Fagles, Lewis awarded National Humanities Medal

Robert Fagles

Robert Fagles

Photo: Denise Applewhite

Bernard Lewis

Bernard Lewis

Photo: Alan Kolc

Princeton scholars Robert Fagles, a renowned translator of Greek classics, and Bernard Lewis, one of the world's leading authorities on the Middle East, have been awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Bush.

The medal honors those whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of and engagement with the humanities or helped preserve and expand access to important resources in the humanities. Fagles and Lewis were among 10 individuals and organizations presented with the award at a White House ceremony Thursday, Nov. 9.

"Bob Fagles and Bernard Lewis are exceptional scholars and gifted teachers with international reputations as leaders in their fields," said Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman. "The world has benefited enormously from the insight and creativity of their scholarship, and generations of Princeton students and faculty have been inspired by their presence on our campus. We are delighted to see them receive this well-deserved recognition of their contributions to the humanities."

Fagles is the Arthur Marks '19 Professor of Comparative Literature Emeritus. He is widely acclaimed for his popular translations of Homer's "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," Sophocles' "The Three Theban Plays" and Aeschylus' "The Oresteia," which have sold more than 2 million copies. He worked for nearly a decade on the translation of a Latin classic, Virgil's "The Aeneid," which was published earlier this month by Viking.

"We are all, in this country and in many others, deeply in debt to Robert Fagles, and have been for many years -- for his Sophocles translations, for his versions of 'The Iliad' and 'The Odyssey,' and now for his magnificent 'Aeneid,'" said Michael Wood, acting chair of the Department of Comparative Literature. "One of the joys of being at Princeton is to know Bob, to benefit from his friendship, his discreet intelligence, his wry wisdom, and to know that behind those splendid recreations of ancient worlds lie the imagination and sensibility of a thoroughly modern man."

Fagles' original poetry and translations have appeared in many journals and in his book of poems, "I, Vincent: Poems From the Pictures of Van Gogh." He has received numerous awards, including the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation, the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award of the Academy of American Poets, the New Jersey Humanities Book Award and Princeton's Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Fagles joined the Princeton faculty in the Department of English in 1960. Starting in 1966, he was director of the Program in Comparative Literature, which attained department status in 1975. He served as founding chair of the department from 1975 to 1994. He transferred to emeritus status in 2002.

Lewis, the Cleveland Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus, has been called the most eminent living historian of the Middle East and is considered one of the few scholars whose research and insight encompasses the entire Islamic world from the medieval to the current periods. His research includes major contributions to classical Islamic history, Ottoman and Turkish history and modern Near Eastern studies.

Sukru Hanioglu, chair of the Department of Near Eastern Studies, said Lewis is "considered one of the deans of the field. He is the author of numerous pathbreaking scholarly works that set academic standards all over the world. This latest recognition follows a long list of sterling academic accomplishments, and we commend our distinguished colleague for his brilliant and most productive academic career."

Lewis is one of the most prominent public intellectuals on the subject of the Middle East and has been sought frequently by political leaders for his perspectives on the region. He has written many influential books on the Middle East, including "From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East," "The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror," "What Went Wrong: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East" and "The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years." 

Lewis has received academic honors from organizations worldwide, including the Harvey Prize from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology for increasing awareness and understanding of Middle Eastern civilizations. He is a fellow of the British Academy, a member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Science, and has been honored by several academic societies in the Middle East.

After 25 years at the University of London, Lewis joined the Princeton faculty in 1974 and transferred to emeritus status in 1986. The University presented him with an honorary doctorate in 2002.

The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. More information on the 2006 medal winners can be found on the endowment's website.