Housman’s Contempt for Jowett

“The Regius Professor of Greek throughout Housman’s time was Jowett, and from the single lecture of Jowett’s which he attended, Housman came away disgusted by the Professor’s disregard for the niceties of scholarship.”

-A.S.F. Gow, A.E. Housman: A Sketch (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press) p.5

In his review of Gow’s book, G.L. Hendrickson circulates a rather embarrassing story about Jowett:

“The story is current in Oxford, I am told, that the particular offense of the Regius Professor was a false quantity, that cardinal crime of English tradition, the pronunciation of ἀκριβῶς, which from the English habit of applying Latin rules to Greek pronunciation yielded a monstrosity…”

-G. L. Hendrickson, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 58, No. 4 (1937), pp. 463

This is not the only instance of Housman’s contempt for Jowett, who produced translations of Plato’s works, as well as a large commentary on The Republic. Housman noted of Jowett’s Platonic endeavours:

“Jowett’s Plato: the best translation of a Greek philosopher which has ever been executed by a person who understood neither philosophy nor Greek.”

-C.O. Brink, English Classical Scholarship (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1986), p. 130

It seems, however, that some of Jowett’s students held him in more reverential awe than Housman. When Jowett was Master of Balliol College, the following rhyme was popularly circulated:

“Here come I, my name is Jowett.
All there is to know I know it.
I am Master of this College,
What I don’t know isn’t knowledge!”

2 thoughts on “Housman’s Contempt for Jowett

    1. Balliolensis ac filius Balliolensis.

      No, of course they didn’t! And it wasn’t only the undergraduates who laughed.

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