In the aftermath of 11 September, the Cambridge don Mary Beard became notorious for comments published in the London Review of Books. “When the shock had faded,” she wrote, “more hard-headed reaction set in. This wasn’t just the feeling that, however tactfully you dress it up, the United States had it coming . . . World bullies, even if their heart is in the right place, will in the end pay the price.”
Beard’s remarks provoked what Mrs Merton might have described as “a heated debate”. Even now, the phrase “had it coming” continues to resonate. Beard’s publishers must be thrilled. However other people may have twisted or misinterpreted her comments, they should certainly help to secure widespread interest in her new book. Nor will readers from outside the circles of classical scholarship be disappointed: The Parthenon may be about a building two and a half thousand years old, but it is also about us, about our obsessions and fears – and yes, about 11 September as well . . .