Saturday 21 November 2015

My Bid to become Mayor of London

Yesterday the British press was full of Mary Beard’s victory, with the Romans, over Boris Johnson’s advocacy of the Greeks in a debate at Central Hall Westminster, also screened on Curzon TV. 

Since I beat the admirable Professor Beard hands down in a similar debate at the Cheltenham Festival eight years ago, I can only infer two things from this dismal showing on BoJo’s part: 1) I should be made Mayor of London immediately, and 2) Beard clearly learned how to win this kind of debate (i.e. by NOT using notes and by making people laugh) from me. I am also outraged that the Greeks have been left so poorly defended.

The audio of the Beard/Hall debate has disappeared mysteriously from the internet, where it was until recently freely available. If anyone knows where I can access a copy to link to from my website I would be grateful. Meanwhile, since I am stricken with flu and feel too ill to think, my blog this week reproduces that written in October 2007 by our chairman at Cheltenham, Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, who gave as far as I can recall a fair and accurate account of proceedings. And as for you, Comrade Johnson—next time, give me a ring and I’ll tell you why the Greeks REALLY matter.

October 14, 2007

Greeks vs Romans: the result

Winged_victory_louvreIn the end the chairman called yesterday's close-fought TLS debate for the Greeks. Listen here if you want to hear it.
At the start of the event a show of hands from the 400 in the Everyman Theatre revealed a small and unexpected Roman majority.
The Romans, it seemed, had done more for us - or at least for Cheltenham - than the Greeks had.
But at the end of a high-impact hour of gladiatorial argument, our Hellenist champion, Edith Hall, had turned round enough men and women voters to scrape home.
Mary Beard fought as hard as any legionary, defending the beer-drinking soldiers of Hadrian's Wall against a high-minded Hall assault on their poor spelling and restricted vocabulary.
But Beard's countering of pure Greek science with applied Roman skills,Greek logical philosophy with Roman running water, did not play as strongly with the audience as one might have expected.
Too complacent about their comfort perhaps in this Gloucestershire spa town.
The bloody bouts of the arena - raised by an early questioner - also played against the Roman case.
The Beard strategy was to claim that both Roman and Greek societies operated equal-opportunities-for-cruelty.
This worked with the slavery argument. Both were accepted as bad on that score.
But the idea of Greek gladiators and beast-fights never caught on. Not enough movie exposure, I guess.
The Beard case that much less Roman Colosseum activity took place than we think (just too expensive) was also not quite believed.
Does nothing fail to happen in Cheltenham just because it's too expensive?
The pace of argument was furious - with one lady audience-member asking for a little less adrenalin ten minutes into the first half.
The Roman side did well on war and terrorism-control, on the secret ballot and the multiculturalist skills of running big cities and empires.
But again the gentle town of Cheltenham was perhaps not quite right for that. War was bad anyway. Science and philosophy were good. The purer the better.
Professor Beard accused Professor Hall of using Greek sophistry - of choosing different bits of the Greek world to support different arguments.
Professor Hall smiled and continued. Protagoras and his sophist friends would have been proud.
The TLS chairman was proud of them both - and of everyone else who turned out at 10 am on a Saturday morning for such an educative scrap.

1 comment:

  1. Hall and Beard are both admirable icons and proven scholars of eminence; the whole discipline is degraded when they vie for supremacy. Stop it. Promote Classics, do not compete.