John Davidson

Emeritus Professor
School of Languages and Cultures


PhD (London)

Research specialties

John specialises in ancient Greek drama, researching the relationship between Sophocles’ and Euripides’ tragedies and the Homeric texts, with a related interest in performance issues associated with the Greek theatre.

He also works on Greek myth and classical motifs in New Zealand poetry and in opera.

He is also doing creative writing, especially poetry.

Current research projects

John Davidson’s research specialities are:

  • Greek literature, especially tragedy/Homer and Greek theatre.
  • Greek myth and mythography .
  • Classical influence in New Zealand literature and Wagnerian opera.

Selected publications


Presence in Absence
  • Petone Beach and Other Poems [poetry], Steele Roberts, Wellington 2018, pp. 78.72.
  • Perspectives of Pilgrimage [poetry], Fairholme Press 2017 pp. 72.
  • 'Visions of Valhalla; a poetic tribute to Richard Wagner [poetry], Steele Roberts Aotearoa, Wellington 2016, pp. 85
  • Presence in Absence [poetry], Steele Roberts, Wellington, 2013, pp. 75.
  • Soundings of Hellas [poetry], Steele Roberts, Wellington 2015, pp. 68.
  • Snapshots of Berlin, Goethe-Institut New Zealand 2014
  • Greek Drama IV: Texts, Contexts, Performance (edited by David Rosenbloom and John Davidson), Oxford: Aris and Phillips 2012, pp. viii and 328.
  • The Snake-Haired Muse: James K. Baxter and Classical Mythology (by Geoffrey Miles, John Davidson, and Paul Millar), Victoria University Press, Wellington 2011). Pp. 380.
  • European Tragedy: From Homer to Beckett (edited by John Davidson and Hansgerd Delbrück), Otago German Studies Vol. 26 (Dunedin 2011). Pp. 262.
  • Greek Drama III: Essays in Honour of Kevin Lee (edited by John Davidson, Frances Muecke and Peter Wilson), Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies Supplement 87 (London 2006) pp. xiii and 307.
  • Theatres of Action: Papers for Chris Dearden (edited by John Davidson and Arthur Pomeroy), Prudentia Supplement (Auckland 2003) pp. xiii and 237.

Articles and book chapters

  • ‘‘Challenging Orthodoxy: The “Deception Speech” in Sophocles Ajax’, Classical Philology 113 (2018) 472-82
  • Baxter, Academia and Academic Writing’, in Quarrels with Himself: Essays on James K. Baxter as Prose Writer (edited by Peter Whiteford and Geoffrey Miles), VUP (Wellington 2017) 117-36.
  • ‘Horace, Catullus, Virgil, Lucretius and Mason, in Athens to Aotearoa: Greece and Rome in New Zealand Literature and Society (edited by Diana Burton, Simon Perris and Jeff Tatum), VUP (Wellington 2017) 267-87
  • ‘Tristan and Isolde and Classical Myth’, in Theatre World: Critical Perspectives on Greek Tragedy and Comedy – Studies in Honour of Georgia Xanthakis-Karamanos (edited by Andreas Fountoulakis, Andreas Markantonatos and Georgios Vasilaros), De Gruyter (Berlin/Boston 2017) 295-310
  • ‘Greek Tragedy in New Zealand Literature’, ‘Reception of Greek Tragedy through the Centuries’, ‘Scholarship on Sophoclean Drama 18th Century to the Present’, entries in The Encyclopedia of Greek Tragedy (edited by Hanna M. Roisman), Wiley-Blackwell (Malden, MA and Oxford, 3 Vols., 2014).
  • ‘Another Link Between Sophocles and Homer? A Speculative Note’, Athenaeum 102 (2014) 213-216 – a search for the key sources of the messenger speech in Sophocles’ Electra.
  • ‘The Homer of Tragedy: Epic Sources and Models in Sophocles’, in Brill’s Companion to Sophocles (edited by Andreas Markantonatos), Brill (Leiden/Boston 2012) 245-61. – A study of the Homer/Sophocles relationship.
  • ‘Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides’, in A Companion to Sophocles (edited by K. Ormand), Wiley-Blackwell (Malden, MA and Oxford 2012) 38-52 – A study of how the three tragedians were perceived in antiquity.
  • ‘Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris and Homer’, in European Tragedy: From Homer to Beckett (edited by John Davidson and Hansgerd Delbrück), Otago German Studies Vol. 26 (Dunedin 2011) 13-26 – A study of the Homeric echoes in this Euripidean play.
  • ‘Venus/Aphrodite and James K. Baxter’, in Refashioning Myth: Poetic Transformations and Metamorphoses (edited by Jessica L. Wilkinson, Eric Parisot and David McInnis), Cambridge Scholars Publishing (Newcastle Upon Tyne 2011) 203-17 – A study of Baxter’s handling of this mythological figure/concept.
  • Marpessa and Pallene: two contested brides’, La Parola del Passato 66 (2011) 161-70 – A study of different ancient versions of two mythical stories.
  • ‘Greek Tragedy and a New Zealand Poet’, in J.R.C. Cousland and James R. Hume (edd.), The Play of Texts and Fragments: Essays in Honour of Martin Cropp ( Mnemosyne Supplement 314), Brill (Leiden and Boston 2009) 445-457 – A study of Baxter’s ‘Greek’ plays.
  • ‘Euripides’Bacchae in New Zealand Dress’, Antichthon 41 (2007) 97-108.- A study of James K. Baxter's play based on the Bacchae.
  • ‘’Greek Drama: Image and Audience(s)’, Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 48 (2005) 1-13.- A study of the promotion of Greek Drama through the centuries.
  • ‘Sophocles and Homer: Some Issues of Vocabulary’, in I.J.F. de Jong and A. Rijksbaron (edd.), Sophocles and the Greek Language (Mnemosyne Supplement 269), Brill (Leiden and Boston), 2006, pp. 25-38.- A study of some verbal links between Homer and Sophocles.
  • ‘Theatrical Production’, in Justina Gregory (ed.), A Companion to Greek Tragedy, Blackwell Publishing, Malden (MA), Oxford, and Carlton (Victoria) (2005) 194-211.- A survey of the means of production in the theatre of Dionysus at Athens.
  • ‘Carcinus and the Temple: a Problem in the Athenian Theater’, Classical Philology 98 (2003) 109-22.- Reflections on a puzzling passage in Aristotle's Poetics.
  • ‘Sophocles’ Trachiniae and the Odyssey’, Athenaeum 91 (2003) 517-23.- A study of the relationship between Homer and Sophocles.
  • ‘Olympia and the chariot-race of Pelops’, in D. Phillips and D. Pritchard (eds.), Sport and Festival in the Ancient Greek World, Classical Press of Wales, Swansea (2003) 101-22- A study of a significant mythological story and its connections with Olympia.
  • Homer and Euripides’ Troades’, Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 45, 2001, pp 65-79- reading Troades as a footnote, as it were, to the Iliad.
  • ‘Euripides, Homer and Sophocles’, Illinois Classical Studies, 24-25, 1999-2000, pp 117-128- general study of the Homeric ‘presence’ in Euripides.
  • Click here to see full list of publications by John Davidson.

Awards and achievements

  • 1962, Erasmus Scholarship
  • 1964, Senior Scholarship
  • 1965, Batterbee Prize
  • 1966, UGC Postgraduate Scholarship (overseas tenure)
  • 1980, Commonwealth Study Grant, Institute of Classical Studies, London
  • 1987 Performance Incentive Award (VUW)
  • 1990, Special Achievement in Teaching Award (VUW)
  • 1994, Visiting Fellow, School of Advanced Studies, London
  • 1999, Research and Scholarship Fund Award (VUW)
  • 1999, Excellence in Teaching Award (VUW)
  • 1999, '100 Great Teachers’ Award (VUW Alumni Association)
  • 2000, Visiting Fellow, School of Advanced Studies, London
  • 2002, Excellence in Teaching Award (VUW)
  • 2003, T.B.L. Webster Fellowship, School of Advanced Studies, London
  • 2004, National Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award – for sustained excellence
  • 2008, PGSA Victorias Awards - best lecturer in FHSS 2008
  • 2014 Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM)

Previous administrative responsibilities

  • Head of School
  • President, Australasian Society for Classical Studies.