It's a Don's Life, By Mary Beard

The ancient art of the blogger
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The Independent Culture

If in need of a slogan, use Latin. So Mary Beard advises, arguing that it is "snappier and shorter and cleverer" than English vernacular.

Her familiarity with this language may, in part, explain why she makes such a good blogger. This collection of her posts is pithy and engaging. The casual, humorous tone is seemingly informal. But the rhythm and cadence of the short blog have been honed to a fine art.

As professor of classics at Cambridge, Beard trails glory, but she is also, in own words, "a bit of a media junkie". The TLS, for which acts as classics editor, asked her to write a regular blog, since when the web has given her an audience that on a good day can amount to 40,000. Moreover, she talks up, not down, and many blogs address the arcane mysteries of the ancient world. Here Beard plays to her strength. Her distinctive voice owes much to her readiness to look at the Greeks and Romans through the lens of contemporary issues; equally, she has a knack for bringing her familiarity with classical thought into today's political and social arenas. This shuttling between the ancient and modern is a characteristic of these blogs and has helped make her recent book on Pompeii a bestseller.

A major theme is education, and how to give students the confidence to explore learning on their own. There are also glimpses into the eccentricities of Cambridge life, such as the difficulty of finding a women's loo in formerly all-male colleges. And did Beard's own college, Newnham, still single sex and stuffed with clever women, really agonise for three years over what coffee-making machine to acquire for the Senior Combination Room, and where to position it?.

Her predecessor at Newnham, the classicist Jane Harrison, would mark a lecture's climax by allowing her evening stole to fall from her shoulders into a glittering pool at her feet. The blog offers similar opportunities for self-promotion, but Beard remains self-deprecatory, invigoratingly sane and zestful.

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