Ten years ago in September 2013, Michael Parker led an event for the Irish Literary Society to celebrate the life and work of Seamus Heaney, our then President, whose passing on 30 August 2013 was such a loss to family, friends and his many admirers. We now mark the 10th anniversary of his passing with an event to reflect on Heaney’s engagement with classical literature. Heaney explained the role of the classical world in his work by observing that ‘consciousness needs coordinates, we need ways of locating ourselves in cultural as well as geographical space’. We are delighted to welcome Esther Armstrong, Stephen Harrison, Catherine Heaney, Bernard O’Donoghue, and Michael Parker to speak on this theme.
A major factor in Heaney’s turn towards classical texts from around 1983 onwards was his friendship with one of Harvard’s great classicists, Robert Fitzgerald. Three years before Heaney’s initial Harvard appointment, Fitzgerald published ‘Seamus Heaney: An Appreciation’, to accompany a selection of his poetry in an issue of The New Republic (174:13, 27 March 1976). A high proportion of the material you will be presented with tonight is hard-hitting, not surprisingly given the appalling nature of the violence that had dominated his life and that of the people of Northern Ireland over three decades.
Virgil had his River Mincius, I have my River Moyola. Virgil moved from his father’s farm in the North to a poet’s retreat outside Naples in the South, I made [a] similar move from Ulster to Wicklow to Dublin. Virgil lived through civil war in the aftermath of Julius Caesar’s assassination. I have experienced not only the civic violence of Ulster, but thanks to the age of technology, I have witnessed civil wars and ethnic conflicts all over the globe, blanket bombing and terrorist attacks.Seamus Heaney, ‘Towers, Trees, Terrors: A reverie in Urbino’, in Gabriella Morisco (ed),