Tony Harrison and the Classics

Dr Sandie Byrne, Associate Professor in English Literature and Creative Writing, is editor of – and contributor to – a new book on one of Britain’s leading poets: Tony Harrison.

Tony Harrison and the Classics is part of the Oxford University Press Classical Presences series, which contributes to the subject known as Classical Reception Studies. This explores how the classical world, especially Ancient Greek literature and Latin literature, have been received since antiquity – how the past has been mapped, considering the contexts, theory, and practice of the use, and abuse of classical texts and artefacts.

Poet Tony Harrison, the son of a baker, grew up in working-class Leeds in post-war ‘austerity Britain’. He won a scholarship to attend Leeds Grammar School, and later read Classics at Leeds University. A classicist from the working class, his work is noted for his outspoken politics, and its treatment of issues of class, race and power with formal brilliance and technique.

Tony Harrison and the Classics comprises 15 chapters examining the lasting importance of Harrison’s classical education, the extent of the influence of Greek and Roman texts on his subjects, themes, and styles, his contribution to knowledge and understanding of classical literature, his popularisation of classical works, and his innovative treatment of classical drama in plays which have been performed globally. 

Harrison’s work fosters debates about the role and perception of the classics and adaptations of classical literature in relation to education, ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture, accessibility, and reception.

Dr Byrne said, ‘A unifying theme of the collection is the way in which Harrison finds in classical literature fruitful matter for the articulation and dramatization of his longstanding preoccupations: language, class, access to art, and the causes and effects of war. Through his adaptations and translations, Harrison uses classical drama to stage interventions in modern politics, but neither idealises nor romanticises the ancient world, depicting inequality, bigotry, greed, and brutality.’  

Contributors to Tony Harrison and the Classics include scholars of English and/or Classical literature and theatre practitioners: Paul Bentley, Geraldine Brodie, Sandie Byrne, Helen Eastman, Edith Hall, Lorna Hardwick, Stephen Harrison, Owen Hodkinson, Romana Huk, Caroline Latham, Hallie Marshall, Lottie Parkyn, Henry Stead, and Oliver Taplin. 

The international range of contributors reflects the international reach of Harrison's work.

Some of the contributors, such as Oliver Taplin and Edith Hall, have worked with Harrison; others, such as Lorna Hardwick, are leading figures in Classical Reception Studies, and others have taught on Harrison's work for many years. 

Of the part she played in the book’s creation, Dr Byrne said, ‘My own contribution is an introduction to Harrison's work - an oeuvre that spans more than 50 years - and a chapter on the significance of some motifs and symbols from Classical Greek culture in his poetry, for example, fruit.’

The book is published by Oxford University Press (OUP). Anyone wishing to purchase a copy at a 30% discount can use the code AAFLYG6 during the checkout process on the OUP website. The discount code is good until the end of 2022.

Published 10 February 2022