On the evening of the 19th November, after dashing away from our rugby
matches vs. Eton, a small party from the Classics Department embarked on the
train up to London to go and witness a true clash of the Titans, as Boris
Johnson, Mayor of London and Classicist extraordinaire, fought against Mary
Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge and TV star, in a thrilling debate
aiming to decide who was superior: Ancient Greece or Rome. The sheer immediacy
with which the tickets sold out for this event was testament to the quality of
the speakers alone.
The debate was chaired by Andrew Marr and,
following his brief introduction, the charismatic Boris immediately took centre
stage. Boris’ proposition was that Athens had effectively laid the foundations
for the Western world as we know it, creating literature, theatre, poetry,
philosophy and, most importantly, democracy. Boris’ political background shone
through as he reemphasised the importance of the contribution to democracy time
and time again. Conversely, he argued, the Romans sought to destroy everything
which the Athenians had so diligently created, replacing their democracies with
tyrannical rule and committing mass-murder in slaughterhouses such as the
Colosseum. Ultimately, the Romans were copying Greece and doing no more than
putting “Roman wine in Greek bottles”.
His proposals made, Boris sat back down and
allowed the extraordinarily calm Mary Beard to let her arguments be heard. Mary
emphasised that one cannot simply think less of Rome because of its brutality,
in fact, all ancient cultures were brutal by modern standards. Besides, the
Greeks’ so called “democracy” was very short-lived, when one considers that
Rome was democratic for half a millennium. Rome was by no means perfect, but,
unlike Athens, it didn’t claim to be; the Romans were simply real and human
and, as Mary so eloquently put it, “us”.
Following some erudite questions from the
audience, Andrew Marr prepared to announce the result of the audience’s vote.
At the start 38% had voted for Greece and 31% had voted for Rome, with another
31% abstaining. By virtue of Mary’s passionate speaking, the audience were
persuaded to change their mind and Rome won the swing vote, causing Mary to
throw her arms up in the air triumphantly in the manner of a Roman Emperor as
he enters Rome, returning from a triumphant campaign. Mary may have won the
debate, but I’m sure the Greek ideals will become much more prevalent as soon
as Boris sets his eyes upon Number 10.
Report and Picture by
Arthur Dingemans, C Social, 6.1