Peter Stothard, editor of the TLS, former editor of The London Times, and author of the brilliant new book, Alexandria: The Last Nights of Cleopatra, agreed to be interviewed by email.
His elegant memoir of his lifelong fascination with Cleopatra is part biography/history, part personal memoir, part travel, part examination of images of Cleopatra, and part reflections on the Eve of the Arab Spring in Alexandria. He refers to it as a diary book.
MIRABILE DICTU: As editor of the TLS and former editor of the Times, you are accustomed to keeping track of the threads of many stories, and in your book you weave elaborate threads of past and present as you write about Cleopatra. What inspired you to leave the limits of journalism to write a diary book?
PETER STOTHARD: Newspaper editors divide the world into stories, past and present, new and old. For a diarist all parts can fall together, ancient Rome and Alexandria, England in the 1950s and 1960s, Egypt on the eve of the short Arab Spring. That falling together was what happened to me in Italy in 2008 while on the Spartacus Road and on the Nile in 2011 while writing The Last Nights of Cleopatra.
MIRABILE DICTU: Did any writers influence you in writing Alexandria? And who are your favorite writers?
PETER STOTHARD: The classicist Mary Beard is big influence on how I see the ancient and modern now. Epicurus inspires me from long ago. I try not be influenced in how I write myself.
MIRABILE DICTU: When and why did you begin writing?
PETER STOTHARD: I began writing in my current preferred form after being told that I was about to die of cancer and fortunately escaping that fate. It took five years for the lesson to sink in but since then I have come to see storytelling in a totally different way. Before 2002, for twenty five years, I wrote news stories and rhetoric.
MIRABILE DICTU: The TLS reviews many books on classics. Is this a longstanding tradition, or are you the advocate of classics?
PETER STOTHARD: Mary Beard and I both ensure that the classics are fully covered at the TLS. There are some extraordinary minds on the subject today. We want to note, advance and celebrate them.
MIRABILE DICTU: What are you reading now?
PETER STOTHARD: Seneca’s De Beneficiis and Sex on Show, Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome by our TLS contributor Caroline Vout.
Stothard is also the author of Spartacus Road, a diary book that is part history of the escaped slave Spartacus, part memoir/travel, and part translations of Roman poetry and literature perstaining to Spartacus. (I wrote about it here.) He also wrote the book, Thirty Days: An Inside Account of Tony Blair at War.