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Fiona Benson, Return to the Labyrinth

at The Hall, Stepcote Hill

The 31st Jackson Knight Memorial Lecture

Event details

You are warmly invited to attend the 31st Jackson Knight Memorial Lecture, Return to the labyrinth: retelling the stories of mythical women in contemporary poetry, delivered by award-winning poet Fiona Benson, on 7pm on Tuesday 14th May 2024 at The Hall, Stepcote Hill, Exeter, followed by drinks and canapes.

Spaces are limited, so please book to reserve your place on Eventbrite: 

The speaker

Fiona Benson’s poetry has been described as bringing the violence of Greek myths into the #MeToo era. Her extraordinary lyricism, by turns brutal and tender, confronts a long tradition of patriarchal abuse, wresting classical myth and ancient poetry from centuries of receptions that have blunted the raw sickening power of their abuses and aggressions. Her anthology Vertigo and Ghost exploded onto the literary scene in 2019, winning both the Forward and Roehampton prizes, and stunning reviewers and readers with its revisiting of the classical world and its articulations of female petrification and anguish, rebranding the god Zeus as a serial rapist for all eras. In her 2022 collection, Ephemeron, she reworks the myth of the Minotaur, repositioning his mother Pasiphae at the centre of the story. Her 2023 poetry script for the Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus’ Infamous Offspring explores the Greek gods as a dysfunctional family. In this lecture she reflects on the flourishing of classical themes within contemporary poetry (including her own), its recovery of female perspectives, and its power to shine lights into dark places.

The lecture series

The Jackson Knight Memorial Lecture Series was instituted in 1967, in memory of W. F. Jackson Knight (1895-1964), Virgilian scholar and spiritualist, who taught in the Exeter Classics Department from 1935 to 1961. A distinguished classical scholar, he won international reputation with his many books and articles on Virgil, and his Penguin translation of Virgil’s Aeneid sold about half a million copies and stayed in print for over forty years. He was also a wonderfully inspiring teacher, and when he died the Jackson Knight Memorial Lecture fund was raised jointly by the students in the Department and by his friends and colleagues, to establish lectures ‘on topics connected with Latin and Greek literature, its influences on modern literature, classical anthropology, and ancient thought in all its aspects’. As the founders intended, over the years the lecturers have included not only classical scholars but also poets, novelists, artists and literary critics, including Cecil Day-Lewis, On Translating Poetry (1969), C. H. Sisson, The Poet and the Translator (1984), Allan Massie, Ancient Rome and the Historical Novel (1991), Marina Warner, The Enchantments of Circe (1998), and sculptor Michael Ayrton, whose “End Maze III’ can be seen in Queen’s Building, where the Classics Department was housed until 2006.