Obituary: Professor H. D. Jocelyn

By Briscoe, John | The Independent (London, England), November 2, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Obituary: Professor H. D. Jocelyn


Briscoe, John, The Independent (London, England)


H. D. JOCELYN was one of a number of antipodeans who became important figures in classical scholarship in Britain.

He was born in 1933 in Bega, New South Wales, where his father was the local policeman, and received his school education there and at the Boys' High School, Canterbury, New South Wales. He graduated with first class honours from Sydney University in 1955, and proceeded to St John's College, Cambridge, where he read Part II of the classical tripos, achieving starred first class honours.

Jocelyn then began research for a PhD thesis on the fragments of the tragedies of the early Latin poet Ennius, which he completed in 1961. A revised version, The Tragedies of Ennius, was published by Cambridge University Press in 1967; it is a formidable work of exact scholarship, unlikely ever to be superseded. Much of the research was done in Italy, where he was a scholar at the British School at Rome from 1957 to 1959, and where he began the series of friendships with Italian scholars which played a large part in his life.

He published no further large-scale works on classical antiquity (a projected commentary on Plautus's play Pseudolus never came to fruition), but produced a constant stream of articles and reviews on a wide range of topics - Latin literature, particularly that of the third and second centuries BC and that which, like Ennius, is preserved only in fragments, lexicology (including a famous article on an obscene Greek verb; he was not the sort of Latinist who did not interest himself in Greek matters), metre, Roman religion, the history of classical scholarship from antiquity to the modern age (but especially that of the Renaissance).

The articles display dazzling erudition and are often equipped with copious annotation referring to bibliography from the Renaissance onwards. The reviews are always penetrating, often highly critical; he held that, as he once wrote, "some public chastisement may be salutary". In addition he collaborated with B.P. Setchell to produce in 1972 Regnier de Graaf on the Human Reproductive Organs, an annotated translation of the works on the human reproductive organs by the 17th-century Dutch physician Regnier de Graaf.

Jocelyn saw it as his duty to practise philology in the continental sense of the term - the establishment and elucidation of the text of ancient authors, the study of their vocabulary and its stylistic level, the conventions of different literary genres. He agreed with A.E. Housman that "of the duties of a Latin chair literary criticism forms no part": it would be hard to say whether he was more hostile to the practitioners of literary criticism on Greek and Latin texts in the Sixties and Seventies or to the present- day exponents of deconstruction and narratology.

In 1960 Jocelyn had returned to Sydney as Lecturer in Latin, and rose through the ranks until he was appointed to a personal chair in 1970.

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