L. D. Reynolds

Leighton Durham Reynolds FBA ((1930-02-11)11 February 1930  (1999-12-04)4 December 1999) was a British Latinist who is best known for his work on textual criticism. Spending his entire career at the University of Oxford, he edited the standard edition of Seneca the Younger's Letters.

Leighton Durham Reynolds

Born(1930-02-11)11 February 1930
Died4 December 1999(1999-12-04) (aged 69)
Susan Buchanan
(m. 1962)
Academic background
Academic work
Sub-disciplineTextual Criticism
InstitutionsBrasenose College, Oxford

Born in South Wales into a family of English heritage, he studied Latin at University College Cardiff and Classics at St. John's College, Cambridge. From 1957 to his retirement in 1996, Reynolds was a fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford and lectured in Latin literature at the University of Oxford. A Fellow of the British Academy since 1987, he died of cancer in 1999.

The central academic achievement of Reynolds career was the publication in 1965 of The Medieval Tradition of Seneca's Letters, in which he advanced a new reconstruction of the transmission and revealed that most of the younger manuscripts were of little use for the establishment of the text. In the same year, he published an edition of the Letters based on his conclusions. He also wrote critical editions of Seneca's Dialogues, Sallust's Jugurtha, and Cicero's De finibus bonorum et malorum. In 1968, Reynolds and his Oxford colleague Nigel Guy Wilson co-authored Scribes and Scholars: a Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature, a well-received introduction to textual criticism.

Reynolds' reputation was largely based on his contributions to textual criticism. Writing about the set of critical editions authored by Reynolds, the Latinist Michael Reeve stated that Reynolds' scholarship had the ability to "to cut through dozens of manuscripts to the serviceable core".[1] At the time of its publication his work on Seneca was considered by some commentators to be difficult to surpass[2][3] and his edition of the Letters still served as the standard edition in the early 21st century.[4]

Early life and education

Leighton Durham Reynolds was born on 11 February 1930 in the Welsh village of Abercanaid south of Merthyr Tydfil. His father, Edgar Reynolds, was a civil servant working as a national health insurance clerk. The family of his mother, Hester Hale, had moved to Wales from the English county of Somerset in the previous generation. William Hale, his maternal grandfather, exerted a strong influence on Reynolds during his childhood: a miner by profession, he shared with Reynolds a passion for gardening, leading his grandson to join a society for natural history in Cardiff.[5] Supported by the naturalists Bruce Campbell and A. E. Wade, he wrote his first publications on the birds of Caerphilly Basin.[6]

Reynolds attended Caerphilly grammar school and won a scholarship to study Modern Languages at The Queen's College, Oxford. Due to a short-lived regulation stipulating that holders of state scholarships attend the institution nearest to their hometown, he did not take up his place, enrolling instead at University College Cardiff in 1947. Reynolds initially focussed on French and Italian and spent some time at the Università per Stranieri di Perugia. Influenced by the Latinist R. G. Austin, he increasingly turned to the study of Latin, culminating in the award of a first-class degree in 1950.[7]

With Austin's support, Reynolds went on to obtain a scholarship for a second undergraduate degree at St John's College, Cambridge. He completed the Classical Tripos, the Classics degree offered by the University of Cambridge, in two years and received several awards for his performance, including a Craven Fellowship from the University. At St John's, he made the acquaintance of Bryan Peter Reardon, an expert on the Ancient Greek novel, the Plato scholar Michael Stokes, and the Latinist John Patrick Sullivan.[8] In 1952, after travelling to Greece, Reynolds joined the Royal Air Force but most of his national service was spent studying Russian in a programme introduced by the linguist Elizabeth Hill.[9] After completing the course, he lodged with a Russian émigré in Paris to improve his fluency in spoken Russian. He left the Air Force with the rank of pilot officer.[10]

Career at Oxford

Brasenose College, Oxford, where Reynolds served as a fellow and tutor in Classics from 1957 to 1996.

In 1954, Reynolds was elected to his first academic appointment, a research fellowship at the The Queen's College, Oxford. During his three years at the college, he worked mainly on the Letters of Seneca the Younger, which would later form the basis of his reputation as a Latinist.[5] In this period, he came under the influence of three textual critics working at Oxford, Neil Ripley Ker, Richard William Hunt, and R. A. B. Mynors, the senior chair of Latin at the university. They encouraged him to study transmission of the text of Seneca.[1]

When his research fellowship had ended, the post of Classics tutor at Brasenose College, Oxford had fallen vacant after its incumbent, Maurice Platnauer, had become the college new master. Reynolds was hired as his replacement and duly elected to a fellowship in 1957.[5] He was also appointed a University Lecturer in Greek and Latin Literature. He would hold both appointments for the rest of his academic career.[1] Reynolds played in an active part in the college's governing body, where, according to the Brasenose fellow and chemist Graham Richards, he "held a position of quiet authority". From 1985 to 1987, he served as Vice-Principal and, in 1997, as acting Principal of the college. He supported Brasenose's decision to become the first all-male college of the university to admit female students.[11] In 1996 he was raised to the rank of a professor.[1]

