R. A. B. Mynors

Roger Aubrey Baskerville Mynors

A black and white photograph of a middle-aged man wearing a tie and suit
Portrait of Mynors by John William Thomas
Born(1903-07-28)28 July 1903
Died17 October 1989(1989-10-17) (aged 86)
near Hereford, Herefordshire, England
Lavinia Alington
(m. 1945)
Academic background
EducationEton College
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford
Academic work

Sir Roger Aubrey Baskerville Mynors FBA (28 July 1903 – 17 October 1989) was an English classicist and medievalist who held the senior chairs of Latin at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. A textual critic, he was an expert in the study of manuscripts and their role in the reconstruction of classical texts.

Mynors's career spanned most of the 20th century and straddled both of England's leading universities, Oxford and Cambridge. Educated at Eton College, he read Literae Humaniores at Balliol College, Oxford, and spent the early years of his career as a fellow of that college. He was Kennedy Professor of Latin at Cambridge from 1944 to 1953 and Corpus Christi Professor of Latin at Oxford from 1953 until his retirement in 1970. He died in a car accident in 1989, aged 86, while travelling to his country residence, Treago Castle.

Mynors's reputation is that of one of Britain's foremost classicists.[1] He was an expert on palaeography, and has been cred with unravelling a number of highly complex manuscript relationships in his catalogues of the Balliol and Durham Cathedral libraries. His publications on classical subjects include critical ions of Vergil, Catullus, and Pliny the Younger. The final achievement of his scholarly career, a comprehensive commentary on Vergil's Georgics, was published posthumously. In addition to honorary degrees and fellowships from various institutions, Mynors was created Knight Bachelor in 1963.

Early life and secondary education[]

Roger Aubrey Baskerville Mynors was born in Langley Burrell, Wiltshire,[2] into a family of Herefordshire gentry.[3] The Mynors family had owned the estate of Treago Castle since the 15th century, and he resided there in later life. His mother was Margery Musgrave, and his father, Aubrey Baskerville Mynors, was an Anglican clergyman and rector of Langley Burrell, who had been secretary to the Pan-Anglican Congress, held in London in 1908. Among his four siblings was his identical twin brother Humphrey Mynors, who went on to become Deputy Governor of the Bank of England.[4] The brothers shared a close friendship and lived together in their ancestral home after Roger's retirement.[5]

Mynors attended Summer Fields School in Oxford, and in 1916 entered Eton College as a scholar. At Eton, he was part of a generation of pupils that included the historian Steven Runciman and the author George Orwell. His precocious interest in Latin literature and its transmission[a] was fostered by the encouragement of two of his teachers, Cyril Alington and M. R. James. Alington became an influential mentor and friend since he, like Mynors, was fascinated with the manuscript traditions of medieval Europe.[6]

Academic career[]

Balliol College, Oxford[]

Photograph of a large country house surrounded by trees
Treago Castle, the Mynors family's country residence

In 1922, Mynors won the Domus exhibition,[7] a scholarship to study Classics at Balliol College, Oxford.[2] Attending the college at the same time as the literary critic Cyril Connolly, the musicologist Jack Westrup, the future Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Walter Fraser Oakeshott, and the historian Richard Pares, he was highly successful in his academic studies.[8] Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1926, he won the Hertford (1924), Craven (1924), and Derby (1926) scholarships.[2] He was elected to a fellowship at Balliol and became a tutor in Classics. In 1935 he was elevated to a University Lecturership. At the time of his appointment, much of Mynors's teaching focused on the poet Vergil, whose complete works he ed in the following decades.[9]

His tenure at Oxford University saw the beginning of his comprehensive work on medieval manuscripts. From the late 1920s onwards, Mynors was drawn more to matters of codicology than to purely classical questions. He prepared an ion of the 6th-century scholar Cassiodorus,[1] for which he travelled extensively in continental Europe; a critical ion was published in 1937. In 1929, he was appointed librarian of Balliol College. This position gave impetus to create a catalogue of the college's medieval manuscripts. A similar project, a catalogue of the manuscripts housed at Durham Cathedral, was compiled in the 1930s. Mynors's interest in codicology gave rise to a close co-operation with the medievalists Richard William Hunt and Neil Ripley Ker.[10]

In 1936, towards the end of his tenure at Balliol, Mynors met Eduard Fraenkel, then holder of a chair in Latin at Oxford. Having relocated to England because of the increasing discrimination against German Jews, Fraenkel was a leading exponent of Germany's scholarly tradition. His mentorship contributed to Mynors's transformation from amateur scholar to a professional critic of Latin texts. They maintained a close friendship, which exposed Mynors to other German philologists, including Rudolf Pfeiffer and Otto Skutsch.[11]

