Winchester College Publication Winchester College Classic Talks - Page 2

OXFORD REGIUS PROFESSORS OF GREEK Christopher Pelling T his was an informal talk given on 15 February 2017 at the invitation of the Headmaster of Winchester College. The informality has been kept in this printed version. A few years ago I was at a talk where the chairman remained silent for a few seconds after the speaker had finished. Then he just said, ‘That was the most self-indulgent talk I have ever heard’. Given that I was myself Regius Professor from 2003 to 2015, I fear that a talk with this title deserves the same comment, but that fact also means that the Headmaster’s invitation was one I could not possibly bring myself to refuse. In fact, there is a reason why Winchester might have more interest in this rather arcane topic than most, as it has provided more Regius Professors of Greek than any other school: four, including the very first. A fifth was also a local man, from Hyde Abbey School along the road. Merchant Taylors’ has managed three, and so has Westminster; Eton, as far as I can tell, has not produced any. Perhaps Etonians have always been too busy being Prime Ministers. Figure 1 Henry VIII; attributed to John Taylor More later on about some of the more colourful ones, especially the Wykehamists, but first a little on the chair itself. A ‘Regius chair’ is one founded by the crown, and at least in theory its holders are appointed by the crown. There are nine of these in Oxford, and the first five were appointed by Henry VIII, in Greek, Hebrew, Divinity, Medicine, and Civil Law (Figure 1; Henry’s portrait hangs in Christ Church Hall, and Christ Church will feature quite a lot in this discussion). The sixth, in History, was added by George I: it was known as ‘Modern History’ until 2005, but by then the notion that, say, Alfred the Great could be regarded as ‘modern’ was beginning to seem a little strange. Chairs in Ecclesiastical History and Moral and Pastoral Theology were added by Victoria. The ninth, in Mathematics, was announced last year; no appointment has yet been made, but there will indeed now be a new Regial kid on the block. 3