Hugh Lloyd-Jones

I came across Hugh Lloyd-Jones’ work when I went through my Hellenistic phase – well it’s still with me. Though this posting doesn’t coincide with any anniversary I have had occassion through my recent reading to have Hugh on my mind – we corresponded briefly years back when I set up the MOA. Anyway, as you will see he was a formidable intellect and quite the character. Here is the late Tony Quinton’s memorial contribution – for more memorial contributions see:

I am honoured and delighted to have been given this opportunity to say a few words about my dear old friend. I am inclined to imagine that I have always known him but in fact we must have first met in Oxford in the late forties after we were demobilised. We have been close for the subsequent sixty years in which he has been a continuing source of stimulation and mischievous entertainment. We both came from the same rather dingy social background: the officer class of the declining British Empire of the inter-war years. We got better educations by securing scholarships, to the schools, appropriate in their different ways to our different characters to which we went, and then to Christ Church. Hugh was, of course, above all a classical scholar. I am, perhaps, with the possible exception of Ralph, the least qualified of those who are speaking this afternoon to speak about his achievements in that field. The Gaisford prize was not, I think, one of the numerous classical awards he won at Oxford. But he was fond of Dean Gaisford’s observation that the study of classical literature elevates above the common herd and leads not infrequently to positions of dignity and emolument. It led him to a position of dignity, the Regius chair which he held for the best part of thirty years, if not to anything very conspicuous in the way of emolument. But he did not rely on his classical learning to elevate him above the common herd. I never met anyone more richly endowed than he with the two principal requirements for a distinguished academic career: knowledge and intellectual penetration. In the classics both of these are needed on a fairly large scale for distinction. Historians can get by on the basis of a richly stored memory; philosophers on intelligence alone (G.E. Moore, for example, knew hardly anything at all but had an astonishingly clear head). Hugh’s knowledge of classical literature was at once amazingly deep and vastly comprehensive. But this was not merely luggage. He brought to his work ferocious critical powers. His knowledge and intelligence, however, were by no means confined to the domain of classic literature. He had a very wide knowledge of many other societies than those of Greece and Rome and was expert in their languages as well. At this point I shall bring out my second academic chestnut: the memorable reply of Rector Barber of Exeter College to someone who asked whether the writings of the Roman poet Manilius on which he was laboriously engaged were really worth the effect, whether Manilius was any good as a poet. ‘To be quite frank with you’, Barber replied, ‘I don’t go in much for the gush side of criticism.’ Hugh was by no means confined to the cognitive appreciation of classical literature and of the other languages with which he was familiar; he had an exact literary sensitivity. But Hugh’s mind did not excel merely on the upper and cognitive level. As all who knew him will recall, he was equipped with outsize will and emotion. The former drove him to prodigies of hard work; the latter to constant displays of powerful 5 feeling, both favourable and unfavourable of literature, of those who studied it and anything else that caught his attention. If he was interested in something he was passionately interested in it, either intensely enthusiastic or intensely hostile. On his emotional speedometer there was nothing in between full speed ahead and full speed reverse. He was incapable of being lukewarm about anything that took his interest but was either wholly committed or wholly indifferent. As for the range of his knowledge there was one matter on which he might have been thought to have known too much: namely cricket. He knew more about cricket than it is decent for anyone to know unless they are a test selector or a senior member of the editorial staff of Wisden’s Almanack. Conversation with him was an invigorating experience. Wild denunciations of disapproval of persons were relieved by occasional panegyrics about favourably regarded individuals. His gossip was essentially operatic in nature, full of thunder and lightning, even if sometimes not of the most exact historical accuracy. At this point I must remove from the fire my third and last academic chestnut: Bernard Williams’ fine answer to the question what does Western philosophy owe to the Greeks: Western philosophy. To the parallel, but broader question: what does Western civilization owe to the Greeks, Hugh would unhesitatingly have replied ‘Western civilization’. Not for him any Arnoldian equivalence of status as between Hebrew and Hellene. This inevitably carried with it a rather distinctly less than enthusiastic attitude toward Christianity. This was a somewhat paradoxical position for the holder of a chair in Christ Church, the most ostentatiously Christian college in Oxford. What marked him out rather sharply, from great Oxford unbelievers of the century preceding his own – Hobbes, Gibbon and Bentham whose attitude towards their place of education was deeply critical – is that he was devoted to Oxford. In this respect he was rather more like Newman, with whom he did not, in general, share many opinions and attitudes. From an early age, thirteen say, at which one first begins to think about such things for oneself, I like Hugh have been unable to accept the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. All those dead people we remember who used to love or be fond of us: why do they not get in touch with us? But, if at some social event I was to come across an attractive young woman in a tight-fitting dress who proceeded to address me with a series of flagrantly incorrect opinions, delivered with the utmost passion and who, in the course of the proceedings tapped herself on the chest with her fist and went on to gnaw the knuckle of her index finger I should be inclined to reconsider my position and wonder if I had not come upon a reincarnation of Hugh, although a strikingly frivolous one.

Here are some of the major obituaries:

The Independent

The Guardian

The Telegraph