From the Telegraph:
Professor Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones, the former Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford University, who died on October 5 aged 87, was a gatekeeper for a particular style of traditional scholarship and one of the foremost classical scholars of his generation; his imposing output of scholarly works ranged across the fields of Greek epic, lyric, tragedy, comedy, Hellenistic literature, religion, intellectual history – and beyond.
Among other achievements, Lloyd-Jones edited the fragments of Aeschylus, Menander’s Dyscolus, Semonides’s Satire on Women, the Supplementum Hellenisticum (with Peter Parsons, his successor as Regius Professor of Greek), and the plays of Sophocles with the companion Sophoclea (both with Nigel Wilson).
He also published an annotated translation of Aeschylus’s Oresteia as well as The Justice of Zeus (1971). But it is for his trenchant articles and reviews that he will probably be best remembered.
Lloyd-Jones was the product of a type of rigorous philological training in Latin and Greek which was uniquely characteristic of the best English schools in the pre-war period. To this he added a thorough knowledge of the classical tradition and the history of scholarship; expertise as a papyrologist and textual critic; and a thorough grounding in ancient Greek religion and culture. Thus armed, for most of his academic career he engaged in an almost personal war to protect the soul of Classics from the modern age.
Much of Lloyd-Jones’s work can be seen as a reaction to prevailing opinion, and he was at his best when probing the unexamined assumptions of others or challenging fashionable beliefs. He opposed applying any intellectual, religious or psychological system to literature as a substitute for thinking critically about each text.
Thus, in a famous article in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, “Zeus in Aeschylus” (1956), he challenged the view, fashionable among American scholars, that Aeschylus was a profound religious thinker whose tragedies offered a vision of the Almighty far more sophisticated than that of Homer and tending towards Judaeo-Christian theology. A common approach was to see the change between the vindictive Zeus of the Prometheia to the more majestic figure of the Oresteia as evidence that Aeschylus’s god evolves during the long years of Prometheus’s suffering to become a more just and benevolent deity.
Lloyd-Jones’s approach, set out in the article and elaborated in a series of lectures published as The Justice of Zeus (1971), was to deny that there was any contradiction between the Zeus of the Oresteia and the Prometheia. Prometheus is finally released from his torments in exchange for the secret that threatens the supremacy of Zeus, and Orestes is spared by the Erinyes in exchange for a permanent home in Athens.
In both cases Zeus is not involved in the arrangements, which are engineered by subordinates – Athena and Heracles. Aeschylus’s conception of Zeus, Lloyd-Jones concluded, and his conception of divine justice, contained “nothing that is new, nothing that is sophisticated; nothing that is profound”, and could be understood only in the proper context of Olympian religion with its “belief that the whole nature of the universe is necessarily adverse to human aspirations”.
“The Greeks,” as Lloyd-Jones once wrote, “were not tolerant of the well-meaning idiot.” Neither was he; and he never allowed diplomacy to temper the pungent expression of his views. “Who but a bigoted nationalist, and one grossly deficient in aesthetic sensibility, would have argued that Creon and Antigone represented moral viewpoints of equal validity?” he demanded to know in one diatribe.
In a review of the German HJ Mette’s attempt to reconstruct the lost trilogies of Aeschylus, Lloyd-Jones advised the author to take to heart two lines of Catullus: “Miser Catulle, desinas ineptire, et quod vides perisse perditum ducas” (“Wretched Catullus, you should stop being a fool and consider lost that which you see has come to an end”).
The attack had a dramatic sequel when the two scholars met at an international classical symposium in Bonn. During a “friendly” get-together on a Rhine pleasure steamer, voices were heard raised in anger on the lower deck. Peering over the rails, a group of astonished German and British students saw the two scholars doing furious intellectual battle, Mette in fluent English and Lloyd-Jones in fluent German.
In fact, Lloyd-Jones had considerable admiration for German scholarship, a respect that found expression in learned essays on Goethe, Nietzsche, Humboldt, Wagner and (surprisingly) Marx, as well as on more recent scholars such as Reinhardt, Maas, Fraenkel and Pfeiffer. His barbs were more frequently directed at transatlantic scholars who attempted to impose Freudian or Levi-Straussian theories on Greek myth and literature. “To acquire a smattering of Freud, usually untainted by the smallest admixture of modern psychology, has been one way of solving the perennial problem of how to publish work on Greek literature and not perish, without knowing any Greek,” he declared.
And he had a good nose for the killer quotation: “Freud’s contention that ‘the myth of Prometheus indicates that to gain control over fire man had to renounce the homosexually-tinged desire to put it out with a stream of urine’ is not often mentioned even by his loyal adherents.” His most emphatic put-down, however, was always: “But he doesn’t know Greek!”
Peter Hugh Jefferd Lloyd-Jones was born on September 21 1922 and educated at the Lycée Française in South Kensington and at Westminster School. He began his undergraduate studies at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1940 and resumed them in 1946 after military service with the Intelligence Corps in the Far East, graduating with Firsts in Mods and Greats.
As part of his wartime work, Lloyd-Jones had learned Japanese, and noticed how it was impossible, or at least difficult, to express certain Western concepts in that language. When he returned to Oxford, he set out in an essay for his tutor to refute St Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God by showing the difficulties of expressing it in Japanese. It was this, perhaps, that convinced him of the dangers of imposing anachronistic thought structures on the work of ancient writers.
He found in postwar Oxford a “somnolent beauty which was slowly awakening from the clerical slumbers of the previous century”. None the less, in 1948 Lloyd-Jones moved to Cambridge, where he became a fellow of Jesus College and assistant lecturer, then lecturer, in Classics. But he returned to Oxford in 1954 as fellow and EP Warren Praelector in Classics at Corpus Christi; then from 1960, Regius Professor of Greek and Student of Christ Church.
Lloyd-Jones began publishing in 1949 – with a review – and his career spanned the development of postwar classics. He professed himself a “conservative with very little intrinsic belief in the goodness of human nature” and blithely ignored currents in postwar social analysis, literary criticism, cultural history and politics. Instead his work was always informed and stimulated by an abiding and deep awareness of the larger picture of Greek culture.
As a teacher, Lloyd-Jones was encouraging, demanding and sometimes waspishly indiscreet about his academic colleagues. Despite the passion of his own intellectual convictions, he was always tolerant of his students’ wild ideas.
He was knighted in 1989.
Hugh Lloyd-Jones married first, in 1953, Frances Hedley; they had two sons and a daughter. The marriage was dissolved and he married secondly, in 1982, the American classical scholar Mary Lefkowitz, with whom in later life he lived at Wellesley, Massachusetts.
- Professor Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones (Telegraph)