About Jesus College/Our community/ People
Dr Melinda Letts

Roles and subjects

College Tutor in Greek and Latin Languages



Academic Background

MA MSt DPhil (Oxon), OBE

I read Literae Humaniores at St Anne’s College, Oxford, followed by two years as Research Assistant to Professor Keith Hopkins, with whom I collaboratively authored a chapter of his book Death and Renewal (Cambridge, 1983). I then decided to try life outside academia, working first in overseas development and subsequently in a series of leadership roles in UK health charities and public bodies, for which I was appointed OBE in 2003.

I returned to academic life in 2009. My doctoral research, undertaken at Christ Church, Oxford, brought together both strands of my career in a study of the 1st century Greek doctor Rufus of Ephesus’s unique treatise on the importance of questioning patients about all aspects of their life and condition.

I am passionate about making Classics appealing and accessible to all who want to study it, no matter what background they come from, and regardless of any previous experience of ancient Greek and/or Latin. At Jesus I’ve spearheaded the introduction of Active Greek and Latin, whereby we teach grammar and texts by speaking the languages during classes. For beginners, this method noticeably speeds up the process of language acquisition; for those who already know Greek and/or Latin, it offers a route to real fluency; and it’s also, for students and tutors alike, enormously enjoyable. Our Active Greek and Latin at Jesus programme is being supported by a generous donation of £30k over three years from Jesus alumnus John Jagger.

I am Senior Member of the Oxford Ancient Languages Society, and Chair of Oxford Latinitas, both of which offer immersive teaching of Latin and ancient Greek to enable people from all backgrounds to access the ancient languages with ease and fluency.

Undergraduate teaching

I teach Greek and Latin languages to all Jesus College undergraduates, and have also taught for the Classics Faculty as part of the inter-collegiate language teaching team. I teach immersive Latin classes both in College and for the Oxford Ancient Languages Society and Oxford Latinitas.

Graduate teaching

Health, illness and medical treatment in Greco-Roman antiquity.

Greek and Latin language teaching.

Research interests

The social history of ancient medicine. Most aspects of health, illness and medical treatment in Greco-Roman antiquity.


  1. ‘On Questioning the Patient, a translation of Rufus of Ephesus, Quaestiones Medicinales‘, in Medicine, Health, and Healing in Ancient Greece and Rome (500 BCE to 500 CE): A Sourcebook, edited by Kristi Upson-Saia, Heidi Marx, and Jared Secord. University of California Press (forthcoming).
  2. ‘Ars longa, vita brevis: Active Latin in the Classroom’, in Antigone Journal, September 2021. Click here for online publication.
  3. ‘Dead Language Talking: Latin For All in the 21st Century’. Talk recorded for Digi Conference ‘What Have the Ancients Ever Done For Us?’, Trinity College Dublin, April 2021.Watch here.
  4. ‘Mental Perceptions and Pathology in the Work of Rufus of Ephesus’, in C. Thumiger and P.N. Singer, eds., Mental Illness in Ancient Medicine, 176-197. Leiden and Boston (2018).
  5. ‘Questioning the Patient, Questioning Hippocrates: Rufus of Ephesus and the Pursuit of Knowledge’, in G. Petridou and C. Thumiger, eds., Homo Patiens – Approaches to the Patient in the Ancient World, 81-103. Leiden and Boston (2016)
  6. ‘Rufus of Ephesus and the Patient’s Perspective in Medicine’, in British Journal for the History of Philosophy 22.5: 996-1020 (2014).
  7. Review of Jacques Jouanna, Greek Medicine from Hippocrates to Galen: Selected Papers (Brill, 2012), in Medical History 57, 447-449 (2013).

Other information

I’m married with two adult children, am an incorrigible bibliophile who cherishes the belief that buying books doesn’t count as spending money, and enjoy yoga, skiing (a rare treat), travelling (especially to ancient sites) and pottering about in my garden when the weather is fine.


Subject notes for courses taught at Jesus College: