Kenneth J. Reckford (b. 1933) was born in New York and attended Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard University, where he received his AB in 1954 and his PhD in Classical Philology in 1957. After three years as an instructor at Harvard, he joined the faculty of the Department of Classics at UNC-Chapel Hill as an Assistant Professor in 1960, and rose through the ranks as Associate Professor (1964), full Professor (1969), and finally Kenan Professor of Classics (1994). After his retirement in 2003 he held the position of Langford Eminent Scholar at Florida State University (Spring 2009).
The original focus of Professor Reckford’s research, and the subject of his first published articles (1958-60), was Horace, especially the Odes, but he soon extended the range of his expertise with articles on, first, Vergil (1961) and Persius (1962), and, a few years later, Aristophanes (1967) and Euripides (1968). All four writers remained a focus of his research for years to come, and the subject of numerous other articles. In 1969 he published a general study of Horace as part of the Twayne World Authors series. His work on Aristophanes reached an initial summation with his volume Aristophanes’ Old-and-New Comedy I: Six Essays in Perspective (UNC Press, 1987), and he published, in collaboration with the poet Janet Lembke, two translations of plays of Euripides, Hecuba in 1991 and Electra in 1994 (both Oxford University Press). In 1999 he delivered the Martin Lectures in Classics at Oberlin College, which he revised and published after his retirement as Recognizing Persius (Princeton University Press, 2009). His interests, however, range still more widely. He has published two substantial articles on Samuel Johnson (‘Horace through Johnson’, Arion 18.3 and 19.1, 2011), as well as (among others) T. S. Eliot, Tom Stoppard, and L. Frank Baum.
During his time at Carolina, Professor Reckford regularly taught Roman comedy and satire on both the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as Aristophanes, Plato, Lucretius, Virgil, and Horace’s Odes. He also for many years taught a famous undergraduate lecture course on “The Heroic Journey” that is fondly remembered by many of the students who had the good fortune to take it. In recognition of his outstanding undergraduate teaching, Professor Reckford was appointed to a Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professorship in 1981-84. On the graduate level, he was frequently sought out as a graduate supervisor and mentor, and directed some twenty-seven MA theses and eighteen PhD dissertations over the course of his years at Carolina. Among his doctoral students were Jane Snyder, Carol Begley, Debbie Felton, and Matthew Panciera. His interests in Roman comedy extended beyond teaching the texts in the classroom to staging them in the theater. One four separate occasions, the last time in 1991, he directed a play of Plautus in the original Latin, which were performed by members of the Department in Murphey Hall.
Professor Reckford also has a long record of service in professional associations, serving as the president of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South in 1975-76 and of the American Philological Association in 2001-02.