Select Correspondence of Ronald Syme, 1927–1939
Edited by Anthony R. Birley
Ronald Syme’s first published monograph, The Roman Revolution, appeared on 7th September 1939, just after World War II began. Over eighty years later it remains a classic. After Syme’s death in 1989 his Literary Executor Fergus Millar suggested to the Editor that to publish a selection of letters that Syme received up to 1939, especially those from foreign scholars, would be welcome. Syme never wrote memoirs and not many of his own letters are extant. However, he kept hundreds from other people. Apart from purely private ones or congratulations on his honours, many throw light on his development as an historian, on his travels and his contacts with other scholars. This selection includes over ninety letters from thirty-four correspondents and a handful of Syme’s own. The earliest reflect the initial stages of Syme’s Oxford career, from graduation in 1927 to election as Fellow of Trinity College in 1929. Those from his Oriel ancient history tutor M.N. Tod and from H. Last show both concerned to foster his progress. As early as 1927 Syme began to contact continental scholars. Spending a few months in Germany in 1928, he met Ernst Fabricius at Freiburg, stayed at the Römisch-Germanische Kommission in Frankfurt, and soon after that went to the British School at Rome. He regularly sent out offprints of articles and kept the replies from the recipients. Those from the later 1930s, especially from Andrew Alföldi, Arthur Stein, Friedrich Münzer and Hermann Strasburger, reflect in different ways the looming crisis in Europe. In the Introduction the Editor provides the context for the letters, which are all annotated, and offers some new sidelights on Syme’s biography. He mentions certain letters excluded from this selection and as a postscript adds a few more with post-1939 reactions to The Roman Revolution. Finally, there are two Appendices, both annotated: the first reprints an Interview given by Syme at Chapel Hill, N. Carolina in 1962, the second reproduces Syme’s own ‘notes’ for four retrospective talks.
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