In 1962, he married Susan Mary Buchanan, an optometrist and daughter of the Scottish town planner Colin Buchanan.[5] The pair's wedding reception was held at Brasenose College, where Reynolds was jokingly given an exeat, a permission required by undergraduates to spend a night away from the college, by a student. They moved into Winterslow Cottage in the hamlet of Boars Hill near Oxford which they later bought from the college.[12] Reynolds and his wife had two daughters and a son.[5]

Reynolds was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1987.[13] During his academic career, he held a number of visiting fellowships and professorships: he spent periods at the University of Texas at Austin, twice at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and twice at Cornell University.[13] From 1975 to 1987, he was co-editor of The Classical Review.[5]

Retirement and death

Reynolds retired from his teaching duties in 1997, one year after being appointed to a professorship. Around this time, he was diagnosed with cancer. In an obituary in the Proceedings of the British Academy, the Latinist Michael Winterbottom writes that Reynolds underwent oncological surgery in 1995 and was later treated at Churchill Hospital.[13] According to the Hellenist Nigel Guy Wilson, the diagnosis was handed down only in 1999 with Reynolds opting for palliative treatment.[5] He died on 4 December 1999 in Oxford.[1]

Contributions to scholarship

Seneca's Letters

Reynolds published an edition of Seneca the Younger's Letters. This image shows the beginning of Letter 1 in a manuscript illuminated by Robert Boyvin in around 1500.

In the application for his position at Brasenose, Reynolds wrote that he had been working on the textual transmission of Seneca the Younger's Letters and that he aimed to publish a new critical edition of the text and a general survey of the topic. While conducting this research, he had traveled extensively in Continental Europe to study the relevant manuscripts. In 1965, he published the results of his work: an edition of the Letters in the Oxford Classical Texts series and a monograph entitled The Medieval Tradition of Seneca's Letters.[10]

He set out to answer two central questions regarding the medieval manuscripts of the Letters: how authoritative are the 'younger' manuscripts, written after the 12th century, in establishing the text and how do they relate to the older segment of the tradition?[14] For Letters 1–88, which were transmitted in a separate tradition, he elaborated the stemma introduced by the German philologist Otto Foerster. Reynolds established a transmission in three distinct branches (p, α, γ) in which α and γ characteristically offer common readings.[15] He demonstrated more thoroughly than his predecessor how younger manuscripts descended through the γ branch.[16] This breakthrough in particular is described by the classicist Gregor Maurach as the result of time-consuming scholarly groundwork.[14]

The transmission of Letters 89–124 depends on a much narrower manuscript base which he sought to supplement. Previously, three individual manuscripts had been considered the key textual witnesses (B, Q, p); Reynolds showed that p and Q were in fact representatives of larger groups of manuscripts comprising several more recent manuscripts.[16] This part of his research drew praise from reviewers,[16][15] with the classicist B. L. Hijmans commenting that its method of reconstruction would "be very useful in seminars on textual criticism".[17] Reynolds' concluding remarks about the younger manuscript of the text stated that, with few exceptions, "they have no contribution to make to the reconstruction of the text".[18] Writing for the The Classical Review, the Latinist E. J. Kenney said that this conclusion was "an altogether Herculean feat" but added that it "hardly prepare[d]" readers for the large role these manuscripts played in editions of the Letters.[19]

Appearing in two volumes, Reynolds' edition of the Letters was based on the results of his monograph.[20] For Kenney, the edition displayed "almost constantly sound" judgement of textual problems and had a critical apparatus without "serious inconsistencies".[19] Although he criticised a number of editorial aspects,[21] he concluded by writing that "[Reynolds'] edition will surely be for a long time to come the standard text of this undervalued work".[3] Hijmans expressed a similar opinion while stating that Reynolds' work may not have provided the final assessment of all available manuscripts.[22]

Further critical editions

In 1977, he published a critical edition of Seneca's Dialogues.[5] Having identified the Codex Ambrosianus (A) as the most important source of the text, Reynolds relied heavily on it and drew on the readings of younger manuscript only where A showed signs of corruption.[2] In the eyes of Latinist D. R. Shackleton Bailey, the result was a text which surpassed that published in 1905 by the German scholar Emil Hermes.[23] Shackleton Bailey further stated that "it seems unlikely that [Reynolds' text] can ever be greatly bettered".[2] According to the reviewer Daniel Knecht, Reynolds was more willing than previous editors to posit cruces in places where the text was irremediably corrupt and to delete passages he considered inauthentic.[24]

