Peter Brunt: Obituary





One of a series of outstanding scholars to hold the Camden Chair of Ancient History at Oxford, a position long associated with Roman History in particular, Peter Brunt made lasting contributions to the study both of ancient Greece and of Rome. He brought to the task not only an enviably clear mind, an elegant Gibbonian style, and an immunity to fashion and prejudice, but two striking attitudes that were features of the man as much as of his work. The one was a critical bent that rendered him counter- suggestible and at times, at least in conversation, almost perverse. The other was an exceptionally broad conception of what was historically interesting.

Not content with treating political, economic and (before it was fashionable) social history, and with illuminating the works of the Greek and Roman historians, he led the way in taking seriously the Hellenistic schools of philosophy, notably Stoicism, and in demonstrating the subtlety with which the history of ideas can and should be related to the political and social circumstances from which they arise and which they may affect. 'Expertise on these circumstances and on the interpretation of philosophic theories is not always combined,' he wrote. His own work showed what could be achieved when it was.

He was born in Coulsdon, Surrey in 1917, the only child of the Rev Samuel Brunt, a Methodist minister, and Eileen (nZe Blewett). His father died when he was quite young, and Peter Brunt, who never married, remained very close to his mother, who lived into his retirement. After Ipswich School, he won a scholarship to Oriel College, Oxford, in History: he did not trust his ability to compose in ancient Greek at a standard high enough to win one in Classics, the subject he went on to read. The fact is already a true indication of his primary interest in the ancient world, though the training offered by the Greats course in historiography and philosophy was also to prove of great importance for his work.


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