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Annual Helen F. North Lecture

Helen F. North Lecture

Helen F. North, Professor Emerita.
Read a profile of Professor North in the College Bulletin

The Helen F. North Lecture fund was established by the late Charles F. C. Ruff '60 and Susan Willis Ruff '60 and is supported by many others in honor of Helen North, Centennial Professor of Classics Emeritus, who taught at Swarthmore from 1948 to 1991.

2023-2024 Lecture

Eleanor Dickey, Professor of Classics at the University of Reading, will present the twenty-first Helen North lecture on Friday, April 5, 2024. 

2022-2023   Lecture

Deborah Roberts '71, Professor Emerita of Classics and Comparative Literature at Haverford College, will present the twentieth Helen North lecture on Monday, April 24, 2023 at 5:00 pm in Science Center 199.  "Translating Homosexuality in Text and Image: Jack Lindsay and his Illustrators" will explore the verbal and visual representation of male homosexuality in four limited-edition translations of Greek and Roman texts, from what we might call the relatively respectable if still 'racy' end of the spectrum of unexpurgated versions in the early twentieth century.  All four are the work of Jack Lindsay, with three different illustrators, and were published between 1927 and 1932.  Professor Roberts' focus will be with words, with pictures, and with the relationship between them, as well as with the modes of ambivalence, evasion, and suggestion that qualify the translations' ostensible embrace of sexuality and complicate their appeal to the reader. 

2019-2022 Lectures Canceled

2018-2019 Lecture

Sarah Spence, Editor, Speculum Medieval Academy of America, will present the nineteenth annual Helen North lecture on Wednesday, April 29, 2019 at 4:30 pm in Science Center 199.

2017-2018 Lecture

David F. Elmer, Professor of Classics, Harvard University, will present the eighteenth annual Helen North lecture on Monday, March 26, 2018 at 4:30 pm in Science Center 199.


2016-2017 Lecture

Joseph Farrell, Professor of Classical Studies and Mark K. and Esther W. Watkins Professor in the Humanities, University of Pennsylvania, will present the seventeenth annual Helen North lecture on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 at 4:30 pm in Science Center 199. "The Sacks of Rome, 390 BC-AD 2017" will explore how the city of Rome is a symbol of civilization's power and durability, but also of its fragility and vulnerability to the forces of barbarism and chaos. A series of invasions and attacks, both literal and metaphorical, describe a tragicomic history of ruin and renewal that is unparalleled in the experience of any one city, but resonates with that of all cities. Versions of "the sack of Rome" as a theme in history, myth, poetry, art, criticism, travel literature, cinema, and popular culture contrast sharply with one another, and yet collectively they draw from and contribute to what has proven to be a most enduring source of artistic inspiration and philosophical reflection. 

2015-2016 Lecture

Marilyn B. Skinner, Professor of Classics Emerita, University of Arizona, will present the sixteenth annual Helen North lecture on Tuesday, March 15, 2016 at 4:30 pm in Science Center 199.

2014-2015 Lecture

Jas Elsner, the Humfrey Payne Senior Research Fellow in Classical Archaeology and Art, at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, will present the fifteenth annual Helen North lecture on Friday, April 10, 2015 at 4:30 p.m. in Science Center 101. 

2013-2014 Lecture

Christopher Pelling, the Regius Professor of Greek, Faculty of Classics, at Christ Church, Oxford, will present the fourteenth annual Helen North lecture on Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 4:30 pm in the Scheuer Room, Kohlberg Hall: "Parallel Nostalgias: Plutarch on the Greek and Roman Past".  

Christopher Pelling became the Regius Professor of Greek at Christ Church in 2003, where he had earlier been a Senior Scholar.  He also served for twenty-nine years as a Fellow and Praelector in Classics at University College.

His books include "Plutarch: Life of Antony" (1988), "Literary Texts and the Greek Historian" (2000), and "Plutarch and History" (2002).

2012-2013 Lecture

Julia Gaisser, Eugenia Chase Guild Professor Emerita in the Humanities at Bryn Mawr College, will present the thirteenth annual Helen North Lecture on Monday, April 22 at 4:30 in the Scheuer Room, Kohlberg Hall. 

After taking her A.B. in Classics at Brown University, she went as a Marshall Scholar to the University of Edinburgh, where she earned a Ph.D. in Greek, and from there to Harvard University for an A.M. in Classical Studies. After teaching briefly at several institutions, including a stint as a leave replacement at Swarthmore College, she spent most of her career in the Department of Latin at Bryn Mawr College.

