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Housman Lectures


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Born in Worcestershire in 1859, Alfred Edward Housman was a gifted classical scholar and poet. After studying in Oxford, Housman worked for ten years as a clerk, while publishing and writing scholarly articles on Horace, Propertius, Ovid, Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles. He gradually acquired such a high reputation that in 1892 he returned to the academic world as Professor of Classics at University College London (1892–1911) and then as Kennedy Professor of Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge (1911–1936). During his time as professor in the Department of Greek and Latin at UCL Housman produced some of his most important scholarly work (including his edition of Juvenal and the first volume of his Manilius) and published his first and best known collection of poetry, ‘A Shropshire Lad’ (1896). Housman’s continuing reputation as a scholar and a poet is reflected in Tom Stoppard’s 1997 play The Invention of Love, which includes a dramatisation of A.E. Housman’s election to the chair of Latin in London.

Housman Lectures at UCL

The Department of Greek and Latin at University College London organizes a Housman Lecture each year (formerly every two years). These are delivered by a scholar of international distinction from outside London. Past speakers in the UCL Housman Lecture series include Professors Pat Easterling (2005), Christopher Pelling (2007), Alessandro Barchiesi (2011), Stephen Hinds (2012), Eric Csapo (2013), Denis Feeney (2014), Leslie Kurke (2015) and Maurizio Bettini (2016).


2019: Victoria Wohl The sleep of reason: the psyche and the subject in ancient Greece

Freud tracked the psyche along the paths of sleep, following the “royal road” of dreams. For the ancient Greeks, too, the psyche was revealed in sleep, not through the semiotics of dreams but through the peculiar state of being we occupy while asleep. Twinned with thanatos in art and literature, hupnos afforded a living experience of death, as Heraclitus writes: “A man kindles a light for himself in the night when his eyes are extinguished. While he is alive, he touches the dead in his sleep; waking, he touches the sleeper” (fr. B26 D-K). What does that nocturnal “touch” allow us to grasp about our nature as human beings? For Heraclitus and his contemporaries, sleep affords us rare contact with the psukhê, that “living image of eternity” within us that becomes active when our bodies and minds rest (Pindar fr. 131b M-S). Releasing aspects of our being that elude consciousness, sleep raised questions about the coherence of identity, our existence in time and space, and our connection to the material universe. My paper explores the experience of sleep and its relation to the psukhê in early Greek philosophy, literature, and art. In so doing it follows in Freud’s steps but discovers a subject and an unconscious markedly different from those imagined by the psychoanalyst.


2018: Bernard O’Donoghue Chosen Ancestors: Seamus Heaney and Virgil


2017: Judith Butler  Kinship Trouble in The Bacchae (watch the webcast / downlaod the text)


2016: Maurizio Bettini  From market to metamorphosis. Cultural images of ‘translation’ in Rome


2015: Leslie Kurke  Pindar's Material Imaginary: Dedication and Politics in Olympian 7


2014: Denis Feeney Ovid as a literary historian


2013: Eric Csapo The Dionysian Parade and the Poetics of Plenitude


2012: Stephen Hinds  Displacing Persephone: Epic between Worlds


2011: Alessandro Barchiesi


2009: Housman 150 Anniversary: UCL celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of AEH with an evening of talks. David Butterfield, Stephen Harrison, Peter Howarth and Norman Vance spoke about Housman’s life, scholarship, poetry and place in Victorian culture.


2007: Christopher Pelling The Grandstand that was Greece: Greek observers on Roman Civil Wars


2005: Pat Easterling Ancient Plays for Modern Minds?