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Mary Renault Classical Reception Essay Competition

The Principal and Fellows of St Hugh’s College, Oxford are pleased to be offering two or more prizes, worth up to £300 each, for the best essays on classical reception or influence by pupils who, at the closing date, have been in the Sixth Form of any school or college for a period of not more than two years. At least one prize will be awarded to a pupil who is studying neither Latin nor Ancient Greek to A-level standard.

Essays may stem from any discipline and should be on a topic relating to the reception or influence of classical antiquity in any period of history, up to and including the present day. Candidates may wish to discuss the reception of Greek and Roman literature, history, political thought, philosophy, or material remains in their chosen period; essays on reception within classical antiquity (for instance, responses to literary or artistic works, or to mythical or historical figures) are also permitted.

2023 winners:

Joint First

William Brem, Y12, Winchester College, for their essay entitled: Harnessing Sappho: a battle ground in the Grand Siècle

Abigail Riley, Y12, Sir John Lawes, for their essay entitled: The Sapphic Influence on Sylvia Plath’s ‘Lesbos’

Runners up

Lucia Clark, Y12, Wellington College, for their essay entitled: How Classical conceptions of the Sublime were received in English Romantic poetry

Olivia Redman, Y12, Highgate School, for their essay entitled: “quousque tandem?” An exploration of the Roman world in speeches by modern politicians

Ben Woodward, Y12, King Edward’s School, for their essay entitled: ‘Shipwrecked in the modern world’: The Reception of Sappho by H.D.

The winners and a number of those who had done particularly well were invited to tea in College in September.

2024 Poster

Cover Sheet

Mary Renault Prize Submissions Form

Please use this form to upload your submission for the Mary Renault Prize.

  • I declare that this essay is my own work and give permission for the judging panel to use licensed electronic software to examine my work for plagiarism should they wish to do so.
  • Drop files here or
    Accepted file types: docx, doc, pdf, docx, doc, pdf, docx, doc, pdf, docx, doc, pdf, Max. file size: 128 MB.
      Please upload an electronic copy of your Essay, together with the completed Cover Sheet, in Word format. Please note that Essays should be no more than 4000 words in length.

    Classics at St Hugh's

    St Hugh’s College

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFounded in 1886, St Hugh’s is now one of the largest colleges in Oxford. The College was established to offer an Oxford education to women, and it retains a strong sense of its radical tradition and of the importance of opening Oxford up to all who would do well here. St Hugh’s now accepts men and women, and welcomes students from every country and any kind of background.

    St Hugh’s has a beautiful setting just to the north of the city centre, with Edwardian buildings and some of the largest college grounds. The College is known as the ‘island site’ because of its tranquil gardens, and it is a restful place to live and work.

    Studying Classics at St Hugh’s College

    St Hugh’s College admits between 4 and 6 undergraduates a year to read Single and Joint Honours Classics. We accept students applying for the majority of schools, including: Classics I, Classics II, Classics and English, Classics and Modern Languages and Classics and Oriental Studies.

    What we look for in potential applicants is the ability to think independently, a willingness to argue, a real interest in ideas, and a commitment to the subject. We have no preference for particular subjects at A-level, International Baccalaureate or Pre-U, welcoming both pre- and post- qualification applications.

    St Hugh’s provides excellent facilities for studying Classics: the 24-hour library has unusually large and up-to-date holdings in all periods, and, as much of an undergraduate student’s academic timetable will be spent in College, the Library becomes invaluable. Our Classics Tutorial Fellow, Professor Tim Rood, has recently been awarded the prestigious Leverhulme Research Grant for a project entitled ‘Anachronism and Antiquity.’

    Classics is a wide-ranging degree, devoted to the study of the literature, history, philosophy, languages and archaeology of the Ancient Greek and Roman worlds. Oxford has the largest Classics department in the world, with outstanding teaching, library and museum resources, including the Sackler and Bodleian Libraries, the Ashmolean Museum and designated Classics Centre. The University’s Classics II degree is aimed at encouraging students who have not previously studied Ancient Greek or Latin at school, but are interested in the subject at a Higher Education level.

    For further information concerning these choices please see our course pages, or visit the University’s webpages.





    This biography below is taken from the St Hugh’s College exhibition, recently on show in the Howard Piper Library.

    ‘Eileen Mary Challans was born on 4th Sept 1905, the daughter of Frank Challans, a medical practitioner. She attended Romford House School, Forest Gate, and Clifton High School, Bristol before matriculating at St Hugh’s in Oct 1925 to read English Language and Literature, obtaining a BA (III) in 1928.

    During her time at St Hugh’s, she developed a love of ancient Greece, Crete and Macedon – a setting which resurfaced in many of her novels. Although she had initially intended to become a teacher, in 1933, after a period of illness, she returned to Oxford and became a nurse at the Radcliffe Infirmary, obtaining a nursing degree in 1936. Here she met her lifelong partner, Julie Mullard.

    She published her first novel, a hospital romance called Purposes of Love, in 1939, under the pseudonym Mary Renault, the name by which she became known. She continued to write and publish whilst nursing during WWII and her novels developed overtly homosexual themes, which she treated honestly and sympathetically. Her sixth and last non-historical novel, The Charioteer, was published in 1953. Mary moved on to writing historical novels set in Ancient Greece, eventually publishing eight, the first being The Last of the Wine in 1956 and the last Funeral Games in 1981.

    Although her portrayals of homosexuality provoked outrage in British society at the time, MGM presented her an award for her 4th novel, Return to Night, and she was able to afford to emigrate with Julie to South Africa in 1948, never to return to England. They both became South African citizens and were involved in the early anti-apartheid movement.’