Professor Colin Austin

Classical scholar who co-edited the definitive work on the Greek comic dramatists

Time both gives and takes. Beginning in the mid-19th century, and continuing at intervals through to the 20th and the present, the stock of surviving Ancient Greek texts that has nourished our civilisation has been augmented by discoveries of works long lost. Mostly, though not exclusively, they come from papyri excavated in Egypt, where the climate has favoured their survival.

Unlike the morning paper, they do not land on the mat crisp and ready to read. Whole books, or substantially whole books, very rarely survive. Alongside tens of thousands of documents, such as contracts, wills and inventories, we have leaves, columns and scraps from discarded or recycled copies of once valued works of literature. They are often tattered, distorted and discoloured. It is in the art and science of recovering poetry and drama from such discouraging remains that the scholarship of Professor Austin has excelled.

Euripides and Menander are two authors who have conspicuously benefited from the discoveries. A collection of new fragments of Euripides from papyri, published in Berlin in 1968, gave a foretaste of much of Austin's work to come. It is in a series of compact format and meticulous presentation; it included a substantial new portion of Euripides' once well-known tragedy Erectheus, extracted from a mummy casing in Paris, of which the first edition was Austin (1967).

Likewise, when it came to the publication in 1969 of the first and third plays from the Bodmer Codex of Menander (the second play, the Dyskolos or Misanthrope, has a first edition dated 1958), Austin collaborated with Rodolphe Kasser in Geneva to produce first editions of Samia, The Woman from Samos and Aspis, The Shield, while "Austin" (1969) is the academic shorthand for his own edition of the two comedies, including the remains previously known: it was published in the same series as the Euripides volume, with innovative restorations and helpful brief notes. These and other rediscoveries have transformed modern knowledge of one of the founders of a style of light drama now universally familiar, with its portrayal of people like ourselves and those we recognise in our own very different daily lives.

Very many lost works have not had the good luck to be resuscitated from papyri. They survive, if at all, in quotations, echoes and reminiscences by other authors, including grammarians and lexicographers of later ages, not always available in fully documented modern editions. Involvement with the new will often involve close encounters with the old.

That is very much in evidence in the work that will probably last longest among Austin's achievements, the comprehensive edition of the Greek Comic Dramatists, Poetae Comici Graeci, which he undertook in partnership with Rudolf Kassel, beginning publication in 1983. The volumes that have so far appeared, up to 2001, give the surviving text of over 250 authors. With their prefaces, critical notes and parallels for the interpretations offered, they are already on the way to 4,500 pages, not reckoning with the provision made for the main works of Aristophanes and Menander and for indexes. Of course, there will be addenda and corrigenda (there already are), but it is hard to see how this monumental publication will ever be adequately replaced.

Other original and fertile studies should here be mentioned, notably work in collaboration with Italian colleagues on the rediscovered epigrams of Posidippus, and the subsequent edition of the Hellenistic poet's complete surviving works with critical notes and translations (Austin–Bastianini, 2002). Several imaginative reconstructions of passages of Menander of great verve and style appear in recently published conference papers.

The magic may not always work: in a stern mood, one can feel that the extraordinary fluency in verse composition that is in evidence is sometimes carried away by its own momentum. One can, however, take to heart the Latin tag that the composer affixed to one of his earlier publications, in which he invited the reader not to hesitate to point out errors and omissions, but otherwise to join him in exploiting the results. Relentless care over details and lively inspiration are hard to find in so close a partnership.

Colin François Lloyd Austin was born in 1941 in Melbourne, Australia. He grew up in France, the homeland of his mother's family. and was a lycéen in Paris. Long after his migration to England and to Manchester Grammar School he retained the warmest affection for the country of his earlier years, for its scholarship and for Maman. Married, settled in Cambridge, and with young children, he regularly enjoyed vacations in France; and indeed turned them to benefit by buying wine as Steward for his College, Trinity Hall, with a flair at least half inborn.

Undergraduate years at Jesus College, Cambridge were followed by doctoral studies at Oxford. He learnt much from his supervisor, Hugh Lloyd-Jones (jointly with Rudolf Kassel in Berlin), from seminars in Palaeography with Peter Parsons, and from contact with Eduard Fraenkel. The DPhil thesis of 1965 was on Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazusae, "Ladies' Day": it presented a text and commentary on lines 1–550 of the play. This work was to be revised, and completed in partnership with Douglas Olson. It was published nearly 40 years later in 2004 – Menander and the comic fragments had intervened – in the Oxford series of Aristophanes commentaries, whose General Editor and distinguished contributor was Sir Kenneth Dover. In 1983 came election to the Fellowship of the British Academy.

The sharp, scholarly mind that sometimes produced pointed criticisms of others' work had also a courteous and friendly side. There was a talent for administration that was willingly, though perhaps not passionately, deployed in the service of College and Faculty, and a great capacity for relationships with fellow scholars worldwide, with frequent invitations to visit and give lectures. These qualities persisted even in latter years, when severe health problems and serious surgery might have been expected to quell them.

He emerged from hospital more than once with a quiet display of exemplary courage and spirit. He was working until the very last in the hope of completing his Oxford Classical Text of Menander, with a companion volume of notes on the remains of the 21 plays that he proposed to include. He leaves behind his devoted wife Mishtu, artist, printmaker and pillar of the household; there are a son, a daughter, and grandchildren. They, together with a host of colleagues, pupils and friends, will miss him deeply and treasure their memories.





Colin François Lloyd Austin, classical scholar: born Melbourne 26 July 1941; Fellow, Trinity Hall, Cambridge 1965–2008, now Emeritus (Director of Studies in Classics 1965-2005); Professor of Greek, University of Cambridge 1998–2008; married 1967 Mishtu Mazumbar (one son, one daughter); died Cambridge 13 August 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?