Mynors spent the winter of 1938 as a visiting scholar at Harvard University.[12] In 1940, after a brief return to Balliol, British involvement in the Second World War led to his being employed at the Exchange Control Department of Her Majesty's Treasury responsible for the administration of foreign currency transactions.[2] At Balliol, Mynors taught from 1926 until 1944,[2] a time during which he mentored a number of future scholars, including the Wittgenstein expert David Pears and the classicist Donald Russell.[12]

Pembroke College, Cambridge[]

Leaf of parchment with pre-modern handwriting, illustrated with floral motives
Mynors ed the standard ion of the Aeneid. This 15th-century manuscript contains the beginning of the poem's sixth book.

In 1944, encouraged by Fraenkel,[13] Mynors took up an offer to assume the Kennedy Professorship of Latin at the University of Cambridge.[14] He also became a fellow of Pembroke College. In 1945,[2] shortly after moving to Cambridge, he married Lavinia Alington, a medical researcher[15] and daughter of his former teacher and Eton headmaster, Cyril Alington. The couple had no children.[16] The move to Cambridge meant an advancement of his academic career, but he soon came to contemplate a return to Oxford.[17] He applied unsuccessfully to become master of Balliol College after the position had been vacated by Sandie Lindsay in 1949. The historian David Keir was elected in his stead.[2]

His post at Cambridge caused changes to Mynors's profile as an academic. His duties at Balliol had centred on the supervision of undergraduates, while he was free to focus on palaeographical topics in his research. At Cambridge, Mynors was required to lecture extensively on Latin literature and to supervise research students, a task of which he had little experience. The duties of his university post left little time to get involved in the activities of the college, which led Mynors to regret his departure from Oxford, going so far as to describe the decision as a "fundamental error" in a personal letter.[17]

Although his post was chiefly that of a Latinist, his involvement in the publication of medieval texts intensified during the 1940s. After he was approached by V. H. Galbraith, a historian of the Middle Ages, Mynors became an or on Nelson's Medieval Texts series in 1946. Working on the series first as a joint or, and from 1962 as an advisory or, he ed the Latin text for a number of volumes.[18] He was the principal author of ions of Walter Map's De nugis curialium and of Bede's Ecclesiastical History.[19] In 1947, he collaborated with the Oxford historian Alfred Brotherston Emden, who consulted Mynors for his own work on the history of the University of Oxford while assisting, in turn, with the Balliol catalogue.[20]

Corpus Christi College, Oxford[]

In 1953, Mynors was appointed Corpus Christi Professor of Latin and could thus return to Oxford to succeed Eduard Fraenkel. At the time, there was no precedent for such a move between senior chairs at Oxford and Cambridge.[16] Most of his work as an or of Latin texts took place during this second period at Oxford. Working for the Oxford Classical Texts series, he produced critical ions of the complete works of Catullus (1958) and Vergil (1969), and of Pliny the Younger's Epistulae (1963).[21] Though focusing on classical subjects, he continued to work on manuscripts as a curator at the Bodleian Library.[22] In the 17 years he spent at the college, Mynors sought to maintain its position as a centre of excellence in the Classics and fostered contacts with a new generation of Latinists, including E. J. Kenney, Wendell Clausen, Leighton Durham Reynolds, R. J. Tarrant and Michael Winterbottom.[21]

Retirement and death[]

In 1970, Mynors retired from his teaching duties and relocated to his estate at Treago Castle. In addition to an intense dedication to arboriculture,[5] his retirement saw work on a commentary on Vergil's Georgics, which was published posthumously in 1990.[23] He translated the correspondence of the humanist Desiderius Erasmus for the University of Toronto Press,[3] and maintained an interest in the nearby Hereford Cathedral, serving as the chairman of the Friends of the Cathedral from 1979 to 1984. In 1980, the cathedral's parish set up a fund in Mynors's name to acquire a collection of rare books.[24]

On 17 October 1989, Mynors was killed in a road accident outside Hereford on his way back from a day working on the cathedral's manuscripts.[2] He was buried at St Weonards.[2] Meryl Jancey, the cathedral's Honorary Archivist, later revealed that Mynors had on the same day expressed his delight about his own scholarly work on the death of Bede: "He told me he was glad that he had translated for the Oxford Medieval Texts the account of Bede's death, and that Bede had not ceased in what he saw as his work for God until the very end."[25]

