Bernard Knox

Bernard Knox
Born (1914-11-24)24 November 1914
Bradford, West Yorkshire, England
Died 22 July 2010(2010-07-22) (aged 95)
Bethesda, Maryland, United States
Occupation Professor, author
Language English
Genre Classics
Notable works The Norton Book of Classical Literature (1993); The Oldest Dead White European Males and Other Reflections on the Classics (1993); Introductions to The Iliad (1991), The Odyssey (1997), and The Aeneid (2006)
Notable awards Jefferson Lecture (1992)

Bernard MacGregor Walker Knox (November 24, 1914 July 22, 2010[1]) was an English classicist, author, and critic who became an American citizen. He was the first director of the Center for Hellenic Studies.[2][3] In 1992 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Knox for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities.[4]


Knox was born in 1914 in the City of Bradford, Yorkshire, England. He received his B.A. from St John's College, Cambridge in 1936, joined and was wounded in combat with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, and served in the United States Army during World War II.[5][6] In 1939 he married an American, Betty Baur, a novelist who wrote under the pen name Bianca van Orden;[7] she died in 2006.[1] His son, Macgregor Knox,[1] is a prominent historian of 20th century Europe.

Bored with his first Army assignment with an anti-aircraft battery in England, Knox volunteered for work with the Office of Strategic Services as he spoke French and some German. The OSS assigned him to the Jedburgh program, and he parachuted into Brittany on July 7, 1944 with team GILES. His team evaded German capture while working with the area resistance, arranging clandestine air parachute drops of weapons, and when the regulars arrived did liaison work between the US forces and the French resistance in order to sweep the German Army out of Brittany. In the Spring of 1945, he deployed to Italy with an OSS team to work with the Italian Partisans scouting for Allied forces. It was here, during a firefight where he was pinned down in a monastery filled with books that he resolved to take up his studies in the classics should he survive the war.[8] He did so and received an M.A. from Harvard, and a PhD from Yale.[9]

Knox taught at Yale until 1961,[6] when he was appointed the first director of Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C. After fulfilling a previous commitment to spend a year as Sather Lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, Knox served as director of the Center from 1962 until his retirement in 1985.[2] He continued to write prolifically.

Knox is known for his efforts to make classics more accessible to the public.[10] In 1959 his translations of Oedipus the King were used to produce a series of television films for Encyclopædia Britannica and the Massachusetts Council for the Humanities, featuring the cast of the Canadian Stratford Shakespeare Festival.[11] He taught the poet Robert Fagles at Yale, and became Fagles's lifelong friend[12] and the author of the introductions and notes for Fagles's translations of Sophocles's three Theban plays, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, and Virgil's Aeneid.[13] Reviewing the Fagles Iliad in The New York Times, classicist Oliver Taplin described Knox's 60-page introduction as "His Master's Voice, taking the best of contemporary scholarship and giving it special point and vividness, as only Mr. Knox can."[14] His combat experiences in World War II subtly inform these introductions.

Knox was the editor of The Norton Book of Classical Literature[15] and also wrote extensively for The New York Review of Books.[3] Knox received the 1977 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for one of his New York Review pieces, a review of Andrei Şerban's controversial Lincoln Center production of Agamemnon;[16] the award committee described Knox's work as "a brilliant review of a major theatrical event" in which Knox "recognized that the director was attempting to solve the central problem of this play by finding a new way to express long passages of lyric language that have lost their immediacy for modern audiences."[9] In 1990 he received the first PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for his book Essays Ancient and Modern.[17]

Knox is also known for his role in the controversy over similarities between Stephen Spender's World Within World and David Leavitt's While England Sleeps: it was Knox, reviewing Leavitt's book for The Washington Post, who first pointed out its similarities to Spender's older memoir (which Knox had reviewed in 1951).[18] This ultimately led to Spender suing Leavitt and forcing the withdrawal and revision of Leavitt's book.[19][20]

The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded Knox the Charles Frankel Prize in 1990,[10][21] and in 1992 it selected Knox for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities.[22] Knox's lecture, which he gave the intentionally "provocative" title "The Oldest Dead White European Males",[23] became the basis for Knox's book of the same name, in which Knox defended the continuing relevance of classical Greek culture to modern society.[15]

He died of heart failure on July 22, 2010.[24]



Articles and Book Chapters:

Selected introductions


  1. 1 2 3 Wolfgang Saxon, "Bernard Knox, 95, Classics Scholar, Dies", New York Times, August 16, 2010.
  2. 1 2 History of the Center for Hellenic Studies at CHS website (retrieved May 26, 2009).
  3. 1 2 Bernard Knox author listing at New York Review of Books website (retrieved May 25, 2009).
  4. Nadine Drozan, "Chronicle", New York Times, March 9, 1992.
  5. Bernard Knox, "Premature Anti-Fascist" (retrieved May 15, 2009).
  6. 1 2 Hugh Lloyd-Jones, "The Oldest Dead White European Males-book reviews", National Review, June 7, 1993.
  7. G.W. Bowersock, "The Warrior-Humanist: Bernard M.W. Knox (1914–2010). The New Republic, September 4, 2010.
  8. Benjamin F. Jones, "Looking for Bernard Knox: Warrior, Ancient and Modern" Archived July 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. in War, Literature & the Arts 15:323 (2003).
  9. 1 2 1976-77: Bernard Knox biography at Previous Winners of the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, Cornell University website.
  10. 1 2 "5 Arts Awards Announced", New York Times, September 2, 1990.
  11. Barnes Filmography at Academic Film Archive website (retrieved May 26, 2009).
  12. Chris Hedges, "Public Lives: A Bridge Between the Classics and the Masses", New York Times, April 13, 2004. This article quotes Fagles, then age 70, speaking of his relationship with Knox: "'He is very much the professor, and I am still the student,' he said with a smile. 'It is not his fault. I stand in awe of him. I cherish our friendship.'"
  13. Charles McGrath,"Robert Fagles, Translator of the Classics, Dies at 74", New York Times, March 29, 2008.
  14. Oliver Taplin, "Bringing Him Back Alive", New York Times, November 15, 1998.
  15. 1 2 Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "Books of The Times; Putting In a Word for Homer, Herodotus, Plato, Etc.", New York Times, April 29, 1993.
  16. Bernard Knox, "Chez Atreus", New York Review of Books, July 14, 1977.
  17. David Streitfield, "Book Report", The Washington Post, March 11, 1990.
  18. John Sutherland, Stephen Spender: a literary life (Oxford University Press US, 2005), ISBN 978-0-19-517816-6, p.547, excerpt available at Google Books.
  19. James Atlas, "Ideas & Trends; Who Owns a Life? Asks a Poet, When His Is Turned Into Fiction", New York Times, February 20, 1994.
  20. Stephen Spender, "My Life Is Mine: It Is Not David Leavitt's", New York Times, September 4, 1994.
  21. Charles Frankel Prize Archived May 12, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. at NEH website (retrieved May 25, 2009).
  22. Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved May 25, 2009).
  23. Nadine Drozan, "Chronicle", New York Times, May 6, 1992.
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