Reynolds continued his work on Latin prose authors in 1991 with an edition of the Jugurtha by the historian Sallust. At that time, the standard text had been a 1954 edition by Alfons Kurfess [de] in the Bibliotheca Teubneriana series. Reynolds innovated by limiting himself to reporting five manuscripts in passages where Kurfess had provided unnecessary detail.[25] For Stephen Oakley, the Kennedy Professor of Latin at Cambridge, the greatest merit of the edition was its judicious provision of readings from less reliable manuscripts, which has lead to the solution of a difficult textual problem in chapter 114.[26] The classicist Stephen Shierling considered the differences between the editions of Kurfess and Reynolds of "modest importance" but said the new text was "cleaner and more consistent".[27]

Published in 1998, the final critical edition of his career covered Cicero's philosophical text De finibus bonorum et malorum. This work had been edited competently by the Danish classical scholar Johan Nicolai Madvig in 1839 but technological and methodological advances had necessitated a new rendition of the text. Reynolds remodelled the stemma by defining two principal transmission groups (α and φ) to which all available manuscripts belong. In addition to a concise critical apparatus, he fitted the text with a secondary apparatus providing background information on the philosophical concepts discussed.[28]

Scribes and Scholars

Reynolds and Wilson co-authored a book on the medieval transmission of classical texts. This anonymous picture from the 12th-century shows a scribe at his desk and is housed at Trinity College, Cambridge.

After publishing his work on Seneca's Letters, Reynolds collaborated with Nigel Guy Wilson, a Hellenist and fellow of the neighbouring Lincoln College, to produce a general introduction to the transmission of classical texts. They were tasked with this endeavour after Oxford University Press had been made aware of the need for such a book by a schoolmaster. Their joint volume was published in 1968 as Scribes and Scholars: a Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature. The book appeared in two further editions (1974 and 1991) and was translated into Italian, French, Greek, Spanish, and Japanese.[29] The book contained chapters on the afterlife of classical texts in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance; the last chapter discussed modern textual criticism.[30]

Scribes and Scholars was met with enthusiastic reviews from the scholarly world. The Hellenist Patricia Easterling considered it to have achieved its aim of providing a general introduction with "striking success". She commented that the book had "one serious drawback: its scholarship is so good that more advanced students will also want to use it, and for them it will be frustrating to find that there are no footnotes".[30] The philologist Conor Fahy termed it an "excellent short manual" though he criticised the authors' assertion that Greek was the only language spoken in Southern Italy and Sicily during the Middle Ages.[31] For the reviewer Wolfgang Hörmann, the book constituted "a work of art in its own way" (German: in seiner Art ein kleines Kunstwerk).[32] Commenting on the final chapter on modern textual criticism, he praised Reynolds and Wilson for avoiding the common pitfall of forcing the discipline into a rigid methodological system.[33]


Reynolds' reputation as a scholar rests on his contributions to textual criticism. In an obituary for The Independent, the Latinist Michael Reeve wrote that Reynolds' scholarship had the ability to "to cut through dozens of manuscripts to the serviceable core".[1] Scribes and Scholars, the introduction to textual criticism co-authored with Wilson, was described by Reeve as "the kind of book that one simply cannot imagine not being there".[29] Even though his scholarship on Seneca was at the time considered by some commentators to be difficult to surpass,[2][3] Winterbottom considers the transmission of the Letters as much more open than Reynolds envisaged.[34] Reynolds' text was nevertheless still consulted as the standard edition in the early 21st century.[4]


  1. Reeve 1999.
  2. Shackleton Bailey 1979, p. 76.
  3. Kenney 1966, p. 344.
  4. Winterbottom 2001, p. 666.
  5. Wilson 2004.
  6. Winterbottom 2001, p. 660.
  7. Winterbottom 2001, p. 661.
  8. Winterbottom 2001, pp. 661–662.
  9. Winterbottom 2001, p. 662.
  10. Winterbottom 2001, p. 663.
  11. Winterbottom 2001, p. 673.
  12. Winterbottom 2001, p. 674.
  13. Winterbottom 2001, p. 675.
  14. Maurach 1968, p. 159.
  15. Kenney 1966, p. 342.
  16. Maurach 1968, p. 160.
  17. Hijmans 1968, p. 324.
  18. Reynolds 1965, p. 80.
  19. Kenney 1966, p. 343.
  20. Hijmans 1968, p. 322.
  21. Kenney 1966, pp. 343–4.
  22. Hijmans 1968, p. 326.
  23. Shackleton Bailey 1979, p. 77.
  24. Knecht 1978, p. 646.
  25. Oakley 1993, p. 58.
  26. Oakley 1993, p. 59.
  27. Schierling 1994, p. 99.
  28. Dyck 2000.
  29. Winterbottom 2001, p. 668.
  30. Easterling 1970, p. 237.
  31. Fahy 1970, p. 151.
  32. Hörman 1970, p. 259.
  33. Hörman 1970, pp. 258–9.
  34. Winterbottom 2001, p. 667.