Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Alan Treloar

I've developed the odd habit over the last couple of years, perhaps related to my interest in dead languages, of reading the obituaries in the paper from time. Not in an obsessive way, but I'll often flip to the back of the Herald and have a glance to see who's featured, and more often than not it's someone who I've never heard of, but who lived a remarkably interesting life.

Like Alan Treloar, whose obituary included the following:
Colonel Alan Treloar was one of Australia's greatest linguists and classical scholars and also a distinguished soldier.


Few could rival his knowledge as a scholar of ancient Greek and Latin. He had a special interest in the Roman poet Horace but had read the entire classical literatures of both languages at least twice.


He had an astonishing gift for languages and would admit, when pressed, to direct knowledge of about 80. He had a formidable command of many, such as Sanskrit, Russian, Chinese, Arabic and Hittite. In his early 80s he was investigating Bunuba, a language of the Kimberley.
Being (at a stretch) tri-lingual I often meet people who express amazement at my language skills, but in reality I am a mere dwarf compared to such a giant. I am especially in awe of his claim to have read the entire classical literatures of both Latin and Greek twice, to the extent that I wonder if it could possibly be true. I'm sure it is, though how he managed to find the time is completely beyond me.

5 comments:

Seumas Macdonald said...

I think I met Alan once briefly in passing, and I knew a few people who knew him. He was truly amazing in his linguistic abilities, and his obituary intrigued me in that I had not known or expected his long military involvement.

Trevor Evans said...

A quick note from the author of the obituary for Alan Treloar quoted on your blog. I can confirm that there is no doubt about his coverage of Greek and Latin literature, though I appreciate that the extent of that achievement (only one of many) may be hard to credit without knowledge of the man. I was one of the many students he taught from retirement, worked on several languages with him, and had the privilege of knowing him over the last 25 years of his life. His linguistic gifts were of a kind rarely matched and well into his 80s he was conducting a regular nightly reading regime in many of the languages he commanded.

jm said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment Trevor, and for writing such a good piece in the first place. I didn't mean to express doubt, only amazement at something which i feel is so far beyond me.

Maddi Treloar said...

I am, as they say, Col. Alan Treloar's greaat grandniece. I speak French, Indonesian and English and I am currently studying Latin, Italian and Spanish. You could say it runs in the not-so-immediate family.

jm said...

great to hear from you, and great to hear that you're keeping up the family tradition. I hope you especially enjoy the Latin. As a mere trilingual I am in awe of your abilities!