Mr. Roger Michel meets Boris Johnson during his Intelligence Squared debate with Prof. Mary Beard.
On November 19th Intelligence Squared hosted the ultimate clash of civilisations: Greece vs Rome. It was also the ultimate clash of intellectual titans. Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and ardent classicist, made the case for Greece; while Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge and redoubtable media star, championed Rome.
As Boris argued, the Greeks got there first: in literature, history, art and philosophy. The Iliad and the Odyssey are the earliest surviving epic poems, the foundations on which European literature was built. The Greek myths – the tales of Oedipus, Heracles and Persephone, to name but a few – contain the archetypal plot elements of hubris and nemesis on which even Hollywood films depend today.
But as Mary Beard reminded us, Greece eventually lost out to Rome. Little Athens, with its loose-knit, short-lived empire, had nothing to rival Rome’s scale. From Hadrian’s Wall to north Africa, from Spain’s Atlantic coast to Babylon, the Romans stamped a permanent legacy on architecture, language, religion and politics.