B.A. Cambridge, 1936; Ph.D. Yale, 1948; M.A. (hon.) Harvard, 1961; Litt.D. (hon.), Princeton, 1964; DHL (hon.) George Washington U., 1977; Litt.D., Yale, 1983; Michigan, 1985; Georgetown, 1988.
Latin teacher, Edgewood School (Greenwich, CT), 1939-42; instr. classics, Yale, 1947-8; asst. prof. & fell. Branford College, 1948-54; asso. prof. , 1954-9, prof. 1959-61; dir. Center for Hellenic Studies (Washington, DC), 1961-1985; Guggenheim fell., 1956-7; Sather Lectr., 1963; Award for Literature, National Institute for Arts & Letters, 1967; Nellie Wallace Lectr., Oxford, 1975; chairman, Society for the Preservation of Greek Heritage, 1977- ; George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, 1978; pres. APA, 1980; Martin Lectr. Oberlin Coll., 1981; West Lectr., Stanford, 1984; Jefferson Lectr., NEH, 1992; Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award, PEN, 1990; Frankel Prize, NEH, 1990; Distinguished Service Award, APA, 1996
"Traditional Structure and Formula in the Tragic Narrative Speech" (Yale, 1948).
“The Serpent and the Flame. The Imagery of the Second Book of the Aeneid,” AJP 73 (1950) 379-400; “The Lion in the House (Agamemnon 717-736),” CP 47 (1952) 17-25; “The Hippolytus of Euripides,” YCS 13 (1952) 1-31; “Why is Oedipus called Tyrannos?,” CJ 50 (1954) 97-102; “The Date of the Oedipus Tyrannusof Sophocles,” AJP 77 (1956) 133-47; Oedipus at Thebes. Sophocles' Tragic Hero and His Time (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957). REVS: CR VIII 1958 229-232 Lucas | CJ LIII 1958 328-330 Cutt | CPh LIII 1958 187 Cunningham | CW LII 1958 58 Musurillo | G&R V 1958 91 | RBPh XXXVII 1959 114-116 Delcourt | AJPh LXXX 1959 76-80 Whitman | JHS LXXIX 1959 164-165 Stevens; Oedipus the King (trans.) (New York: Pocket Library, 1959). REVS: CW LIII 1959 14 Musurillo; “The Ajax of Sophocles,” HSCP 65 (1961) 1-37; The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy Sather Class. Lect. XXXV (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964). REVS: Athene (Chicago) XXV, 4 1964-1965 41 Rexine | AC XXXIV 1965 582-583 Lasserre | CW LVIII 1965 284 Jameson | LEC XXXIII 1965 325 Walbrecq | Gnomon XXXVIII 1966 329-333 Alt | Gymnasium LXXIII 1966 546 Mette | RPh XL 1966 120-121 Weil | REG LXXIX 1966 529-531 Roux | REA LXVIII 1966 419-420 Carrière | RFIC XCIV 1966 325-334 Taragna Novo | CJ LXI 1966 365-366 & 368 Youman | CPh LXIII 1968 224-225 Richardson | BIEH II,1 1968 73 Alsina | Mnemosyne XXIII 1970 417-418 van der Ben | PACA XI 1968 71-72 Conradie; “Philoctetes,” Arion 3,1 (1964) 42-60;World Masterpieces I: Literature of Western Culture through the Renaissance, ed. with M. Mack J.C. McGaillard P.M. Pasinetti, H.E. Hugo, R. Wellek & K. Douglas; rev. ed. (New York: Norton, 1965); “Second Thoughts in Greek Tragedy,” GRBS 7 (1966) 213-32; “Silent Reading in Antiquity,” GRBS 9 (1968) 421-35; “Euripidean Comedy,” in The Rarer Action. Essays in Honor of Francis Fergusson, ed. A. Cheuse & R. Koffler (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1971) 68-96; “Aeschylus and the Third Actor,” AJP 93 (1972) 104-24; “Euripides' Iphigenia in Aulide 1-163 (in That Order),” YCS 22 (1972) 239-61; “The Medeaof Euripides,” YCS 25 (1977) 193-225; Word and Action. Essays on the Ancient Theater (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979). REVS: TLS LXXIX 1980 551 Lloyd-Jones | G&R XXVIII 1981 93 Arnott | CPh LXXVIII 1983 251-254 Calder; “Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos 446. Exit Oedipus?,” GRBS 