Richard Tarrant was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and educated at Fordham University (B.A. 1966) and Corpus Christi College, Oxford (D. Phil. 1972).
Professor Tarrant taught at the University of Toronto from 1970 until 1982, when he joined the Harvard faculty. He served as Chairman of the Department from 1988 to 1994 (with a year's leave in 1991-92, when he was Mellon Visiting Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and Visiting Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford); in 1995-96 he was Acting Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and in 2012 he served as Interim Dean of GSAS. In 1998 he received the Joseph R. Levenson Award for undergraduate teaching, in 1999 he was appointed a Harvard College Professor, and in 2010 he received the Phi Beta Kappa Award for Excellence in Teaching.
His professional activities include past service to the American Philological Association as a Director, member of the Program Committee, and Vice-President for Publications; in 2003 he was nominated as a candidate for President. He is a member of the editorial boards of Toronto Medieval Latin Texts, Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries, and Materiali e discussioni per l'analisi dei testi classici. He was Editor of Phoenix (the journal of the Classical Association of Canada) from 1978 to 1982 and has edited four volumes of Harvard Studies in Classical Philology.
His main areas of interest are Latin literature (primarily though not exclusively poetry), Greek and Roman drama (principally tragedy), and the transmission and editing of classical Latin texts.
Among his major publications are editions with commentary of Seneca's Agamemnon (Cambridge UP 1977) and Thyestes (Scholars Press 1985), the Oxford Classical Texts edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses (2004), and an edition with commentary of Virgil, Aeneid XII (Cambridge UP 2012). He is one of the co-authors of Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics, edited by L. D. Reynolds (Oxford UP 1983), and is a contributor to the Oxford Handbook of Greek and Latin Textual Criticism (forthcoming). His articles and reviews include studies of Virgil, Horace, Ovid, ps-Ovid, and Seneca, as well as discussions of problems in textual criticism (e.g., interpolation in poetic texts). His book, Texts, Editors, and Readers: Methods and Problems in Latin Textual Criticism is due out from Cambridge UP in early 2016. He is currently finishing a book on Horace's Odes for the Oxford Approaches series, and has hopes of doing a new OCT edition Horace.
His commentary on Aeneid XII received the Goodwin Award of Merit from the Society for Classical Studies in 2013 and the Premio Virgilio from the Accademia Nazionale Virgiliana in 2015. In 2014 he was elected to the American Philosophical Society.
At the undergraduate level he has taught both departmental courses and a course in the General Education Curriculum on "The Rome of Augustus"; graduate seminars he has given have included Latin Palaeography, Ovid's Metamorphoses, Horace's Odes, Latin Elegy, Augustan Questions, and Textual Criticism: Theory and Practice.