Gregory Hays is an Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Virginia. (June 2020)


Horace’s How-To

Horace; detail from Luca Signorelli’s fresco of the Last Judgment in the Cathedral of Orvieto, Italy, 1500–1503

Horace’s Ars Poetica: Family, Friendship, and the Art of Living

by Jennifer Ferriss-Hill
In 476 lines of dactylic hexameter, one of the great Roman poets tells us, if not how he wrote his songs, at any rate how we should go about writing ours. The advice is not all his own; an ancient commentator notes that the poet drew some of it from a third-century BC Greek critic called Neoptolemus of Parium. But it is Horace’s version that has lasted. The Ars lays down literary laws observed by writers for centuries: modern editions divide Shakespeare’s plays into five acts, for instance, because that’s how many Horace said a play should have. It canonized critical ideas, like the concept of artistic unity, that we now take as self-evident.

From Hercules to Hamlet

Brutus and Caesar’s ghost; illustration by William Blake for an edition of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, 1808

How the Classics Made Shakespeare

by Jonathan Bate
At some point in antiquity, perhaps the second or third century AD, a Greek author whose name is now lost wrote a novel, conventionally known as the History of Apollonius of Tyre. The original Greek text is lost, but in late antiquity another unknown party translated it into Latin. Somewhere …

Found in Translation

Street musicians in a scene from a comedy by the Greek playwright Menander; mosaic by Dioscorides of Samos from the Villa of Cicero, Pompeii, circa 100 BCE

Beyond Greek: The Beginnings of Latin Literature

by Denis Feeney
Shortly after the fall of Carthage in 146 BC, the Roman Senate commissioned a Latin translation of a work by a Carthaginian writer. The writer’s name was Mago, and he wrote on agriculture—a subject of deep interest to the Romans, who liked to think of themselves as a nation of …

What’s So Great About the Greeks?

Max Beckmann: Odysseus and Calypso, 1943

Introducing the Ancient Greeks: From Bronze Age Seafarers to Navigators of the Western Mind

by Edith Hall
Edith Hall’s Introducing the Ancient Greeks belongs to a familiar genre: the attempt to sum up ancient Greek civilization in two hundred pages for that elusive and mystical creature, the General Reader. The earliest recognizable example is perhaps R.W. Livingstone’s The Greek Genius and Its Meaning to Us (1912). Livingstone …

Roman Jokers

Illustration by John Leech from The Comic History of Rome, 1852

Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking Up

by Mary Beard
Elizabethans joked about cuckoldry and venereal disease. Roman audiences laughed at crucifixion jokes, bald men, and dwarves. The epigrams of the early imperial poet Martial circle back again and again to sniggering innuendos about bad breath and oral sex.

The Homeric MOOC: Will It Revolutionize Education?

Drawing by Edward Gorey from Rex Warner’s Men and Gods: Myths and Legends of the Ancient Greeks, published by NYRB Classics

The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours

by Gregory Nagy
Gregory Nagy has for many years taught a large lecture course on “the Greek hero,” both to regular Harvard undergraduates and to continuing education students. That course has now been transformed into a MOOC (massive open online course), to which his recent 700-page book serves as a kind of textbook. Its jacket promises “an exploration of civilization’s roots in the Homeric epics and other Classical literature, a lineage that continues to challenge and inspire us today.” In reality, The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours is a much stranger book than that, in both content and form.