Obituary: Professor R. P. Winnington-Ingram
Saturday 23 January 1993
R. P. WINNINGTON-INGRAM was one of the most original and influential classical scholars of his generation.
Reg Winnington-Ingram was educated at Clifton College and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was elected to a Prize Fellowship in 1928. After a brief spell of teaching at Manchester University, he moved to London in 1934 and from then until his retirement in 1971 all his appointments were at London University - as Reader at Birkbeck from 1934 to 1948 (punctuated by five years' war work at the Ministry of Labour and National Service, where he took charge of the recruitment of Irish labour), Professor of Classics at Westfield, and finally, from 1953, Professor of Greek at King's College, of which he was a fellow from 1969.
While Professor at King's, Winnington-Ingram was Director of the Institute of Classical Studies (1964-67), and he served the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies for over 20 years first as President, then as Honorary Secretary. He also presided over the Gilbert Murray Trust - his commitment to international relations was as deep as Murray's, and he had a lifelong concern for social justice.
Winnington-Ingram's best- known publications are three books on Greek tragedy: the first, Euripides and Dionysus (1948), is a pioneering study of the Bacchae which was far ahead of its time (in fact it was largely written in the Thirties and strongly influenced by his passionate hostility to Fascism); the two late works Sophocles: an interpretation (1980) and Studies in Aeschylus (1983), are distillations of ideas and interpretations published over many years as journal articles. All of them combine fastidious scholarship with imagination and critical flair of great distinction. As with his reading of the Bacchae, some of his early articles (particularly 'Clytemnestra and the vote of Athena', 1949, a feminist interpretation avant la lettre) had to wait for a sympathetic readership; they remain remarkably fresh.
Above all, he showed what could be achieved by patient and sensitive reading of texts, and his example significantly changed the way scholars wrote about Greek poetry. He was also an expert on Ancient Greek music, as well as being an extremely knowledgeable music-lover and a fine pianist. His earliest book was a monograph on Mode in Ancient Greek Music (1936); he also edited the text of the ancient theorist Aristides Quintilianus (1963) and wrote the entry on Greek Music in the Grove Dictionary of Music.
Reg Winnington-Ingram was a paradoxical person: quiet, even shy, but sociable and hospitable, an excellent tennis player and keen theatregoer. He was generously encouraging and helpful to academic colleagues without ever attempting to impose his own views. He founded no 'school' of graduate students and never took part in polemics, but the influence of his writing on tragedy continues to be strongly felt.
In his later years he made several long visits to the United States, and shorter ones to Australia and New Zealand, including periods as Visiting Professor at Austin, Texas and at Boston University. His travels kept him young: he and his wife Mary responded to the US with great enthusiasm, and he continued to work productively well into his eighth decade.
Everything he wrote bears the mark of his personality: modest, ironic, stylish and exact. His self-deprecating humour made him easily approachable but did not succeed in disguising his extraordinary dignity and authority. He looked after Mary devotedly in her final illness and endured his own declining health and mobility with uncomplaining courage.
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