21 (1980) 321-32; “Sophocles and the Polis,” in Sophocle. Sept exposés suivis de discussions, ed. J. de Romilly (Vandœuvres: Fondation Hardt, 1982) 1-37; The Three Theban Plays. Antigone, Oedipus the king, Oedipus at Colonus (intro & notes) trans. R. Fagles (New York: Viking, 1982). REVS: NYRB XXIX,15 1982 33-35 Lloyd-Jones | TLS LXXXIII 1984 30 Easterling | G&R XXXI 1984 209 Silk | CO LXII 1985 137 Clay; “Euripides: The Poet as Prophet,” in Directions in Euripidean Criticism. A Collection of Essays, ed. P. Burian (Durham: Duke University Press, 1985) 1-12; “Die Freiheit des Ödipus,” in Faszination des Mythos. Studien zu antiken und modernen Interpretationen, ed. R. Schlesier (Basel; Frankfurt am Main: Stroemfeld, 1985) 125-143; The Cambridge History of Classical Literature I: Greek Literature, ed. with P.E. Easterling (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Span. ed: Historia de la iterature clásica (Cambridge University). I, Literatura griega trans. Federico Zaragoza Alberich (Madrid: Editorial Gredos, 1990). REVS: HZ CCXLIII 1986 651-654 Classen | AC LV 1986 376-380 van Looy | LEC XIV 1986 316 Wankenne | REG XCIX 1986 380-382 Pernot | JHS CVI 1986 219-221 Romilly | CR XXXVI 1986 247-252 Arnott | CW LXXX 1986 65 Hamilton | TLS LXXXV 1986 149 Griffin | CPh LXXXII 1987 255-265 Lloyd-Jones | DUJ XLVIII 1987 374-375 West | NYRB XXXIII N°ˢ 21-22 1986 44-45 Taplin | Phoenix XLII 1988 79-85 Herington | CPh 82 1987 255-265 H. Lloyd-Jones | Habis 1992 23 : 375-376 Emilia Ruiz; Word and Action. Essays on the Ancient Theater (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986). REVS: LEC LV 1987 351 Bonnet; P. Vidal-Naquet, The Black Hunter. Forms of Thought and Forms of Society in the Greek World, (foreword), trans. A. Szegedy-Maszak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1986). REVS: G&R XXXIV 1987 106 Walcot | CB LXIII 1987 126-127 Papalas | AJPh CIX 1988 282-285 Robertson | CW LXXXII 1988-1989 211-212 Sinos; Essays Ancient and Modern (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989). REVS: NYRB XXXVI, 16 1989 46-47 Griffin | BMCRev I 1990 68-70 Blundell|; Arion I, 1 1990 217-224 Segal | CW LXXXV 1991-1992 138-139 Ascher | AFB XV 1992 71-80 J. Pòrtulas; Iliad, trans. Robert Fagles (intro. & notes) (New York: Viking, 1990) REVS: BMCRev II 1991 8-10 Murnaghan | TLS 1991 N° 4598 3-4 Griffin | CW LXXXV 1991-1992 52-53 Pearcy; “Divine Intervention in Euripidean Tragedy, I,” in Studi di filologia classica in onore di Giusto Monaco, I : Letteratura greca (Palermo: Univ. di Palermo Fac. di Lettere e Filosofia, 1991) 223-30; “The Human Figure in Homer,” in New Perspectives in Early Greek Art, ed. Diana Buitron-Oliver (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1991) 93-96; The Odyssey of Homer, trans. T.E. Lawrence (intro.) (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). REVS: BMCRev II 1991 379-381 Scott | CW 88 1994-1995 70-71 S. Lowenstam; The Oldest Dead White European Males: And Other Reflections on the Classics (New York: Norton, 1993). REVS: TLS 1994 Nᵒ 4741 25 N. Fischer | QJS 80 1994 372-374 P. Tompkins | NECN 22 1994-1995 82-83 D. Woodiel | CO 1994-1995 72 (3): 110 Helen H. Bacon | CW 1995-1996 89 (6): 500-501 Meyer Reinhold | SStor 1998 N° 33: 121-123 Arnaldo Marcone; The Norton Book of Classical Literature (ed.) (New York: Norton, 1993). REVS: CO 1994-1995 72 (2): 69 Robert Boughner | CW 1994-1995 88 (6): 505 Jerry Clack; Backing into the Future: The Classical Tradition and Its Renewal (New York: Norton, 1994). REVS: CW 1995-1996 89 (6): 500-501 Meyer Reinhold | CO 1996-1997 74 (2): 84 Susan Ford Wiltshire | IJCT 1994-1995 1 (2): 117-120 Hugh Lloyd-Jones | NECN 1994-1995 22 (2): 82-83 Dale Woodiel; Homer. The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles (intro. and notes) (New York: Viking, 1996). REVS: BMCRev 1997 8 (2): 116-121 David R. Slavitt | CJ 1997-1998 93 (2): 203-206 Steven J. Willett | TLS 1997 N° 4942: 3-4 Michael Silk; “A Long Overdue Renewal: Lloyd-Jones's Loeb Sophocles: Review Article,”IJCT 3, 4 (1996-1997) 493-8; Virgil. The Aeneid, trans. Robert Fagles (intro.) (London; New York: Penguin Books, 2006). REVS: AUMLA 2008 N° 110: 133-135 John E. G. Whitehorne | CML 2007 27 (1): 229-240 Betty Rose Nagle
As a critic who significantly altered thinking on the classical subjects that engaged his attention, as a model of the classicist as man of letters and man of action, as a soldier who fought heroically and was wounded defending his principles and an oppressed people, as an intellectual who saw the eternal parallels between his war and the Peloponnesian conflict immortalized by Thucydides, as the first director of a research institution that has become a haven for classical scholars young and old, as the most significant public intellectual in the field of classics since Gilbert Highet, who continually attracted a wider audience for the legacy of the ancient world, as the trainer over decades of many eminent classicists from subsequent generations, as a scholar who produced accessible and rightly popular classroom texts that survived for generations, and, not least in his extraordinary longevity, Bernard Knox had a life and career that can fairly be compared in the twentieth century to Gildersleeve’s in the nineteenth.
Knox’s father had fought at Passchendaele World War I and when he died in 1926, his son was sent to Battersea Grammar School in London, where he, like many British boys of his generation, was given compulsory military training both in the school year and in summer camps. In the Cadet Corps he learned to use Morse Code, the standard Lee-Enfield .303 rifle, and the Lewis light machine gun. In the classroom he started French at 12, chose Latin over German, and soon took up Italian and Russian. When caught by a teacher reading Doctor Smith’s First Greek Book during a study session and sent to the master, Knox found his enthusiasm not punished but rewarded with private tutorials in Greek.
In 1933 he entered St. John’s College as a scholarship student in the fiercely contentious political atmosphere of Depression Cambridge. He was never a firebrand like his friend John Cornford (son of Francis Cornford), but was radicalized when he and his colleagues, marching in Cambridge with the Anti-War Movement to lay a wreath on the War Memorial on 11 November 1933, were pelted with fruit and eggs and abused by toughs. The failure of the British government to answer the economic distress of the period led him to join the campus socialists. He also met an American student at Girton named Betty Baur, who planned a career as a writer. Knox’s mentor was Martin Charlesworth (1895-1950), then Laurence Reader in Classics (for Ancient History). Despite Charlesworth’s attentions, Knox was distracted by politics and anticipated no better than a third, though he nonetheless took an Upper Second (2.1) in the Tripos. His career between leaving Cambridge and joining Yale presents a real-life For Whom the Bell Tolls.