She was a founder and editor of the Bryn Mawr Latin Commentaries and is an associate editor of the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, the I Tatti Renaissance Library, and Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum. She has been a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar and has given the Martin Classical Lectures at Oberlin College. She was awarded the Goodwin Award of Merit by the American Philological Association, and she is a member of the American Philosophical Society

Her principal research interests are Latin poetry and the reception of Latin literature from antiquity to the present. She is the author of numerous articles and several books, including Catullus and His Renaissance Readers (Oxford), The Fortunes of Apuleius and the Golden Ass (Princeton), and Catullus (Blackwell Introductions to the Ancient World). Her most recent book, an edition and translation of Giovanni Pontano's Dialogues (vol. 1), was published by the I Tatti Renaissance Library in 2012. She is now working on the second volume.

2011-2012 Lecture

H. Alan Shapiro, W.H. Collins Vickers Professor of Archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, will present the twelfth annual Helen North Lecture on Thursday, March 29 at 4:30 in Science Center 101.

Alan Shapiro graduated from Swarthmore in 1971 with a major in Greek. He received an M.A. in Greek from the University of California at Berkeley and a PhD in Classical Archaeology from Princeton. He taught at Columbia, Tulane, Stevens Tech and the University of Canterbury (New Zealand) before taking up his current position. He is the author of several books on Greek art, mythology, and religion, including Art and Cult under the Tyrants in Athens and Myth Into Art: Poet and Painter in Classical Greece. In 2008-2009, he co-organized the exhibition "Worshipping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens," at the Onassis Cultural Center in New York and the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

2010-2011 Lecture

Thomas Mitchell will present the eleventh annual Helen North Lecture "Athenian Democracy: Origins and Ideals" on Thursday, March 3 at 7:30 p.m. in Science Center 101.

Thomas Mitchell was Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, from 1991 to 2001, and has been director or chair of numerous philanthropic and intellectual organizations, including the Irish Council for Science, Engineering and Technology, the Ireland National Children's Trust, the Press Council of Ireland, and the Atlantic Foundation. He earned a BA in Latin and Greek from University College, Galway, and a Ph.D. in Classics from Cornell University. He was a member of the Swarthmore Classics Department from 1966 to 1979 after which he was Professor of Latin and then Provost at Trinity College. He is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and the American Philosophical Society, has been elected a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford and St. John's College, Cambridge, and holds eight honorary doctorates. He is the author of a number of important studies of Roman government and politics, including an authoritative two volume biography of Cicero.

Past Lectures

2009-10 Lecture

"Cultural Appropriation: The case of medieval Ecternach and Napoleonic France"

by Carmela Vircillo Franklin, Director, American Academy in Rome and Professor of Classics, Columbia University

Tuesday, February 2, 2010, 4:15 p.m., Scheuer Room, Kohlberg Hall

2008-09 Lecture

Helen F. North lecture 2007"Made-to-Order Antiquities: Displaying and Restoring Ancient Sculpture in the Early Modern Period (XVI-XVIII Centuries)"

by Miranda Marvin, Professor of Art and Classical Studies, Wellesley College

January 28, 2009, 4:15pm, Scheuer Room, Kohlberg Hall

The way we feel about the ancient sculpture we own or admire is visible in the way we treat it. If we look at how people in the early modern period restored and displayed ancient sculpture, we learn a great deal about their peculiar tastes and mind-set.

Miranda Marvin was a Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology major at Bryn Mawr College, spent a year as a member of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, and received a PhD from Harvard in 1973. She has participated in excavations at Corinth, Gezer (Israel) and Idalion (Cyprus), where she was Field Supervisor and Director of the Idalion Survey. She has taught at Boston University, and twice as Robert Sterling Clark Visiting Professor of Art History at the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art (1985, 2007). Principally, however, she has taught at Wellesley College (since 1971), where she is now Professor of Art and of Classical Studies and Director of the Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology Program.

She has been a Getty Research Institute Scholar, a Fellow of the Clark Art Institute, a Trustee and Resident in Classical Studies of the American Academy in Rome. Apart from excavation reports, most of her publications have been devoted to Roman sculpture—either in its ancient context or its presentation in later European scholarship and collecting.

Her book, The Language of the Muses: The Dialogue between Roman and Greek Sculpture, was published in 2008 by the J. Paul Getty Museum Press. Her current book project is a joint edition (with Professor Bruce Redford of Boston University) of the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Earl of Elgin's Collection (London 1816). This was the committee that recommended that the British Government purchase the Parthenon sculptures for the British Museum.


