Reporter 442, 8 November 1999


Resolution adopted by the Senate (20 October 1999) on the retirement of
Professor Francis Cairns

Francis Cairns, a graduate of Glasgow University and Balliol College, Oxford, taught at Edinburgh for ten years before his appointment as Professor of Latin at Liverpool in 1974. In 1988 he moved to Leeds to take up the chair of Latin Language and Literature. This transfer was part of a plan to consolidate the School of Classics at Leeds in the context of a nationwide reorganisation of the subject in universities; a number of colleagues from other classics departments transferred to Leeds at the same time.

Professor Cairns was called upon to take over as head of department unexpectedly soon after his arrival at Leeds. These were difficult times. The School of Classics was expanding rapidly, and also found itself grappling with the implications of the changing position of Latin and Greek in schools. A department recruiting new kinds of student, for whom traditional classics degrees were inappropriate, and recruiting them in unprecedented numbers, faced serious challenges. Professor Cairns responded to these challenges with characteristic energy. The establishment of a stable, successful and innovative department with an international reputation would not have been possible without his vision and vigour.

During his time at Liverpool, Professor Cairns had founded a flourishing Latin seminar - at the time, a pioneering development. This too was also successfully transplanted. The Leeds International Latin Seminar is now entering its eleventh year of activity, and has already produced five volumes of Papers. There is more of Francis in these volumes than the contents pages would suggest: every contributor to these volumes will be able to testify to the improvements in substance, style and structure owed to his penetrating editorial input.

His qualities as an editor rest on the depth and astonishing breadth of his own scholarship. He has made significant contributions in fields as diverse as Greek epigraphy and medieval and renaissance Latin, but the main focus of his research has always been on the Latin poetry of the Republican and Augustan periods. His first book, Generic Composition in Greek and Roman Poetry (1972), drew on neglected areas of ancient rhetorical theory to produce powerful, if controversial, tools of analysis. He has also written essential studies of major individual poets; in addition to his books Tibullus: a hellenistic poet at Rome (1979) and Virgilís Augustan Epic (1989), a prolific stream of articles has included important work on Horace, Ovid and Propertius (the subject of his inaugural lecture at Leeds).

A book on Propertius has been a long-standing goal: retirement will free him to concentrate on this project. In retirement he will also be able to develop further the highly successful publishing company through which, by virtue of a unique combination of first-rate scholarship and entrepreneurial flair, he has already contributed so much to the support and promotion of contemporary classical studies. Rigorous editorial standards, together with an uncompromising insistence on the highest quality of production, have maintained standards that many prestigious university presses long ago surrendered. In this enterprise he has been energetically supported by his wife Sandra. We wish them both well.

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