With Franco poised to take Madrid in the fall of 1936, Knox was persuaded by Cornford to use his extensive military training in support of the Loyalist side. He arrived in Madrid’s University City neighborhood (above the Manzanares and the great park Casa de Campo to the west) in November of 1936, was assigned to a British machine-gun unit (16 men) attached to the Franco-Belgian battalion “Commune de Paris” of the XI International Brigade and given antiquated French machine guns that took three men each to operate. When the brigade commander offered to replace them with World-War-I-era Lewis guns, Knox and his friends leaped at the opportunity. A month later, in Boadilla del Monte near Madrid, a bullet struck him flush in the neck and shoulder, nicking his carotid artery and damaging his right arm. The blood spurted up like a fountain and Knox was left for dead by his friends Cornford and Griffin McLaurin, cursing his fate in what he later learned was Homeric fashion before he lost consciousness. He somehow revived and managed to rejoin his friends, but in the absence of ambulances he had to walk several miles to a field hospital dressing station and then go by car to a hospital in Madrid.
When he awakened in the hospital he was surrounded by a doctor and young interns. Remarking on the position of the entrance and exit wounds, the doctor asked his students to name all the organs that the bullet had missed. In other words, “Why is this man still alive?” The bullet had been at the end of its trajectory and did not have sufficient force to damage him further. Half of his troop of 16 were killed and three badly wounded. (McLaurin had been killed on 9 November; Cornford would be killed on 28 December.)
Back in Britain with scanty job prospects, Knox renewed his acquaintance with Betty Baur, love ensued, and the two were married in her home state of New Jersey. Knox took a job at the Edgewood School in Greenwich, Connecticut for $50.00 a month while Betty worked on her first novel. Her first two novels appeared under her maiden name, but she subsequently took the nom de plume Bianca Van Orden (Knox regularly dedicated his books to “Bianca.”).
Knox enlisted as a private in the United States Army as soon as the school year following Pearl Harbor ended. He graduated from Officer Candidate School in November 1942 and became a naturalized American citizen in September 1943. Meanwhile, he was sent to East Anglia as a B-17 base ground defense officer. Bored by this assignment, he signed up in March 1944 for a posting undescribed but listed only as hazardous and requiring knowledge of French. His early training in languages and his fierce courage fit him well for Operation Jedburgh, a joint British-American-French operation that began after D-Day. Teams comprised of a French, Belgian, or Dutch officer, an American or British officer, and a radioman parachuted into Nazi-occupied France, Belgium, and Holland. Working with the local Resistance, the teams arranged airdrops of weapons and supplies, trained Resistance members, and ran guerilla operations while evading capture by the Germans. Among his 300 Jedburgh colleagues were future CIA director William Colby; Newsweek columnist Stewart Alsop; Lucien Conein, who went on to coordinate the coup against South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963; and John Kirk Singlaub, who commanded Special Forces in Vietnam. Knox parachuted into Brittany on 7 July 1944 with his team (“GILES”) and worked with over 2000 members of the French resistance behind the lines until the Nazis were overrun by U.S. Army units advancing into Brittany, after which the team participated in the siege of Brest.
Operation Jedburgh shifted its focus to China, but Knox pleaded for another European assignment. He was assigned to an OSS unit operating with Italian partisans in the mountainous areas of North Italy. While pinned down in the cellar of a house in Fasano, Knox spied amid the crumbled brick and broken glass the corner of a book sticking out of the rubble. It turned out to be the 1938 text of Virgil, edited by J. Albini & H. Funaioli, published by the Accademia Nazionale Virgiliana with a title page that read, “iussu Benedicti Mussolini.” Wondering if he still retained his Cambridge Latin, Knox performed a sors Vergiliana and stuck his finger in at the following passage:
Quippe ubi fas versum atque nefas; tot bella per orbem
Tam multae scelerum facies, non ullus aratro
Dignus honos, squalent abductis arva colonis,
Et curvae rigidum falces conflantur in ensem.
Hinc movet Euphrates, illinc Germania bellum;
Vicinae ruptis inter se legibus urbes
Arma ferunt; saevit toto Mars impius orbe.
