February 10, 2007

Peter Derow’s obituary in the Times

Posted at 11:29 am in Parthenon 2004

The Times has published an obituary of Peter Derow, ancient historian & long time supporter of the campaigns to return the Parthenon Marbles.

The Times

From The Times
February 09, 2007
Peter Derow
Historian of Ancient Rome who was a sympathetic and artful practitioner of the tutorial teaching system

Peter Derow was a scholar for whom the highest priority, and the greatest pleasure, was to teach undergraduates.

The claim on the website of Marbles Reunited (one of the two pressure groups he long supported for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece) that he was “responsible for much of the teaching in ancient history at Oxford” is only a little exaggerated. And the long string of his undergraduate pupils who have gone on to distinguished careers as ancient, usually Greek, historians proves the power of inspiring example.

His connection with Wadham College began when he arrived there from Amherst College in 1965 to take the second half of the classics course as a second BA. After obtaining a PhD at Princeton under the supervision of the distinguished Hellenistic historian C. Bradford Welles and a period teaching at the University of Toronto, he returned to Wadham as tutor in 1977, and remained there until his untimely death after a heart attack.

His published writings were precise, economical and subtle. They mostly concerned relations between the Greek world and Rome in the crucial period (the late third and second centuries BC) when Rome was rising to world dominance; he had a superb knowledge of the great historian of that relationship, Polybius. He contributed authoritative treatments of this period to The Cambridge Ancient History and to Black-well’s A Companion to the Hellenistic World, and with R. S. Bagnall edited and translated a valuable collection of sources (entitled in its second edition The Hellenistic Period: Historical Sources in Translation).

Among his articles a high-light was the edition (jointly authored with W. G. Forrest) of a remarkable inscription hon-ouring a Chiot who, as early as the late third or early second century BC, had made a dedication which “contained the story of the birth of Romulus the founder of Rome and his brother Remus”.

Ever a champion of the underdog, in tutorials he made little attempt to disguise his distaste for the growth of Roman power, which he studied so carefully, and was not above regretting the outcome of the Samnite wars. Latterly he had been working with C. V. Crowther on the Hellenistic and Roman inscriptions of Chios for the forthcoming volume in the Inscriptiones Graecae series.

At Wadham he succeeded his own tutor and lifelong friend W. G. Forrest. Like Forrest, he was a passionate devotee, and superbly sympathetic and artful practitioner, of the tutorial method. Beneficiaries recall the little rituals, the props, the mannerisms, with a precision that proves how memorable the experience was. Within his Aladdin’s cave, Derow showed his pupils great problems of ancient history the solution to which, they were encouraged to think, lay within their grasp. Bad work was not rebuked but exposed Socratically by courteous, relentless questioning.

Again like Forrest, he was also an immensely sociable being, who loved the young, relished their company and cared for their wellbeing. Innumerable students, friends and colleagues enjoyed his warmth, charm and conviviality.

Parties were always in danger of breaking out in his rooms in Wadham, and did not die down quickly. The annual party for all classicists in the college never finished before midnight; the Schools Dinner for departing finalists often ended with an attempt on a cryptic crossword over breakfast.

As director of graduate studies in ancient history for several years, he steered his flock through administrative hoops from a sense of duty, and befriended them by nature. He was a man of strong convictions. He deplored many tendencies in modern university life, the elevation of research over teaching above all, not through any incapacity for research but from commitment to an older ideal of what universities have to contribute.

He was three times married, and by his first marriage had two daughters and a son.

Peter Derow, historian and Hody Fellow and tutor at Wadham College, Oxford, was born on April 11, 1944. He died on December 9, 2006, aged 62

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