Gilbert Highet (1906-1978) was born in Glasgow, Scotland, to a middle-class family. He showed an early facility with Latin and Greek, reading Homer, Virgil, and Aeschylus for pleasure by the time he was sixteen. He attended Glasgow University, and later Oxford’s Balliol College, sweeping up most of the available prizes and scholarships along the way. In 1937 Highet joined the faculty of Columbia University, becoming a full professor at thirty-one. He taught at Columbia until 1972 (with the exception of a period during WWII, when he was stationed as an officer in Washington, D.C. and later assisted in the return of looted goods in Europe), becoming a legend for his animated and inspiring lectures. A very public intellectual, Highet served on the boards of Horizon magazine (1958–77) and the Book-of-the-Month Club (1954–78), was chief literary critic for Harper’s (1952–54), and hosted a cultural affairs radio program, People, Places, and Books (1952–59), that was broadcast on more than three hundred stations in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. Highet wrote, translated, or edited some twenty books, of which The Classical Tradition (1949) and The Art of Teaching (1950) remain the best known. He was married to Helen MacInnes, a successful writer of espionage novels, from 1932 until his death from cancer in 1978.
Scholar Highet introduces us to the lives and work of seven of ancient Rome’s greatest poets. But what makes this book special is the rich context the author provides. The result is an entirely sui generis amalgam of travel writing, biography, criticism, and pure poetry. “Here is scholarship in the old sense, humane, unpedantic, open-minded and totally free of academic jargon.” —The Irish Times