Classics - Famous Classicists

Famous Classicists

Throughout the history of the Western world, many classicists have gone on to gain acknowledgement outside the field.

  • Mary Beard (classicist), Classics lecturer at Cambridge, has presented Classical educational programmes
  • George Berkeley, philosopher, read Classics at Trinity College, Dublin, where he was also Junior Lecturer in Greek
  • John Buchan, writer and politician, who served as Governor General of Canada.
  • Sir James George Frazer, poet and anthropologist
  • Stephen Fry, British, famous comedian and television presenter
  • Edward Gibbon, English historian and Member of Parliament who wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • William Ewart Gladstone, 19th century British Prime Minister, studied classics at Oxford University
  • A.E. Housman, best known to the public as a poet and the author of A Shropshire Lad, was the most accomplished (and feared) textual critic of his generation and held the Kennedy Professorship of Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1911 until his death in 1936.
  • Boris Johnson, British Conservative politician and current Mayor of London; studied classics at Balliol College, Oxford.
  • Søren Kierkegaard, philosopher, theologian, and social critic, studied classical philosophy and received a Master of Arts for a dissertation on Socratic thought, entitled On the Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates. Kierkegaard spent much of his philosophical career studying and refining his views of Socrates.
  • T.E. Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia; British military officer and a key figure in the Arab Revolt 1916-18 read Classics at Jesus College, Oxford. He translated the Odyssey.
  • Karl Marx, philosopher and political thinker, studied Latin and Greek and received a Ph.D. for a dissertation on ancient Greek philosophy, entitled "The Difference between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature." His classical background is reflected in his philosophies—indeed the term "proletariat" which he coined came from that Latin word referring to the lowest class of citizen.
  • John Milton, author of Paradise Lost and English Civil War figure; studied, like many educated people of the time, Latin and Greek texts, which influenced Paradise Lost
  • Theodor Mommsen, author of History of Rome and works on Roman law; German politician, delegate in the Reichstag during the German Empire period
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher; became Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Basel in Switzerland at the age of 24. His most famous books on the subject are The Birth of Tragedy and Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks.
  • Enoch Powell, British Conservative and later Ulster Unionist politician; wrote and edited texts on Herodotus
  • Oscar Wilde, nineteenth-century playwright and poet; studied classics at Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford
  • P.G. Wodehouse, writer, playwright, lyricist and creator of Jeeves; studied classics at Dulwich College

Most other pre-twentieth century Oxbridge playwrights, poets and English scholars studied classics before English studies became a course in its own right. Also many civil servants, politicians, etc. studied classics at Oxford University, by taking a course in Greats, up till the 1920s, when Modern Greats started to become more influential.

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