Eric A. Havelock

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Eric Alfred Havelock (3 June 1903 – 4 April 1988) was a British classicist who spent most of his life in Canada and the United States.

He was a professor at the University of Toronto and was active in the Canadian socialist movement during the 1930s. In the 1960s and 1970s, he served as chair of the classics departments at both Harvard and Yale. Although he was trained in the turn-of-the-20th-century Oxbridge tradition of classical studies, which saw Greek intellectual history as an unbroken chain of related ideas, Havelock broke radically with his own teachers and proposed an entirely new model for understanding the classical world, based on a sharp division between literature of the 6th and 5th centuries BC on the one hand, and that of the 4th on the other.

Much of Havelock's work was devoted to addressing a single thesis: that all of Western thought is informed by a profound shift in the kinds of ideas available to the human mind at the point that Greek philosophy converted from an oral to a literate form. The idea has been very controversial in classical studies, and has been rejected outright both by many of Havelock's contemporaries and modern classicists. Havelock and his ideas have nonetheless had far-reaching influence, both in classical studies and other academic areas. He and Walter J. Ong (who was himself strongly influenced by Havelock) essentially founded the field that studies transitions from orality to literacy, and Havelock has been one of the most frequently cited theorists in that field; as an account of communication, his work profoundly affected the media theories of Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan. Havelock's influence has spread beyond the study of the classical world to that of analogous transitions in other times and places.



  • The Lyric Genius of Catullus, Oxford: Blackwell, 1939.
  • The Crucifixion of Intellectual Man, Incorporating a Fresh Translation into English Verse of the Prometheus Bound of Aeschylus, Boston: Beacon Press, 1950; repr. as Prometheus, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1968.
  • The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics, Yale University Press, 1957, IA.
  • Preface to Plato, Harvard University Press, 1963, PDF; 1982, 342 pp. [1]
    • Prefacio a Platón, Madrid: Visor Distribuciones, 1994, PDF, Scribd. (Spanish)
  • Prologue to Greek Literacy, University of Cincinnati Press, 1971, 61 pp.
  • Origins of Western Literacy, Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 1976, 88 pp.
  • The Greek Concept of Justice: From Its Shadow in Homer to Its Substance in Plato, Harvard University Press, 1978, PDF.
  • The Literate Revolution in Greece and its Cultural Consequences, Princeton University Press, 1981.
    • A revolução da escrita na Grécia e suas conseqüências culturais, Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1996, Scribd/ch 3, Scribd/ch 4, Scribd/ch 9. (Brazilian Portuguese)
  • The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present, Yale University Press, 1986, 144 pp, Log, PDF; 1988, 154 pp.
    • La musa aprende e escribir: Reflexiones sobre oralidad y escritura desde la Antigüedad hasta el presente, trans. Luis Bredlow Wenda, Barcelona: Paidós, 1996, 188 pp, PDF. (Spanish)

Edited books[edit]

  • with Jackson P. Hershbell, Communication Arts in the Ancient World, New York: Hastings House, 1978, xiv+162 pp, Log.

Papers, book chapters[edit]

  • "The Evidence for the Teaching of Socrates", Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 65 (1934), pp 282-295, PDF.
  • "Parmenides and Odysseus", Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 63 (1958), pp 133-143, PDF.
  • "The Pre-Literacy and the Pre-Socratics", Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 13:1 (Dec 1966), pp 44-67, PDF.
  • "The Preliteracy of the Greeks", New Literary History 8:3 (1977), pp 369-391, PDF.
  • "The Alphabetization of Homer", in Communication Arts in the Ancient World, eds. Havelock and Hershbell, New York: Hastings House, 1978, pp 3-21.
  • "The Ancient Art of Oral Poetry", in Philosophy & Rhetoric 12:3 (Summer 1979), pp 187-202, PDF.
  • "Chinese Characters and the Greek Alphabet", Sino-Platonic Papers 5 (Dec 1987), 4 pp, PDF. Adapted from The Literate Revolution in Greece and Its Cultural Consequences, 1982, pp 51-53, 326-327, and 346-348.
  • "The Double Vision of Greek Tragedy", The Hudson Review 37:2 (Summer 1984), pp 244-270, PDF.
  • "The Alphabetic Mind: A Gift of Greece to the Modern World", Oral Tradition 1:1 (1986), pp 134-150, PDF, PDF.
  • "The Cosmic Myths of Homer and Hesiod.pdf", Oral Tradition 2:1 (1987), pp 31-53, PDF,PDF.
  • "The Greek Legacy", in Communication in History: Technology, Culture, Society, eds. David Crowley and Paul Heyer, 3rd ed., New York: Longman, 1999, pp 54-60, PDF, PDF.