Classics a life passion for Trinity vice-provost


JOHN VICTOR LUCE: JV LUCE, who has died aged 90, was former vice-provost of Trinity College Dublin and a celebrated classicist. A senior fellow emeritus, he was the 62nd vice-provost of the university from 1987 to 1989, a position which his father, Arthur Aston Luce, held between 1946 and 1952.

The End of Atlantis: New Light on an Old Legend(1969) is the best known of his many books. The Atlantean mystery has prompted the publication of 25,000 books putting forward a variety of hypotheses, as well as numerous pamphlets, articles and websites.

Luce devoted years of study to the subject and argued in favour of the “Minoan hypothesis” – the theory advanced by Greek academic Spyridon Marinatos linking the disappearance of Atlantis with the destruction of the Minoan empire by volcanic action in about 1450 BC.

A Daily Telegraphreview described Luce as a “careful scholar who writes well and argues his case persuasively”. Even critics who did not support his argument acknowledged his scholarship. The book sold very well and was translated into five languages in addition to the original English.

JV Luce was born in Dublin in 1920. He was one of three children of Arthur Aston Luce and his wife Lilian (née Thompson). His father taught him the Greek alphabet when he was five.

Educated at Baymount School, Dublin, and Cheltenham College, he entered Trinity College in 1938 to read classics. He was elected a foundation scholar in his first year, a remarkable achievement.

He took a double moderatorship in classics and philosophy, and was awarded gold medals for both subjects. He followed his bachelors degree in 1942 with a masters in 1945.

After three years as a junior lecturer at Trinity he became a research student at Oxford, and from 1946 to 1948 he lectured in Greek at Glasgow University.

Elected a fellow of Trinity in 1948, in 1963 he was appointed reader in classics. Having served as tutor and then senior tutor, in 1971 he became assistant professor of classics and in 1984 was appointed Erasmus Smith Professor of Oratory, in effect a personal chair in the school of classics.

He was senior dean from 1977 to 1985 and vice-provost from 1987 to 1989. He also acted as the public orator at the college from 1972 to 2005.

In this capacity he addressed 350 accolades in Latin to recipients of honorary doctorates. These included the Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich, broadcaster Gay Byrne and King Juan Carlos of Spain.

He was a visiting professor at universities in the United States and South Africa, and a guest lecturer on Swan Hellenic cruises.

Active in Trinity life from his student days, he was auditor of the college classical society from 1942 to 1943. A former chairman of Trinity Week committee, he was for many years honorary secretary of the Trinity Trusts (formerly the endowment funds).

He captained the college hockey, squash rackets and cricket clubs, and played for the Phoenix cricket club first 11. He won six caps playing hockey for Ireland, and was selected for Oxford to play in the annual colours match against Cambridge.

Later, as chairman of the Dublin University Central Athletic Club, he did much to improve the college sports facilities.

Improvements included the acquisition of sports grounds at Santry, the construction of a new gym at the college and the provision of indoor sports facilities at Trinity Hall student residence.

He contributed to a wide range of academic journals. Books include The Quest for Ulysses(1974), Homer and the Heroic Age(1975) and An Introduction to Greek Philosophy(1992), which Brian Fallon in this newspaper described as a “model of exposition and clear, non-specialist language”.

He was also the author of the very readable Trinity College Dublin: The First 400 Years(1991). In it he recounts an incident during the student revolt of the early 1980s led by Joe Duffy, when he in his capacity as senior dean with another college officer, went to the junior common room to enforce a court injunction against the students.

He wrote, using the third person: “Duffy greeted them by saying, ‘you’re not welcome here’. When the senior dean retorted, ‘I could say the same about you’, a faint smile appeared on Duffy’s face.”

In 2000 he received the Runciman award for Celebrating Homer’s Landscapes(1998).

He was elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1973 and to honorary membership of the Royal Dublin Society in 1992. A governor of the High School, Dublin, in 1995 he was elected president of the Classical Association of Ireland. Three years later he was co-opted as patron of the Irish Institute for Classical Studies.

A keen fisherman, he spent free time in Westport, Co Mayo. He also enjoyed playing chess.

He is survived by his wife Lyndall (née Miles), daughters Kristina, Jane and Alice, brother Frank, sons-in-law Philip, Geoffrey and Greg and six grandchildren.

John Victor Luce: born May 21st, 1920; died February 11th, 2011