An award-winning poet is set to deliver a keynote public lecture as part of a long-running series devoted to the influence of Latin and Greek literature on contemporary fields.

Fiona Benson, renowned for her work in bringing ‘the violence of Greek myth into the #MeToo era’, will deliver the 31st annual Jackson Knight Memorial Lecture at the University of Exeter.

Fiona will reflect upon the flourishing of classical themes within modern poetry – including her own – its recovery of female perspectives, and its “power to shine light into dark places”.

The event – open to the public and free to attend – is being organised by the University’s Department of Classics, Ancient History, Religion and Theology, and will be held on campus on Tuesday 14 May.

“We are very excited to welcome Fiona as this year’s Jackson Knight Memorial Lecturer,” says Rebecca Langlands, Professor of Classics and Head of Department. “Her poetry has earned widespread acclaim for the way it draws upon Greek mythology, reframing it with searing contemporary resonance.”

Fiona’s first collection, 2014’s Bright Travellers, won the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for a First Full Collection and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Her anthology Vertigo and Ghost (2019) rebranded the god Zeus as a serial rapist and earned widespread acclaim, as well as a shortlisting for the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry.

In her 2022 collection, Ephemeron, Fiona reworked the myth of the Minotaur, repositioning his mother Pasiphae at the centre of the story. And her 2023 poetry script for the Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus’ Infamous Offspring explores the Greek gods as a dysfunctional family.

Fiona joins a distinguished list of past Jackson Knight Memorial lecturers, including Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, writer C. H. Sisson, journalist Allan Massie, historian and novelist Marina Warner, and sculptor Michael Ayrton.

The series was instituted in 1967, in memory of W. F. Jackson Knight (1895-1964), a distinguished classical scholar and spiritualist who taught in the Exeter Classics Department from 1935 to 1961. Jackson Knight earned an international reputation with his many books and articles on Virgil, and his Penguin translation of Virgil’s Aeneid sold around half a million copies and stayed in print for over 40 years.

“Now in its fourth decade, the Jackson Knight Memorial Lecture series honours the legacy of an inspirational teacher and the academic community that sought to celebrate his impact,” adds Professor Langlands. “And as the founders intended, our lecturers have all distinguished themselves by the way they’ve drawn upon the Classics and forged it anew through a range of different media and modes of discourse.”

Members of the public are invited to attend the free lecture, which will be held on Tuesday 14 May at 7pm, at The Hall, Stepcote Hill. Registration for the event is essential and can be done via Eventbrite.