Indeed right and wrong are interchanged; throughout the world
So many wars, so many forms of evil are there that the plough has
no decent role, the fields are uncared-for, the farmers all taken away,
and the curved sickles are forged into rigid swords.
Here the Euphrates, there Germany, rouses war;
Neighboring cities bear arms against each other,
Covenants between them broken.
Impious Mars rages in all the world.
The book was too large to carry with him but he swore then, “If I ever get out of this, I’m going back to the classics and study them seriously.” For his war service he received two Bronze Stars, the Croix de Guerre avec Palme a l’Ordre de l’Armée, and the notable British honor of being “Mentioned in Dispatches.”
Spared by providence and good fortune, Knox was de-mobbed in September 1945 and set about making good on his promise. Following the birth of his son, Bernard MacGregor Baur Knox (later Stevenson Professor of International History at the London School of Economics) in 1945, he applied to the graduate program at Yale on the G.I. Bill. His Yale interviewer, whom Knox claimed to be the chair, Harry Mortimer Hubbell, but was probably Bradford Welles, called him to his face “a premature anti-fascist” (an FBI euphemism for communist), yet he was accepted. He was 32. Already hired by Yale as an instructor, he received his doctorate and moved swiftly up the academic ladder, specializing in the large lecture classes on the classics in translation, a burgeoning area following the war. At about this time he was induced by his Yale colleague Maynard Mack to contribute the classics portion of an anthology entitled World Masterpieces (1956), which became the Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces (1979) and now the Norton Anthology of World Literature. Knox also edited the Norton Book of Classical Literature (1993).
His ability to draw parallels between ancient wars and recent ones, to find modern counterparts to the sufferings of Prometheus or the self-discovery of Oedipus transfixed his students, one of whom, Dick Cavett, later had him on his television show for a full hour. Another was Robert Fagles, who as a graduate student in the late 1950s took Knox’s class on Sophocles’ Ajax. A friendship developed into a partnership when Knox wrote the introductions for Fagles’ translations of Sophocles’ Theban plays, Homer and Virgil.
In the Yale of Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks, Knox was attracted to their fresh ways of encountering a text and he was mindful of the debt he owed to Virgil. His first scholarly publication, on imagery in the second book of the Aeneid, appeared in (the same year as Pöschl’s Die Dichtkunst Vergils). With it, Knox introduced New Criticism to the classical world and (with Pöschl) paved the way for numerous dissertations and studies that investigated patterns of imagery and thematic development in the works of ancient authors.
Knox applied New Critical techniques to Sophocles’ Oedipus characteristically setting Sophocles in his social context and tracing recurrent imagery in a way that was meaningful even to readers who knew no Greek. His translation of Oedipus Tyrannos (1959) was performed by the Canadian Stratford Shakespeare Festival for television and filmed by the Encyclopedia Britannica.
In 1961 he was named the first director of the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington. His Sather Lectures of 1962-3 were published as The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy (1964). In this book Knox shows by linguistic analysis of the interchanges between the hero and his/her antagonists that structurally, Sophocles uses a similar pattern in all of his plays. Analysis of character and historical context in the Antigone, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonusshow that each of his heroes is unique within this recurring structure.
During his quarter-century at the CHS, Knox built a world-class home for scholars of the ancient Greek world while enlarging his own reputation. He published widely-read essays on the vitality of classics in the modern world in The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, and many other journals. Most of these essays were collected in book form from 1979 to 1994.
He held virtually every prestigious lectureship in his field and received numerous honorary degrees. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a corresponding member of the British Academy, the Special Forces Club (London), and the Cosmos Club (Washington).
Despite his retirement from the CHS in 1985 at age 71, he maintained an active schedule of lecturing and writing. He edited with P.E. Easterling the Greek section of The Cambridge History of Classical Literature (1986), produced the Norton Anthology of Classical Literature, and the great introductions to Fagles’ Homer (1991, 1997) and Virgil (2006), as well as introductions to translations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Catullus.
Betty Baur Knox died in 2006. Her and her husband’s ashes rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
Ward Briggs, SCS Newsletter (Summer/Fall 2010); DAS 8,3:282.