ELIZABETH RAWSON, the author of this book, died suddenly and unexpectedly, at the age of 54, in Beijing, People's Republic of China, on 10 December 1988. A Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, she had been on an exchange visit to the university of Nankai at Tianjin, where she had been teaching Latin, Greek, and ancient history to Chinese graduate students. Her task had been completed, to the great satisfaction of her hosts, and she was about to return home when she was taken ill and died within a few hours.
Her readiness to interrupt the quiet tenor of her life at Oxford for the sake of what proved to be a fatally exhausting journey was characteristic of her openness to all new forms of cultural and aesthetic experience. Born into a cultivated middle-class family and receiving at St Paul's and Somerville the best education open to girls of her generation, Elizabeth Rawson combined classical learning with a profound interest in European art, architecture, literature, and music in the post-classical era. She was an excellent linguist and a person of refined tastes and sensibility. In China she was an indefatigable sightseer and her letters to her friends combine wry accounts of the hardships of Chinese life with warm appreciation of the mountains, gardens, buildings, and scenery.
As a young woman she suffered a prolonged period of ill health and her academic career took longer to get under way than might have been expected after her brilliant undergraduate record. She was a Fellow of New Hall, Cambridge, for twenty-one years and developed a warm affection for that college. But she was not given a lectureship by Cambridge University and it was only after her migration to Oxford in 1980 that she secured the recognition she deserved. As Fellow and Tutor in Ancient History at Corpus she played a central role in the life of the College. She was Master of Common Room, Assistant Dean, Garden Master, and general arbiter elegantiae. Her kindly presence was welcoming to guests and her cultivated fastidiousness exerted a civilizing influence upon her colleagues and pupils alike.