|Born||November 24, 1914
Bradford, West Yorkshire, England
|Notable work(s)||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 award(s)||Jefferson Lecture (1992)|
|Spouse(s)||Bianca Van Orden|
Bernard MacGregor Walker Knox (born November 24, 1914) is an American classicist, author, and critic born in England. He was the first director of the Center for Hellenic Studies. 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.
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. In 1939 he married the American novelist Bianca Van Orden. Their son, Macgregor Knox, 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. He did so and received an M.A. from Harvard, and a Ph.D. from Yale.
Knox taught at Yale until 1961, 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. Since then he has continued to write prolifically.
Knox is known for his efforts to make classics more accessible to the public. In 1959 his translations of Oedipus the King were used to produce a series of television films for Encyclopedia Britannica and the Massachusetts Council for the Humanities, featuring the cast of the Canadian Stratford Shakespeare Festival. He taught the poet Robert Fagles at Yale, and became Fagles's lifelong friend 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. 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." His combat experiences in WWII subtly inform these introductions.
Knox was the editor of The Norton Book of Classical Literature and has also written extensively for The New York Review of Books. 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; 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."
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 Slept: 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). This ultimately led to Spender suing Leavitt and forcing the withdrawal and revision of Leavitt's book.
The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded Knox the Charles Frankel Prize in 1990, and in 1992 it selected Knox for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Knox's lecture, which he gave the intentionally "provocative" title "The Oldest Dead White European Males", 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.