Emma Dench

Emma Dench

“I was very morbid as a child,” says Emma Dench, professor of the classics and of history. “I liked dead things and dead people”—and when she visited the Roman baths in Bath, England, at seven, she says, “I realized the Romans were very, very dead.” Obsessed with them, she walked the 73.5-mile length of Hadrian’s Wall with her family at age 11. Today she teaches Latin writers like Livy and Cicero and history courses on the Roman empire. Dench’s father is the noted Shakespearean actor Jeffery Dench (her aunt is film star Dame Judi Dench) and her mother, Betty, was a speech therapist. (As a child, Emma played Peaseblossom in a 1968 film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.) The family lived near Stratford-on-Avon. Dench graduated from Wadham College, Oxford, with a double first in 1987, then taught classics for a year at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York, which proved to her that she is “a city person.” She returned to Oxford and took her D.Phil. in 1993; her dissertation, on “central Italian mountain men,” appeared as From Barbarians to New Men in 1995. (Romulus’ Asylum, on the multiethnic character of ancient Rome, came out in 2005.) Dench taught ancient history at the University of London’s Birkbeck College from 1992 until 2006, and joined the Harvard faculty in 2007. She and her husband, artist Jonathan Bowker, have a 10-year-old son, Jacob. Every summer they travel, typically in Central America. “I hate the Romans—they were violent, sexist, racist, arrogant, and not very nice to anybody who got in their way,” she says. “But I love to hate the Romans.” 

You might also like

Threats Foreign and Domestic

Joseph Nye discusses geopolitics and Harvard’s challenges.

Harvard’s New Football Coach: A Real Tiger

The magazine’s football correspondent advises fans to deal with it.

The Interim President’s Agenda

Alan Garber on campus speech, academics, and his other Harvard priorities

Most popular

Open Book: The Photographer’s Art

Robin Kelsey probes the place of photography within art.

An Ipswich Idyll

Restorations revive the grand spirit of a North Shore estate.

Harvard Corporation to Drop Law School Shield Linked to Slavery

The announcement follows a Law School committee’s recommendation to abandon the shield. 

More to explore

Photograph of Winthrop Bell 1910

Winthrop Bell

Brief life of a philosopher and spy: 1884-1965

Illustration of people talking to each other with colorful thought bubbles above their heads

Talking about Talking

Fostering healthy disagreement

Vacationing with a Purpose

New England “summer camps” for adults