Contributions to scholarship[]

A page from a medieval book containing two handwritten columns of text in dark ink.
A leaf from the Saint Petersburg Bede which Mynors used in his ion of the Ecclesiastical History

Cataloguing manuscripts[]

Mynors's chief interest lay in palaeography, the study of pre-modern manuscripts. He is cred with unravelling a number of complex manuscript relationships in his catalogues of the Balliol and Durham Cathedral libraries.[16] He had particular interest in the physical state of manuscripts, including examining blots and rulings. For the Balliol archivist Bethany Hamblen, this interest typifies the importance Mynors gave to formal features when evaluating hand-written books.[26]

Critical ions[]

A series of critical ions on Latin authors constitutes the entirety of Mynors's purely classical scholarship.[27] Because of his reluctance to emend[b] beyond the transmitted readings, Mynors has been described as a conservative textual critic.[16] This approach is thought to have originated in his tendency to ascribe great historical value to manuscripts and their scribes.[2]

The first of his critical ions is of the Institutiones of Cassiodorus, the first produced since 1679. In the introduction, Mynors offered new insights into the complex manuscript tradition without resolving the fundamental question of how the original text was expanded in later copies.[28] The ion was praised by the reviewer Stephen Gaselee in The Classical Review, who said that it would provide solid foundations for a commentary;[29] writing for the Journal of Theological Studies, Alexander Souter described it as a "definitive ion" and praised Mynors's classification of the manuscripts.[30]

In 1958, Mynors published an ion of the poems of Catullus.[2] His text followed two recent ions by Moritz Schuster (1949) and Ignazio Cazzaniga (1956), with which he had to compete. Taking a conservative stance on the problems posed by Catullus's text, Mynors did not print any modern emendations unless they corrected obvious scribal errors.[31] Contrary to his conservative instincts, he rejected the traditional archaising orthography of the manuscripts in favour of normalised Latin spelling. This intervention was termed by the philologist Revilo Oliver as "the victory of common sense" in Catullan criticism.[31] For the reviewer Philip Levine, Mynors's ion sets itself apart from previous texts by its scrutiny of a "large bulk" of unexamined manuscripts.[32] Writing in 2000, the Latinist Stephen Harrison criticised Mynors's text for the "omission of many important conjectures from the text",[33] while lauding it for its handling of the manuscript tradition.[33]

His ion of Pliny's Epistulae employed a similar method but aimed to be an intermediate step rather than an overhaul of the text.[34] Mynors's ion of the complete works of Vergil revamped the text constructed by F. A. Hirtzel in 1900 which had become outdated.[35] He enlarged the manuscript base by drawing on 13 minor witnesses from the ninth century[36] and added an index of personal names.[37] Its judgement of these minor manuscripts, in particular, is described by the Latinist W. S. Maguinness as the ion's strength.[36] Given the incomplete state of the Aeneid, Vergil's epic poem on the wanderings of Aeneas, Mynors departed from his cautious orial stance by printing a small number of modern conjectures.[38]

Mynors established a new text of Bede's Ecclesiastical History for the ion he published together with the historian Bertram Colgrave. His ion of this text followed that of Charles Plummer published in 1896. Collation of the Saint Petersburg Bede, an 8th-century manuscript unknown to Plummer, allowed Mynors to construct a new version of the M tradition.[39] Although he did not append a detailed critical apparatus and exegetical notes, his analysis of the textual history was praised by the Church historian Gerald Bonner as "lucid" and "excellently done".[40] Mynors himself considered the ion superficial and felt that its publication had been premature.[41] Winterbottom voices a similar opinion, writing that the text "hardly differ[ed] from Plummer's".[41]

Commentary on the Georgics[]

His scholarly legacy was enhanced by his posthumously published commentary on Vergil's Georgics. A comprehensive guide to Vergil's didactic poem on agriculture, the commentary has been lauded for its meticulous attention to technical detail and for Mynors's profound knowledge of agricultural practice.[42][43] In spite of its accomplishments, the classicist Patricia Johnston has noted that the commentary fails to engage seriously with contemporary scholarship on the text,[43] such as the tension between optimistic and pessimistic[c] readings.[23] In this regard, Mynors's last work reflects his lifelong scepticism towards literary criticism of any persuasion.[23]


Photograph of the façade of Hereford Cathedral
In his retirement, Mynors cultivated an interest in Hereford Cathedral.

