Monday, August 16, 2004


Associate Professor Roger Scott, God bless him was the only academic in the classics department of Melbourne University who took pity on my inability to give my ancient Greek an Erasmian pronunciation, oh so many years ago. Erasmian pronunciation for those of you who have not been subjected to it, is the theory that ancient Greek letters had a single phonetic value, which over the years was lost and changed by the modern Greeks. Σπεύδω βραδέως for example, is pronounced speoudo bradeoos, that is by everyone, except me thanks to Roger Scott, who permitted me when in his class, to retain the modern Greek pronunciation.
Quite apart from the gratitude a lazy student feels towards an indulgent teacher, the enthusiasm Roger Scott feels for the classical world and in particular the world of Greece, is infectious. A graduate of Melbourne and Cambridge Universities, his encyclopaedic knowledge of all aspects of the Greek world, especially ancient and Byzantine is astounding and over the past decades he has tirelessly imparted this knowledge to thousands of eager students, who leave his lessons inspired and endlessly arguing as to the exact medical nature of the plague that hit Athens during the Peloponnesian War or the subtleties of the third declension of optative verbs in Attic Greek.
Yet Roger Scott has also been a pioneer of research into the history and society of the early Byzantine Empire, a field of study which in Australia, is still in its relative infancy. He is a former Associate Dean of the Arts Faculty and the immediate past president of the Australian Association for Byzantine Studies. His research on Byzantine Chronicles saw many of his students (among them some Greek) working on translations and arguing about source texts that ultimately result in various periods of the Byzantine world springing to life for us today in startling clarity. His studies and translations of the chronicles of John Malalas and John Skylitzes are a significant and excellent contribution to the international field of Byzantine Studies and his valuable contacts with eminent Byzantine scholars throughout the world ensures that Australia is not left out of the loop but provides fresh and valuable contributions to the field. In this, Roger Scott remains as passionate as ever through his mantle of almost Victorian genteelness. I remember being gently rebuked in the subtle, tactful manner that only Roger Scott can assume, for facetiously daring to call Cyril Mango’s latest publication, Byzantium, a coffee table book. Denigrate a Byzantine Scholar to his fellow at your own peril.
In this respect, Roger Scott assumes an importance to the Greek community way out of proportion to our awareness of his endeavours. One of the most common complaints against our community at large is its intense introspectivity and ghetto-outlook. We complain that mainstream Australia fails to understand the Greek-Australian or his culture, yet we (a) only promote those aspects of our culture that we understand or appeal to certain factions of our fractious community or (b) keep such “approved” cultural manifestations to ourselves. Roger Scott however, quite divorced from any considerations of nationalism or politics, has through the sheer love of his chosen field of study, done a considerably better job than our community of promoting awareness of our past in the mainstream.
He thus deserves our especial thanks, as an unsung hero and friend of the Greek community. I remember attending a conference in 1995 at Melbourne University on Byzantine Macedonia, a conference of the Association of Byzantine Studies, where Roger Scott was giving a lecture. Behind me, in hushed tones, a lady turned to her partner and whispered in awe: «Πώς ξέρει τόσα πολλά αυτός ο ξένοςγια μας;» This is hitting the nail on the head exactly. The pursuit of knowledge, whether that be through the avenue of Greek history or otherwise is open to all and it honours us as a community to have such a distinguished scholar showcase our brilliant past to the wider Australian community. His presence has also inspired the academics of Greek origin in our community to follow suit and he has been both a friend and guide to them in their pursuit of Greek studies on the tertiary level.
The fourteenth conference of the Australian Association of Byzantine Studies, held at Melbourne University between 12-15 August was aptly in honour of this great man of letters, Roger Scott, who is now retiring from academic life. Always a philhellene, and with a sound understanding of the ways of the modern Greek, Roger Scott is one of those few academics who can trace the continuity of the ancient, medieval and modern Greek and really understand why the modern Greek is the way he is. When he speaks, his observations are a mirror to us of thousands of years of Greek society and as such he is a most valuable member of our community. He will continue in his lifelong passion in retirement as a research fellow.
Few Greeks ever favour Greek-related events with their presence unless they are under the ‘banner’ of one community organization or another, as was proved spectacularly at last year’s conference on the Fall of Constantinople, leaving those that would promote Greek culture to the mainstream alone and cut-off from the Greek community. This is of concern, considering that few Greeks have the inclination to promote aspects of Hellenism within wider academic circles. A great man of Greek letters retires after giving his life to the study of Greek history, among other things, relatively unknown by a community who is in no position to understand the vast contribution he has made to their lives. But for the unassuming and superlatively polite and self-effacing Assoc. Prof. Roger Scott that is entirely fitting.


published in NKEE on 16 August 2004