Obituary: Professor Oswald Dilke
Wednesday 21 July 1993
OSWALD DILKE was educated at Stowe School and King's College, Cambridge, as a traditional classicist, when (as he said himself) 'education was classics and classics meant education'. He taught classics at University College, Hull, and Rhodes University, Grahamstown, and Latin at Glasgow University, before being appointed to the chair of Latin at Leeds University in 1967.
Dilke made his name originally as a man who knew and used the Latin language with precision and sensitivity, and could accordingly be trusted to edit and comment on poets like Horace, Lucan and Statius with punctilious care and judgement. His interest in Varro led him to be a founding fellow of the Varronian Institute in Rieti. To Dilke, Latin was a living language - as a leading fellow of the Accademia Latina he assiduously attended its meetings, and at the time of his death he was looking forward to delivering a paper for it in Belgium.
Yet he was always able to surprise his friends by the range of his professional interests. He was an expert on the archaeology of the Greek theatre. He became a leading authority on ancient land surveying. When he was invited to give the Sir D. Owen Evans memorial lectures at the University College of Aberystwyth in 1974, he chose as his subject the impact of Roman books.
In an active and widely travelled retirement he made valuable contributions to the study of ancient cartography, where his wife Margaret's expertise as a geographer helped to make them an effective team. He was very proud to be appointed editor of the Ancient Greek and Roman section of the authoritative History of Cartography, and made a significant contribution to its first volume. His Mathematics and Measurement, in which he acknowledged help from both his wife and his son Stephen, a fine mathematician, was published by the British Museum and translated as well into German and Japanese.
Dilke received a Doctorate of Letters from the University of South Africa, and in 1969 he was visiting professor at the University of Ohio. He was the first person to be offered the National Geographic Society of America's library fellowship at the University of Wisconsin.
Dilke was a gifted linguist, whose knowledge of German and Italian was put to effective use during the Second World War, and in earlier life a skilful composer of chess problems. Talent in this game was passed on to his son, whose tragic death last year came as a terrible blow. And now Oswald's scholarship and gentle kindness, embodied in that impressively tall and spare figure, will be greatly missed by all those who came to admire the clarity of his intellect, and to love the courtesy of a true gentleman.
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