During his career, Mynors gained a reputation as "one of the leading classical scholars of his generation".[16] He drew praise from the scholarly community for his textual work. The Latinist Harold Gotoff states that he was an "extraordinary scholar",[3] while Winterbottom describes his critical ions as "distinguished".[44] His Oxford ions of the poets Catullus and Vergil in particular are singled out by Gotoff as "excellent";[3] they still serve as the standard ions of their texts in the early 21st century.[45]


Mynors was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1944 and made a Knight Bachelor in 1963. He was granted honorary fellowships by Balliol College, Oxford (1963), Pembroke College, Cambridge (1965), and Corpus Christi College, Oxford (1970). The Warburg Institute honoured him in the same way.[2] Mynors was also an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Istituto Nazionale di Studi Romani (it). He held honorary degrees from the universities of Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Sheffield, and Toronto.[46] In 1983, on his 80th birthday, Mynors's service to the study of Latin texts was honoured by the publication of Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics, ed by the Oxford Latinist L. D. Reynolds.[16] In 2020, an exhibition was held at Balliol to commemorate his scholarship on the college library.[47]


The following books were authored by Mynors:[48]


  1. ^ Transmission refers to the ways in which classical texts were circulated and preserved prior to the invention of printing.
  2. ^ Emendation occurs when a textual critic replaces the transmitted text with a supplement of his or her own creation.
  3. ^ In scholarship of Vergil, 'pessimism' describes readings of his poetry discerning a dark, downbeat outlook. The opposite view is termed 'optimism'.


  1. ^ a b "Sir Roger Mynors. Distinguished Latinist". The Guardian. 19 October 1989. p. 39 – via Newspapers.com.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Nisbet 2004.
  3. ^ a b c d Gotoff 1991, p. 309.
  4. ^ Winterbottom 1993, p. 371.
  5. ^ a b Winterbottom 1993, p. 393.
  6. ^ Winterbottom 1993, pp. 373–374.
  7. ^ Hamblen 2020, p. 2.
  8. ^ Winterbottom 1993, pp. 374–375.
  9. ^ Winterbottom 1993, p. 375.
  10. ^ Winterbottom 1993, pp. 377–380.
  11. ^ Gotoff 1991, pp. 310–311.
  12. ^ a b Winterbottom 1993, p. 381.
  13. ^ Winterbottom 1993, p. 382.
  14. ^ Gotoff 1991, p. 310.
  15. ^ Hamblen 2020, p. 5.
  16. ^ a b c d e f "Sir Roger Mynors, Obituary". The Times (63529). 19 October 1989. p. 16.
  17. ^ a b Winterbottom 1993, p. 383.
  18. ^ Winterbottom 1993, pp. 384–385.
  19. ^ Winterbottom 1993, pp. 384–388.
  20. ^ Hamblen 2020, p. 22.
  21. ^ a b Gotoff 1991, p. 311.
  22. ^ Hamblen 2020, p. 16.
  23. ^ a b c Winterbottom 1993, p. 396.
  24. ^ Winterbottom 1993, pp. 393–394.
  25. ^ Winterbottom 1993, p. 395.
  26. ^ Hamblen 2020, p. 6.
  27. ^ Winterbottom 1993, p. 391.
  28. ^ Winterbottom 1993, pp. 377–378.
  29. ^ Gaselee 1937, p. 189.
  30. ^ Souter 1937, p. 195.
  31. ^ a b Oliver 1959, p. 51.
  32. ^ Levine 1959, p. 416.
  33. ^ a b Harrison 2000, p. 67.
  34. ^ Fuchs 1966, p. 89.
  35. ^ Sewter 1970, p. 105.
  36. ^ a b Maguinness 1971, p. 198.
  37. ^ Maguinness 1971, p. 200.
  38. ^ Winterbottom 1993, p. 392.
  39. ^ Gatch 1970, p. 543.
  40. ^ Bonner 1970, p. 133.
  41. ^ a b Winterbottom 1993, p. 386.
  42. ^ Williams 1992, p. 89.
  43. ^ a b Johnston 1991.
  44. ^ Winterbottom 1993, p. 389.
  45. ^ Trappes-Lomax 2007, p. 2.
  46. ^ "Roger Mynors". New York Times. 21 October 1989. Retrieved 4 August 2021.
  47. ^ Hamblen 2020, p. 1.
  48. ^ Winterbottom 1993, pp. 400–401.


Academic offices
Preceded by
William Blair Anderson
Kennedy Professor of Latin
Cambridge University

1944 to 1953
Succeeded by
C.O. Brink
Preceded by
Eduard Fraenkel
Corpus Christi Professor of Latin
University of Oxford

1953 to 1970
Succeeded by
Robin Nisbet