Ruth Padel, Professor of Poetry: the Jane Harrison Memorial Lecture

You are warmly invited to the annual Jane Harrison Lecture, given by Ruth Padel, Professor of Poetry at King’s College London.

Divinity, Hormones and the Forest

For the Jane Harrison Lecture, Ruth Padel will bring together different strands of her work – on tragedy and Greek religion, poetry and Charles Darwin, science, nature, and wildlife conservation – to ask how we respond to the destruction of wilderness today.

Ruth Padel will explore ways of understanding the ancient Greeks’ relations with their gods, suggested by discoveries in physiology, archaeology, psychology and biology, made at the time Harrison was writing. She will suggest metaphors, drawn from ways we ourselves understand the world, for the operation of divinity on human emotions and bodies in a polytheistic society – especially divinities associated with nature and wildness.

Can such metaphors help us think about our relation to the nature and wilderness we now see disappearing and degrading?

Ruth Padel, Professor of Poetry at King’s College London and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, is both a distinguished poet and a passionate wildlife conservationist.

She is the author of twelve acclaimed poetry collections, most recently Beethoven Variations, a stunning biography of Beethoven in verse, described by Ilya Kaminsky as ‘a miracle’. The Mara Crossing explores migration in all its forms, from evolution, to animal migration, to human movement today. A great-great-grandaughter of Charles Darwin, she grew up in a family that loved and respected nature. In her eco-travel book, Tigers in Red Weather, she explored conservation today and Darwin’s legacy, a theme which became her verse biography of Darwin. She is a Life Fellow of the Zoological Society of London, and has served as one of its Trustees. Padel, however, is a classicist by training, taught by E. R. Dodds, and has written two works on madness and mind in Greek Tragedy.

The Jane Harrison Memorial Lecture has been hosted by Newnham since 1928. It was created to honour the memory of Jane Ellen Harrison (1850-1928) who studied and lectured in Classics at the college, and was renowned for her public lectures on Greek art and for her unconventional and outspoken views. She wrote on a variety of subjects, from the Russian language and literature to women’s suffrage and herself.

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