Professor Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones

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Classics scholar whose colourful style made him one of the leading Hellenists of his time

Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford from 1960 to 1989, was one of the leading Hellenists of the second half of the 20th century. His education began at the French Lycee in London, where he acquired a fine command of the language, and from there he went to Westminster, where his contemporaries included his future Oxford colleague, the distinguished philosopher David Pears, and to Christ Church, Oxford. After completing the first part of the classics course he was called up and served in India in a unit entrusted with the task of translating decoded Japanese military communications. These duties did not always keep him at a safe distance from the battle front, and at one point he was involved in an action where the two sides lobbed grenades at each other across an area the size of a tennis court. Another enduring memory was of an advance during the night after a successful engagement; in the torrid conditions of the jungle the corpses of the Japanese casualties had been reduced to skeletons that glistened in the moonlight.

After the war, though his linguistic ability would have guaranteed him a fine career as an orientalist, he was not tempted to abandon his chosen career. On completing the classics course he was appointed to a fellowship at Jesus College, Cambridge, where his pupils included John Gould, who later held the chair of Greek at Bristol with distinction. After six years he moved back to Oxford to become the first holder of the E.P. Warren Praelectorship in Classics at Corpus Christi, where he arrived at the start of 1955, having been delayed by tuberculosis.

His new post had been endowed by an eccentric American benefactor who did not wish the holder to teach women; Hugh lessened the effect of this highly unwelcome restriction by giving joint classes with his Wadham colleague Tom Stinton, in whose name the classes were advertised.

For Corpus undergraduates tutorials with the Praelector were conducted in a small study in his house just by the college in Magpie Lane; they were often graced by a semi-Persian cat who might jump on to the table and sit on the pupil's work. This was the signal for a switch to more general conversation, in the course of which the pupil heard many unflattering but thoroughly deserved comments about eminent political figures of the recent past. In the puritanical atmosphere of today's universities such digressions would be frowned on; but any pupil worthy of a place at Oxford recognised at once that the tutor was a person of phenomenal learning and brilliance who provided a wonderful stimulus.

The same qualities were shown to even greater advantage in the seminars he conducted regularly after his election to the Regius chair in 1960, continuing the tradition imported from Germany by Eduard Fraenkel, the Corpus professor of Latin. The art of textual criticism was displayed with magisterial skill. Often 20 or more students attended, most of them graduates, but undergraduates sometimes came if recommended by their tutors or if the theme was linked to a paper in finals. The reputation of the seminars drew many students from other universities, including some from Germany, Italy and further afield. …