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Oxford mourns Oliver Lyne
Josh Spero on Friday 22nd April 2005Professor Oliver Lyne, a tutor in Classics and fellow of Balliol, has died aged 60. His erudite but engaging books on Latin poetry reflected his scholarly prowess, while his jovial personality and approachability won him the affection of students as well as colleagues.
Continuing the tradition of Benjamin Jowett, the nineteenth century Master of Balliol, Professor Lyne placed great emphasis on tutorials and it was in these, as well as in informal settings such as dinner at his house, that his students gained affection and respect for him. Current Balliol Classics student Kate Tolley described him as “a considerate man, with the best interests of his students at heart, [who] was willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure they were happy academically.”
His reputation spread beyond his tutorial rooms, however. In a student poll taken to determine the best tutor in College, Lyne came top by a large majority. His unostentatious manner and his sense of humour endeared to him to those with whom he came in contact, and as a lecturer he was lively and interesting.
He saw many of his students enter careers in Classics. Dr Matthew Leigh, a former pupil of Professor Lyne and now a fellow of St Anne’s College, called him “the most wonderful tutor and truly adored by his pupils.”
Professor Jasper Griffin, his colleague in Balliol Classics over many years, said, “He was a very keen teacher, both as a popular lecturer and as a highly successful tutor.”
His work was particularly notable for the uncovering of subversive messages in Latin literature and the greater heart of darkness in the Roman world that these reflected. In Further Voices in Vergil’s Aeneid (1987), he found in the most pro-Roman of poems subtle but defiantly rebellious themes, which no scholar to date had unearthed. He made Classicists think again about the orthodoxy in Vergilian studies, opening up new lines of thought. His work was adventurous in subject, consonant with his open mind, but never less than authoritative, founded on close readings and rigorous investigation.
This did not mean at all that he lacked the gentle touch needed for appreciation of the lighter elements of Latin poetry or the humanity to understand the emotional overtones of his subject. On the contrary: his work on Latin erotic poetry, emerging as The Latin Love Poets (1980), was as influential as his work on Vergil, but it never lost sight of the romance, passion and laughter so important to it.
Professor Lyne attended Highgate School, then became a scholar of St. John’s College, Cambridge. Before his appointment at Balliol in 1971, he was a research fellow at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and a Fellow of Churchill College. He became a Professor of Classical Languages and Literature after three decades in Oxford, in 2001.
Under Professor Lyne, Professor Jasper Griffin and Dr. Oswyn Murray, Balliol became, in the words of The Daily Telegraph, “the most famous and successful classical school in the English-speaking world.” With the death of Professor Lyne and the recent retirements of Professor Griffin and Dr Murray, a great era not only in Balliol Classics but in Classics for the University has ended.
Oliver Lyne suffered a cerebral haemorrhage at his holiday home in the Marche, Italy, where he spent much of his free time, practising his Italian. He is survived by his wife Linda, their son and daughter.
Balliol will be remembering Oliver Lyne on Saturday 21 May in Hall at 2.15pm. All are welcome.ARCHIVE: 0th week TT 2005