Professor David Porter

"Across the Divide: Horatian Variations"

David Porter's lecture focused on a trajectory that appears, with significant variations, in several collections of Horace's poetry. Horace often begins with poems that suggest the inclination to escape, to withdraw, but by the ends of his collections, he is instead moving towards engagement and even confrontation. Though Porter will focus on Horace's Odes I-III and on Epistles I, he will as well discuss the tension between escape and engagement in other authors, among them Willa Cather.

David Porter is Harry C. Payne Visiting Professor of Liberal Arts at Williams College. He received his B.A. from Swarthmore in 1958 and his Ph.D. (in classics) from Princeton in 1962. During that same period he studied piano with Edward Steuermann in Philadelphia and New York (1955-62), and in 1970 and 1977 he traveled to Amsterdam to study harpsichord with Gustav Leonhardt. Before coming to Williams in 1999, he held a dual appointment in classics and music at Carleton College (1962-87) and served as president of Carleton (1986-87) and Skidmore Colleges (1987-99). In 1994-95 he was a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, and in the fall of 2008 he will be the Case Visiting Professor of Classics at Indiana University.

David Porter is the author of books on Horace and Greek tragedy and of three monographs on Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury, and coeditor (with Gunther Schuller and Clara Steuermann) of a book on Edward Steuermann. He has written numerous articles on topics in classics, music, and 20th century literature and has contributed op-ed pieces to the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Chronicle of Higher Education. His book, On the Divide: The Many Lives of Willa Cather, will be published in 2008 by the University of Nebraska Press, and a second book on Cather, co-authored with a colleague at Drew University, is nearing completion.

As a pianist he has given recitals and lecture-recitals, principally of twentieth-century music, at colleges and universities throughout the country. Among works he has performed in recent years are Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano, and George Crumb's Makrokosmos III. This coming year he will be giving several performances of Charles Ives' Concord Sonata.


January 25, 2007. Our guest lecturer was Glenn W. Most who is Professor of Ancient Greek at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, and teaches at the University of Chicago in the Committee on Social Thought and in the Departments of Classics and of Comparative Literature. His lecture was entitled "The Child is the Father of the Man: From Rushdie to Homer, and Back."

In this lecture, Professor Most considered the relation between childhood experiences and adult character, as this has been conceived in antiquity and in our own culture. It begins with a comparison between the Iliad and Salmon Rushdie's novel Fury, and goes on to consider in more detail the evidence for connections between trauma in childhood and adult personality in the ancient world.


January 26, 2006. Ann Ellis Hanson, Senior Research Scholar and Senior Lector at the Yale University Classics Department, delivered a talk entitled, "Hippocrates, Galen, Pseudo-Galen and Other Ancients: When Does a Fetus Become a Living Creature?" Hanson examined the Greek and Roman medical writers and how they view the fetus in various stages of development from liquid seed to potentially living creature.


January 25, 2005. Our guest lecturer was Denis Feeney, Professor of Classics and Giger Professor of Latin at Princeton University.

Read a summary of his lecture entitled "Why is there a Latin literature? Greeks, Romans, and Italians in middle-Republican Italy" in the Daily Gazette.


January 29, 2004. Professor Anthony T. Grafton, the eminent scholar of Renaissance humanism, delivered a lecture on the classical tradition and intellectual history entitled "Bartleby the Philologist: The Social Context of the First Critical Editions." Professor Grafton is Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton University.


January 30, 2003. Guest lecturer, Michael C. J. Putnam, William Duncan MacMillan II Professor of Classics at Brown University, spoke on "Virgil and History." His lecture will explored the tension between two very distinct approaches to history in the Aeneid: a teleological view of history that anticipates the grand destiny of Rome, and a more cyclical notion of history suggesting that there are constants in human nature such as anger and the need for revenge.


January 29, 2002. "'Friendship is a virtue or involves virtue': Philia in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics" by Alexander Nehamas '67, the Edmund N. Carpenter II, Class of 1943, Professor in the Humanities and professor of philosophy and comparative literature at Princeton University. He is also the chair of Princeton's Council of the Humanities and director of the Princeton Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts and the Program in Hellenic Studies.


January 30, 2001. Elaine Fantham, Giger Professor of Latin Emerita at Princeton University, delivered the first Annual Helen F. North Lecture entitled "Three Wise Men and the End of the Roman Republic." Her lecture considered the careers of Cicero, Varro and Cato the Younger, and the defeat of Republican forces at the Battle of Pharsalus.