Peter Walsh, who has died aged 89, was a classicist and helped to change the way scholars look at some of the great Latin texts.
He made his name in 1961 with Livy: His historical aims and methods, a book which rescued the reputation of the great Roman historian from the academic doldrums. In 1970 The Roman Novel showed the connection between the Satyricon of Petronius and the Metamorphoses (or Golden Ass) of Apuleius and other forms of fiction being written in the Roman world before 200AD, and explored how they had influenced the mainstream of European picaresque literature over the centuries.
Later on in his career Walsh turned his attention to medieval Latin, ranging from the sacred to the profane. He published editions of The Art of Courtly Love and the earthy lyrics of Carmina Burana, while his work on the early Church fathers (including Saints Paulinus and Thomas Aquinas) led to his appointment as a papal Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Gregory.
One of nine children, Patrick Gerard Walsh was born on August 16 1923 at Accrington, Lancashire, where he and his siblings were brought up in poverty in a two-bedroom terraced house with an outside privy. His decision, in childhood, to adopt the name Peter was not entirely popular with other members of the family since his brother and father both had the same name.
Peter’s father, a factory labourer, was a first generation Irish immigrant who had experienced a profound conversion to Catholicism as a result of traumatic wounds sustained at the Battle of the Somme, and he subjected his young family to a rigorous programme of religious training and ritual, both in the home and at the local Jesuit church. Of Peter’s eight brothers and sisters, three became nuns and two priests.
Walsh won scholarships to Preston Catholic College and then to Liverpool University, where he took a first in Classics. During the war, having failed to make the grade in the RAF due to poor practical skills, he served in Italy and Palestine with the Intelligence Corps, although the only training he could recall involved solving crossword puzzles.
After the war he began his academic career at University College, Dublin, moving in 1960 to Edinburgh University, where he was awarded a personal chair in 1971. The following year he succeeded CJ Fordyce as Professor of Humanity at Glasgow University, where he turned his attention largely to medieval Latin and also sought to address the decline of Classics in Scottish schools by organising residential courses for schoolchildren.
After his retirement in 1993 he continued to work, making new translations of Petronius, Apuleius, Boethius and Cicero for Oxford World’s Classics.
At the time of his death, despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease, he was attempting to complete a translation of St Augustine’s The City of God, and had reached the 16th of its 22 books.
A few weeks before he died he was delighted when Harvard University Press published a handsome anthology of his translations of Latin hymns.
He married, in 1953, Eileen Quin, who survives him with their daughter and four sons.