Obituary: Professor Charles Brink

J. B. Hall
Wednesday 16 March 1994 00:02 GMT

Karl Oskar Levy (Charles Oscar Brink), classicist: born Berlin 13 March 1907; staff, Thesaurus Linguae Latinae 1933-38, Oxford Latin Dictionary 1938-41; Acting Classical Tutor, Magdalen College, Oxford 1941- 45; Senior Classics Master, Magdalen College School, Oxford 1943-48; Senior Lecturer in Humanity, St Andrews University 1948-51; Professor of Latin, Liverpool University 1951-54; Kennedy Professor of Latin, Cambridge University 1954-74 (Emeritus); Fellow, Gonville and Caius College 1955-94; FBA 1964; Chairman, Classics Committee, Schools Council 1965-69; President, Joint Association of Classical Teachers 1969-71; Trustee, Robinson College, Cambridge 1973-85, Chairman 1975-85; married 1942 Daphne Harvey (three sons); died Cambridge 2 March 1994.

CHARLES BRINK was Kennedy Professor of Latin Emeritus at Cambridge University and ranked among the most distinguished classical scholars of the century. His greatest work, a three-volume analysis and commentary on Horace's verse writings on literature (Horace on Poetry: Prolegomena, 1963; Ars Poetica, 1971; Epistles Book II, 1982), will never be surpassed.

He was born Karl Oskar Levy in Berlin, in 1907. He came to England as an exile in 1938 and quickly adapted to the English way of life, and although he always retained his wonderful German intonation he became in some ways more English than the English. His affection for England is reflected in the last of his major writings, English Classical Scholarship (1986).

Brink's earliest work in Berlin had been on Aristotelian philosophy, after which he joined the editorial staff of Thesaurusbureau in Munich in 1933, from which has come, not least thanks to his efforts, a sequence of fascicles upon which all serious students of Latin must depend.

His first work in England was at Oxford University, where, among other duties, he took a full share in the production of the Oxford Latin Dictionary; thence he moved to St Andrews in 1948 and then, in 1951, to Liverpool. His appointment to the Kennedy Chair of Latin in Cambridge came in 1954, and this post he held with distinction, and to the delight and profit of many generations of students, until his retirement in 1974.

As a lecturer in the Cambridge Faculty of Classics, Brink was an imposing figure. Unlike his great contemporary Sir Denys Page, who tended to be doctrinaire, Brink always threw questions open to his audience, inviting them to think about alternative hypotheses. This was a remarkable phenomenon for a man who had been trained in Germany in the 1920s, where adherence to schools of thought was still prevalent. How far this attitude was dictated by his own origins and upbringing must remain uncertain, but his open-mindedness was always a stimulus to those who had the privilege of listening to him.

A man of massive learning and exacting disposition, he was perhaps at his best as a teacher of postgraduate students, whom he chose with care, and whom he cared for as long as they and he lived. His knowledge of Greek and Latin literature and thought was extraordinarily wide, a constant reminder of the conception of Altertumswissenschaft which he had brought with him from Germany.

Brink's contributions to classical philology are many and various, embracing a wide variety of subjects, but his abilities were not confined to classical scholarship. As a young man he had the option of becoming either a concert pianist or a classicist. He never lost his passion for music. He played many instruments, and in the last months of his life was heard to declare that he had resumed daily piano practice.

A great family man, Charles Brink was also concerned about colleagues, friends and students, into whose lives he entered with warmth and understanding. A man of generous heart, courteous and friendly, he was always available to listen and to give advice. In his mature years, he was a devout Anglican, who rejoiced in the Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised Version of the Bible. He died following a heart attack while at work on his papers in Gonville and Caius College.

(Photograph omitted)

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