I first encountered Sir Ronald Syme in college (not the man himself, of course, but his work). My quirkiest Classics and Classical History professor happened to have met Syme at a lecture once, and had been tasked with driving him to and from the venue. This professor was able to recount several amusing anecdotes about him, but Syme's main influence on me was through a Roman History class which this same professor taught; the class focused on the changeover from the Republic to the Empire under Augustus, and our main text was The Roman Revolution by Syme.
What struck me immediately was the man's prose; it was amazing. Here is but one example of his style (which, I soon learned, had been inspired by the Latin prose of none other than Tacitus, Syme's favorite Roman historian):
I still go back sometimes and read selections from this book just for the sound and the feel of it.
At any rate, I recently came across this description of Syme's achievements in the Classics, and it resonated with me profoundly:
I remember being mightily impressed with the range of knowledge and interests Syme had displayed in The Roman Revolution; and I remember being even more impressed when later I browsed through Tacitus, the book which Ash is praising. Syme was not (only) a literary critic, not (only) an historian, not (only) an epigrapher and prosopographer (I had not even heard of prosopography until taking that class): Syme did it all. He is one of my principal inspirations for the way in which I approach biblical criticism and early Christian history. I do not like to focus on only one field to the exclusion of others. Literary criticism is great, but it does not rule out source criticism. Numismatics and papyrology are great, but they do not rule out research conducted through written histories. I like this hobby of mine best when I am able to draw all of those fields and many others together into a single argument for or against this or that proposition.
And that is something that I think Sir Ronald Syme did better than almost anybody.
Discuss the world of the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, and Egyptians.
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