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Prof Peter Walsh

Latin professor, researcher and teacher;

Born: August 16, 1923; Died: January 16, 2013.

Professor Peter Walsh, who has died aged 89, was a professor of Latin, a popular teacher and a prolific researcher with a remarkably wide range of interests who helped to open up many areas then off the beaten track but now totally mainstream.

He was professor of humanity at the University of Glasgow from 1972 to 1993, having been lecturer in University College Dublin and then reader and professor in the department of humanity at the University of Edinburgh. A devoted teacher of Latin language and literature, he taught in an approachable manner and to high standards, and his innovative reforms brought aspects of the Roman world to a much wider cohort of students.

His many former students and colleagues, many of them international, will cherish happy memories of a most affable scholar and helpful friend, always ready with encouragement and helpful ideas, and his own modest brand of humour.

Patrick (always known as Peter) Gerard Walsh was educated at Preston Jesuit College and, after military service, at the University of Liverpool, receiving a first class degree in 1949. He gained his PhD at University College Dublin, where he was lecturer in ancient classics from 1952 to 1959. His study there of the historian Livy, a subject then, as he noted, curiously unpopular in the English-speaking world, made his early reputation, and he remained a major player in that field as scholarly work intensified.

With a change that was typical, a book on the Roman novel followed, and soon after that he issued his selection of 30 rumbustious Medieval Latin songs and satires, the Carmina Burana, with commentary. An American press asked for 60 more, which duly appeared in 1993 in an elegant format.

His inaugural lecture as professor in Edinburgh, on the somewhat cloudy phenomenon of Courtly Love, published in 1971, helped to provide context and dispel fog.

The move to Glasgow saw him co-authoring (with Peter Sharratt) a work on Franco-Scottish Latin drama and Scotland's greatest humanist, George Buchanan. He was venturing even further into modern Latin, into what was then something of a no-man's land in research terms. Again, that field is now expanding, and internationally. During his time in Glasgow he was invited to take several visiting professorships, in Australia and the US. He was head of Glasgow's department of humanity until 1988, and also dean of the faculty of arts, or indeed, as has been said, a defender of the arts, at a time when external cuts were threatening universities.

At the same time translations of the classical authors were flowing from his pen, or his typewriter, and continued in his retirement. The most recent work to appear, last year, was a collection of 100 Latin hymns, covering at least 1000 years, published in the prestigious Harvard-based Dumbarton Oaks collection. At the time of his death he was working, as far as his growing incapacity would allow, to progress, if not complete, his edition and translation of the massive anti-pagan blockbuster, City of God.

The study of Augustine and his Christian contemporaries, the so-called Church Fathers, was throughout his career a major interest, with his understanding of their debates and insights informed and impelled by a strong and lively faith.

He was a devoted Christian, active in his local Catholic church, not least in the field of foreign aid and (very appropriately) quiz nights directed to the same ends. As a boy in Lancashire he was an impressive cricketer and footballer, but tennis was the game with which he continued. In 2000 he was named player of the millennium, not by the International Tennis Federation, but by his local tennis club.

In 1983 he was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great in 1993, and in the same year received an Honorary DLitt from the University of Edinburgh.

He is survived by his wife Eileen, whom he married in 1953, and their children Anthony, Patricia, Stephen, John and David, and 18 grandchildren.

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