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Finley in Britain

Dorothy Thompson

Finley in Britain       

      This paper selects for consideration and discussion four aspects of Finley’s activities once he was established in a tenured position in ancient history in the Cambridge Faculty of Classics from 1955.  All four are essential for an understanding of his work in Britain, even though they are by no means uniformly raised in the 1985 interview with Keith Hopkins, if at all.

      First, Finley’s role as a teacher, both as a Fellow of Jesus College (from 1957) and within the Faculties of Classics and History.  His involvement in the latter Faculty is important, as is the influence of the Professor of Ancient History, A.H.M. (Hugo) Jones.  Jones was already a Fellow of Jesus when Finley offered his first classes on Slavery in the Ancient World with him during Lent Term 1957.  In the 1985 interview, Finley underlines the significance of his giving lectures for the development of his ideas.  The paper exploits both memories (personal and those of other contemporaries) and the University Lecture List (published in the University Reporter) in tracing the evolution of his scholarship.  Closely linked to Finley’s university teaching was his work in the encouragement of ancient history in schools. He inspired and collaborated closely with a group of teachers (through the Joint Association of Classical Teachers) in the formation of a new schools’ examination syllabus in the subject, which involved the study of ancient sources provided in translation (JACT Ancient History A-level Examination).  Records of the JACT Ancient History Bureau’s meetings reveal not only Finley’s organizational skills, but also an awareness of the importance of cooperative work that must owe much to experience earlier in his career.

      Second, Finley as a scholar in a European context.  The period through his retirement from full-time teaching in 1979 was marked by frequent visits to Cambridge of ancient historians, especially Greek historians, from Europe (including numbers from what was then the Eastern bloc).  Graduate students, too, were attracted from overseas to undertake research in Cambridge.  An issue for discussion is the role that Finley’s previous experience may have played in facilitating the visits of those who shared his historical, intellectual, and (often) political interests.  This was an exciting time for Cambridge ancient history; the awareness of a broader constituency involved in similar pursuits was invigorating.

      Third, Finley’s activity in Cambridge life, and on a national scale as a Trustee of the British Museum.  Because he became a large presence in Cambridge, it is only possible to touch briefly on his various roles there – in the Faculty and, more generally, within the University (where on one occasion his organization of a vote in the Regent House may be seen to have demonstrated his political experience).  A further Cambridge role to be considered is that of Master of Darwin College (1976–1982), a suitably modern foundation for such a head.  On this subject, too, the memories of those of the time can be exploited.  Finley served as a Trustee of the British Museum from 1977 to 1984.  His influence here was marked by the Museum’s 1982 publication, despite the qualms of other Trustees, of the study by Catherine Johns, Sex or Symbol: Erotic Images of Greece and Rome with explicit illustrations from Greek pots.  The question arises: how did Finley eventually succeed in carrying that decision?

      Fourth, Sir Moses as a knight of the realm (in 1979).  Here, as throughout his life, the role of Lady Finley must be noted.  In Britain at least, Moses and Mary Finley were, and always functioned, as a pair.  Though the acceptance of this royal accolade was inexplicable to many of his friends at the time, the claim can be made that it was not altogether surprising.

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The Impact of Moses Finley

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