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What the Romans really did

Mary Beard's colorful chronicle of Ancient Rome debunks familiar myths, says Edith Hall

By Edith Hall   December 2015

Jaques-Louis David's The Oath of the Horatii (1784) portrays the Roman ideal of loyalty and self-sacrifice. © Warburg.edu/Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Roman literary critics admired writing that plunged readers into the thick of the action—in medias res—rather than boring them with preambles. Mary Beard plunges her reader, from the first page, into one of the most exciting episodes in Roman history.

In 63BC, the orator and statesman Cicero exposed what he claimed was…

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