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John Victor Luce, Public Orator 19722005

John Victor Luce

J. V. Luce beside the portrait of his father A. A. Luce (18821977) in the Dining Hall

On the first anniversary of the death of Professor John Luce, the Classics Department are proud to launch a section of the Classics website entirely dedicated to his memory.

John Luce was a remarkable figure in Trinity College and the wider Classical world. He was a student of extraordinary ability. He was successful in Foundation Scholarship in his first year as an undergraduate and won gold medals in both his degree subjects (Classics and Philosophy), and was also a brilliant sportsman: he played hockey for Ireland and captained the College teams in hockey, squash and cricket.

He was elected a Fellow of Trinity College in 1948 and served the College, the School of Classics and the discipline of Classical Antiquity for over sixty years. He was appointed Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Oratory in 1984. He held the posts of Senior Dean (1977-1985) and Vice-Provost (1987-1989). One of John’s most important, but in some ways least recognised, legacies is his role in introducing to Trinity the study of the Classical world in translation. Both Bedell Stanford, the Regius Professor of Greek at the time, and John were frequent visitors to North America and could see where the academic future of Classics lay. Together they oversaw the establishment of new courses in Classical Civilisation and in Ancient History and Archaeology.

John’s academic career was a most distinguished one. His first book, The end of Atlantis: new light on an old legend (1969) remains the best discussion of the Atlantis legend, while his last book, Celebrating Homer’s Landscapes (1998) was another beautifully written and classic account. It was perhaps the physical environment of the eastern Mediterranean that chiefly occupied him, but he had other interests, as evidenced by his excellent Introduction to Greek philosophy (1992) or the entertaining, but deeply knowledgeable, Trinity College Dublin. The first 400 years (1991).

It would be hard to exaggerate how well he wrote, an elegant and dignified simplicity that, perhaps curiously, did not owe anything obvious to classical stylistic models, although in its forcefulness, effectiveness and structured clarity was certainly informed by the best principles of Classical rhetoric.

The same rhetorical principles informed his Latin, which one reviewer of his public orations likened to the style of Pliny the Elder. He was Public Orator for 33 years (1972–2005).  His successors in the role of Public Orator will forever treasure the memory of the wisdom and wit of his advice on latinity, which he generously offered until Winter Commencements 2010. We offer a celebration of his oratory in this dedicated space of the Classics webpage. Follow us for updates!

Brian McGing, Public Orator 2005–2008
Anna Chahoud, Public Orator 2008–present


Last updated 7 April 2014 ryanw1@tcd.ie.