally misrepresent the Roman world in Britain.  Beard acknowledged that the cartoon was not perfect in its representations of Roman Britain, but she argued (along with others) “that this was a perfectly reasonable representation and not surprising in the context of the diversity of Roman Britain.” In order to illustrate this point she spent some time speaking about Quintus Lollius Urbicus “who was a governor of the province [in Britain] in the first half of the second century AD” who, as the evidence suggests, came from Algeria having also spent time in Germany, Judea, and Turkey. She quickly acknowledged that this “doesn’t tell us anything for sure about the color of his skin,” but what this does do is show that the depiction “of a high-ranking Roman official as not white” in Roman Britain is “perfectly possible.”

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Lecture One: Introduction: Murderous Games

Earlier tonight Professor Dame Mary Beard gave her first of six Gifford lecturesThe video of Beard’s lecture is embedded below (followed by a short summary) for those who were unable to attend in person, or for those who’d like to watch it again. An audio only version can also be found at the end of this post. In order to further facilitate discussion Natalie Smith offers her initial reflections on the lecture. Smith is currently a PhD student at New College, University of Edinburgh. We’d like to reiterate that we warmly welcome anyone wishing to engage with Beard’s lectures to contribute their comments and questions below.

Professor Dame Mary Beard opened her own Gifford lecture by reflecting on her respect and appreciation for the Gifford lectures and for the many eminent scholars that have given them. She specifically mentioned William Warde Fowler and his lectures given at the University of Edinburgh in 1909-1910 (which were later published as The Religious Experience of the Roman People). She then mentioned Hannah Arendt (as the first female Gifford lecturer) and her lectures given at the University of Aberdeen in 1972-1974 (which were later published as two of a projected three volume Life of the Mind series, which sadly remained unfinished due to Arendt’s death in 1975). Finally, she mentioned having “been gripped by watching” the more recent Gifford lectures given by Judith Butler at the University of Glasgow in 2018 entitled “My Life, Your Life: Equality and the Philosophy of Non-Violence.” She ended her introduction by reflecting on how her own series of Gifford lectures related to the original intentions of Lord Gifford and mentioned some humorous anecdotes regarding the inflexibility of the earliest Gifford committees in the late 1800s in order to thank the current Gifford committee and university staff for their flexibility in changing venues so that more people could attend the lectures.

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2019 Gifford Lectures Quickly Approaching

The 2019 Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh are only 3 weeks away! Dame Mary Beard will give the first of her six lectures on Monday, 6 May. As she herself describes the lectures, “This lecture series explores why the classical world still matters and what ethical dilemmas the study of classics raises (and has always raised). Taking six particular themes, it hopes to show how antiquity can continue to challenge the moral certainties of modernity.”

The lectures will be held in the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre at the University of Edinburgh and seats are already filling up quickly. Like in past years this blog will be active alongside the lectures to facilitate further discussion of Beard’s lectures online. The videos (and audio) of each lecture will be posted here shortly after they have been given and a number of contributors will offer their reflections to further facilitate conversation. Whether you are able to attend the lectures in person or are only able to engage from a distance all are most welcome to join in on the online discussion. For further details on how to join the conversation see How to Engage.

Dame Mary Beard’s lectures entitled “The Ancient World and Us: From Fear and Loathing to Enlightenment and Ethics” promise to be of interest to a wide-ranging audience and to be a timely opportunity for reflection on current ethical situations in light of what we can learn from the ancient world.