Obituary: Professor Leighton Reynolds

IN 1993, a conference in Sicily gave Italian classicists the opportunity at last of putting a face to a name. They knew L. D. Reynolds chiefly from Mirella Ferrari's translation of Scribes and Scholars, the best- seller that he wrote with N.G. Wilson on the transmission of classical literature (1968; now in its third edition and also translated into French, Spanish, Greek, and Japanese). The man himself delighted them: an imposing but unassertive figure, quietly spoken, courteously attentive, with a frequent sparkle in his eye and a ready laugh. "Very English" some said, the traces of Welsh intonation lost on them.

To Italy and France went his last typescripts and many of the enchanting letters that he wrote in what he knew would be the last year of his life. Sharp as ever, he gave much of the year to Petrarch, whose annotations on two of Cicero's philosophical works he had discovered at Madrid; as they survive only in a copy, it had to be proved that they were indeed Petrarch's, and colleagues who wondered at lunch one day what had ruffled his usual calm learnt that he had succeeded.

For once, the work had spilled over from an Oxford Text, this time of Cicero's De finibus (1998). His pattern with Seneca's letters and dialogues (1965, 1977) and Sallust (1991) had been a study of the transmission, perhaps notes on the text, and then the edition. With dissembled elegance ("in such a jungle, finesse will serve little purpose"), he would cut through dozens of manuscripts to the serviceable core. When reviewers acclaimed his flair and sure judgement and doubted whether his text would ever be greatly bettered, the next cycle had already begun.

Leighton Durham Reynolds was born in 1930. His schooling fell largely in wartime, and he owed his Latin not to Caerphilly Grammar School, of which he became head boy, but to the local girls' school. His undergraduate years were split between Cardiff and Cambridge, and Cardiff he remembered fondly, both for the broad education it gave him and because he came under the wing of Roland Austin; when Austin died in 1974 with a commentary on Aeneid VI not quite ready, he saw it through the press. During National Service from 1952 to 1954 he took the Russian course, which opened up a new range of languages and made him lifelong friends.

Elected to a Junior Research Fellowship at Queen's, he found in the Oxford of Roger Mynors, Richard Hunt and Neil Ker ample encouragement for his work on the transmission of Seneca; but his first publication, an article of 1957, already had a distinctive voice. Though it aimed at establishing the editorial value of a few manuscripts, much of it revolved round people, from Walahfrid Strabo in the ninth century to the last scholars who used manuscripts that perished at Strasbourg in 1870; and he wrote about them with warmth and humour. Images and aphorisms abound: though Roger Bacon "produced his manuscript like a rabbit out of a hat, there was nothing remarkable about the hat or the rabbit"; "discovering an important manuscript exposes one to serious temptations, and Beltrami succumbed".

Colour and detail caught his eye, and he could weave a complex story, as in his masterly introduction to Texts and Transmission (1983), a handbook that he organised in honour of Sir Roger Mynors; entries like his nine pages on Pliny's Natural History thread a challenging argument through one lightly sketched cultural context after another. His conversation, too, he spiced with anecdotes and arresting turns of phrase.

For 12 years the piles of books in his panelled room at Brasenose revealed that he was editing Classical Review (once more with Nigel Wilson), but his pupils, skilfully drawn out and constantly inspired in memorable tutorials, often discovered his achievements by accident. On his retirement, over 70 of them gathered, to be rewarded with a characteristic speech of felicitous wit and perfect timing. Throughout the college, which he served for 40 years, he was very much loved. As Senior Dean in the late Sixties, a period of frayed tempers among junior and senior members, he kept the college steady with his tact, honesty, and humour, and these qualities, together with an unflurried efficiency, twice made him an ideal Acting Principal. In the deliberations of the college he exerted an authority all the more powerful for his natural reticence.

His marriage to Sue, and his children and grandchildren, were the centre of his happiness, and his readers knew only a slice of him. He was an accomplished carpenter and a connoisseur of plants; at school he wrote a "Flora of Caerphilly Castle", and he loved working in his pine-fringed garden. Academic invitations brought spells at Cornell, Austin and Princeton, and travel with the family gave him unfailing pleasure; with Sue in September he revisited old friends and favourite haunts in Paris ("no manuscripts alas: I just sit in cafes, like Sartre").

Leighton Durham Reynolds, classicist: born Abercanaid, Glamorgan 11 February 1930; Junior Research Fellow, Queen's College, Oxford 1954-57; Fellow and Tutor in Classics, Brasenose College, Oxford,1957-97; University Lecturer in Greek and Latin Literature, Oxford University 1957-97, Professor of Classical Languages and Literature 1996-97 (Emeritus); Editor, Classical Review 1975-87; FBA 1987; married 1962 Susan Buchanan (one son, two daughters); died Oxford 4 December 1999.