Classics students meet Dame Mary Beard

Year 11 and Year 12 Classicists were privileged to meet the world’s most famous classics scholar

On 21st November students from Classical Civilisation and Latin went on a trip to Newnham College, Cambridge to engage in a question and answer session with Dame Mary Beard.

We set out bright and early on a Wednesday morning to arrive in Cambridge for 11am. We managed to arrive at the wrong entrance, so had the pleasure of walking all the way through Newnham’s beautiful grounds to find the porter’s lodge. Once there, we met up with another school who were experiencing the day with us.

We were led on a tour of Newnham’s historic buildings. It was the second women’s college to be set up at Cambridge (after Girton), but it is now the only college that only admits women. We saw the buttery (the dining room), the library and the laboratories where female scientist had made excellent innovations during the first part of the 20th Century.

The student ambassadors who were showing us round were delightful and answered all of our eager questions. Following a tour of the grounds we went to the Principal’s house for a buffet lunch. This is where the woman who runs the college lives. It is enormous and ornately decorated.

After lunch, Mary Beard arrived. She looked her inimitable self; she had mud up her leggings from riding her bike and she wore her famous yellow overcoat. She entered the room in a hurry and grabbed some sandwiches before perching on a seat in the middle of the room in front of us all. She spoke for 5 minutes about why she believes that everyone should study the classics, before we entered into an hour and half of questions.

We were initially daunted by the prospect of having so long to question her; we worried that our questions were not good enough or that they would run out quickly. Thankfully, everyone had prepared very well and Mary Beard amazed us by being able to answer any of our questions at length. She took us on a fascinating journey with every answer. We learnt that she would take The Odyssey to a desert island, that Donald Trump is quite like Julius Caesar, and that 5th Century Athenians would not have been satisfied with the way the Brexit result was handled.

Following our session with Mary Beard, we had a session with PHD student of archaeology who intrigued us with her knowledge of Anglo Saxon grave gifts and how one can tell where someone has lived through their teeth. She showed us examples of teeth from the Ango-Saxon era and taught us techniques that archaeologists use to explore the story of a person in a grave.

As 3pm came, Dr Wyatt led us on a tour of Cambridge. We walked through the university library and went to see Kings College and the cows grazing outside. There was time for a quick look around the city centre (and a trip to MacDonald’s and Costa!) before we had to return to the bus.

It was a truly excellent day of learning about the classics and experiencing Cambridge university at its best; it was an unforgettable experience.

Miss Rothwell