Bernard Knox (1914–2010) was an English classicist. He was the first director of Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, DC. Among his many books are The Heroic Temper, The Oldest Dead White European Males, and Backing into the Future: The Classical Tradition and Its Renewal. He is the editor of The Norton Book of Classical Literature and wrote the introductions and notes for Robert Fagles’s translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

The Wild Women of Greece

When in the ninth century AD there was a revival of learning in Byzantium and a renewed interest in the ancient classics, some plays of the three great tragic poets of the fifth century BC were selected for transfer from their fragile, perishable papyrus rolls to sheets of durable vellum …

Love in Hell

This new version of Dante’s Inferno, by an internationally famous Dante scholar and his wife, the poet Jean Hollander, is accompanied by a detailed, brilliant commentary that is itself worth the price of the volume. The publisher’s claim on the dust cover—“The introduction, notes, and commentary on the poem cannot …

Liberating a Masterpiece

A first taste of Tasso’s great poem, completed in 1575, suggests that it is an exotic literary cocktail composed in Italian of equal portions of Spenser’s Faerie Queene and Homer’s Iliad, with a generous splash of Virgil’s Aeneid and a soupçon of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Partly an epic of the …

Stairway to Heaven

When I met Robert Pinsky, at the first meeting of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, I congratulated him warmly on his splendid translation of the Inferno, which I had reviewed in these pages. I told him I looked forward with eager anticipation to his versions of the Purgatorio …

Virgil the Great

Virgil was a perfectionist. Among the few items in the highly unreliable biographical tradition that have a ring of truth are his remark that he created a poem like a she-bear, gradually licking it into shape, and the report that as he lay dying at Brindisi in 19 BC, he …

Genius Con Brio

We know a great deal about Stendhal’s methods and habits as a writer, for he was an irrepressible diarist. He left not only journals that cover the first half of his life but also hundreds of notes and comments jotted down on manuscripts, on proofs, in the margins or on …

Under the Volcano

My letter to the Princeton University Press recommending Anne Carson’s first book Eros the Bittersweet (it was published in 1986) contained the following sentences: “This is an extraordinary book—the book of a poet, a subtle critic, and a scholar. It is also a brilliant piece of writing, flawlessly phrased throughout, …

Horace, Our Contemporary

It is now a little over two thousand years since the death in 8 BC of Quintus Horatius Flaccus, the poet familiarly known to English-speaking readers as Horace. Those two millennia saw the fulfillment of the bold prediction that Horace made in the final poem of the third book of …

Playboy of the Roman World

Publius Ovidius Naso[^1] (the last name, “Nose,” was a family inheritance from an ancestor who presumably had a big one), though admired by Shakespeare,[^2] was distrusted in the nineteenth century as an immoralist and dismissed for most of the twentieth as a lightweight, but is now back in favor. He …

The Crack in the Teacup

This new volume in the invaluable Complete Works of W.H. Auden edited by Edward Mendelson contains the original version of all the prose essays and reviews the poet wrote during the years he was living in England, as well as the original text of the two travel books in prose …

Victims and Executioners

On the cover of Les Juifs, la mémoire et le présent II (1991) Pierre Vidal-Naquet is identified as, among other things, “the author of numerous books on ancient Greece and contemporary history.” This brief description covers a remarkable (and still continuing) literary career. He is, in his own words, “by …

Author, Author

The title of this essay is not a reference to that enthusiastic but misguided shout from his friends in the audience at the St. James Theatre in 1895 that brought a reluctant Henry James to the stage at the end of his play Guy Domville, only to be greeted by …

Our Dante

Dante wrote his great poem in the years between 1300, the fictional date of his descent alive into Hell, and his death in 1321. Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales between 1387 and his death in 1400. Few today can deal with Chaucer in the original Middle English; he is read …

Poets of the Spanish Tragedy

The University of Illinois Press, which published Milton Wolff’s Spanish Civil War novel Another Hill, reviewed in the last issue, has also launched a project entitled The American Poetry Recovery Series, which “will consist of collections and anthologies by poets whose work has not been made part of the traditional …

In Another Country

This year’s spectacular commemoration of the Normandy landings was preceded by the publication or re-issue of a number of books dealing with that great enterprise, even though, to Americans of younger generations, the Second World War, something that occurred before the American wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf (not …

The Greek Way

Bernard Williams’s brilliant, demanding, and disturbing book is the fifty-seventh volume of the Sather Classical Lectures, which are delivered annually at Berkeley on a classical subject. Its title calls to mind the work of a predecessor in the series, E. R. Dodds, who called the second chapter in his book …

A Dangerously Modern Poet

Yeats’s poem about Catullus, The Scholars, published in 1919, speaks of “lines/That young men, tossing on their beds,/Rhymed out in love’s despair/To flatter beauty’s ignorant ear.” Charles Martin, in his book on Catullus in the Yale Press’s Hermes series, is fully aware of the poet’s “unimpeded spontaneity and uninhibited self-expression,” …

Achilles in the Caribbean

After playing a decisive role in the defeat and surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781, the French fleet, under its Admiral De Grasse, sailed south to carry on the war against England in the Caribbean. In April of the following year, in a naval engagement known to the English …

Los Olvidados

One of the most popular tourist attractions of eighteenth-century Venice was the all-girl orchestra and choir of the Ospedale della Pietà, for which Antonio Vivaldi, appointed director in 1714, wrote music in such prodigious quantity that much of it lies still unpublished in the National Library in Torino. The girls …

Attic Exits

The Greek tragic poet was provided by the mythical traditions with a generous and varied supply of exits from this life for his female characters: Dirce dragged to her death by a bull, for example, or Jason’s royal bride consumed by a poisoned robe that acts like a coating of …

The Spanish Tragedy

July 1986 was the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish civil war. The war began as a rebellion of the Spanish army generals against the country’s democratically elected government, and ended three years later with the establishment of General Francisco Franco Bahamonde as dictator, a position he was …

The Theater of Ethics

“There is an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry,” says Plato’s Socrates, as, in Book X of the Republic, he reconfirms his decision to banish Homer and the tragic poets from his ideal city. And indeed it is true that long before Plato such philosophers as Xenophanes and Heraclitus had …

Subversive Activities

The nearest English equivalent of the word Herodotus used to describe his account of the Persian War and its antecedents, historiai, is “enquiries”; the Greek verb historein means “to ask questions.” In recent years history has begun to ask questions about people it once took little or no notice of; …

Caviar to the General

Pindar is the first book in a new series, edited by John Herington for the Yale University Press, which aims to close a gap. It is the gap between “the classical masters of Greece and Rome, those models of concision, elegance, and understanding of the human condition” and “a sort …