Robert Yelverton Tyrrell

Works

Life
1844-1914; b. 21 Jan., Ballingarry, Co. Tipperary; ed. TCD; TCD Schol., 1861; BA, 1864; MA, 1867; Fellow, 1868; Prof. of Latin, 1871; of Greek, 1880; of Ancient History, 1900; co-founder of Kottabos and Hermenthena; jointly with Purser, ed., Correspondence of Cicero (1879-1900); also letters of Euripedes other classical authors. ODNB PI DIB FDA

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Works
The Acharnians of Aristophanes, translated into English verse (Dublin 1883); ‘Translation as a Fine Art’, in Hermethena, Vol. 6, No. 13 (1887), cp.148; Essays on Greek Literature (Macmillan 1909) [essays being ‘Pindar’, ‘Sophocles’, ‘The New [i.e., Recently-Discovered] Papyri’, ‘The Poems of Bacchylides’, and ‘Plutarch’], xi+202pp, index [extracts].

 

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Commentary
Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972): ‘The remarks of the genial classicist Tyrrell are still remembered. He once drily observed that there was no such thing as a large whisky, and claimed that a temperance hotel was a contradiction in terms. When his colleague Mahaffy stopping preaching at Trinity, Tyrrell claimed that he began to be afflicted with insomnia at morning chapel.’ (p.162; and see remark of Sir William Wilde, under Notes, infra.)

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W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (1984), R. Y. Tyrrell, ed. Kottabos [fnd. 1869]. (Kottabos was a Sicilian game played by ancient Greeks at banquets and symposia. Contribs. incl. Dowden, A. P. Graves, Edward Hincks, J. K. Ingram, J. P. Mahaffy, Oscar Wilde, Standish O’grady, Arthur Palmer, T. W. Rolleston, R. Y. Tyrrell and others. Kottabos is described by Stanford in Hermathena, cxv (1975), p.9-10. Tyrrell later edited a collection entitled Echoes from Kottabos (London 1906), adding a few pieces not previously published; Bibl., W. B. Stanford, ‘Robert Yelverton Tyrrell,’ in Hermathena CXXV (Winter 1978). Stanford writes of Essays on Greek Literature (1909): ‘The minute topics under discussion render the essays virtually unreadable, except by the classical student, and the student of classical students at that. More interesting his commendation of some critics - notably the late Prof. Jebb - and his criticism of others - usually in the form of deferential disagreement - such as Bury and Mahaffy. And interesting feature is the schematic analysis of the Pindaric Odes of Victory. His essay on “The New Papyri” begins with an elaborate recitation of forgeries including notably Macpherson, Ireland’s Vortigen, and Shapira’s Deuteronomy, the last of which he later returns to. [For further, see Quotations, infra.]

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References
See Irish Book Lover, Vols. 1 & 6.

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Quotations
Essays on Greek Literature (1909): ‘It is perhaps hardly too much to say that no student has ever come to the first reading of Pindar without disappointment-without a more or less pronounced feeling that he does not realize what the quality was in Pindar which made him an inspired sage in the eyes of Hellas, a saint with a niche beside Homer; which consecrated even his most casual utterances to Plato and to Cicero; and which made Horace select his art as the very type of the inimitable. / Not only has the sober judgment of antiquity given to the Theban lyrist a place only second to Homer, but the airy tongue of legend has singled him out as the special favourite of the gods. It was on his lips, as he slept in childhood, that a bee lit and gathered honey. He it was who taught Pan his song, and to whom Persephone came in a dream, ten days before he died, and told him that he would soon be with her to make a song for her. And honours almost meet for a god were paid to him. His iron chair was preserved as a sacred relic at Delphi; and every night as the priest closed the doors of Apollo's temple he cried aloud, “Let the poet Pindar come in to the supper of the God.”’ / [1] Such being the extraordinary reverence paid by antiquity to the poet, it seems strange that among us so many should fail to see his greatness [...] The fact is, the character of the  “Odes of Victory” as a literary phenomenon has been very imperfectly apprehended. it is hard for us to figure to the imagination a form of art whcih partakes in nearly equal parts of the nature of a collect, a ballad, and an oratorio; or to enter into the mind of a poet who is partly also a priest, a librettist, and a ballet master; who, while celebrating the victory of (perhaps) a boy in a wrestling match, yet feels that he is not only doing an act of divine service and worship, but preaching the sacred truth of the unity of the Hellenes and their common descent from Gods and heroes [...] We find ourselves confronted with peoms, which seem to us to deal with very inconsiderable events, but which are conceived in a strain almost burthened with a sense of the importance and dignity of the subject - poems of which the salient feature is their wild freedom and abandon, but which reveal to the closer gaze a strong sense of conscious art, and a singular conformity to technicality.’ (pp.1-2.)

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Essays on Greek Literature (1909), “Sophocles”: ‘Whether there has ever been a greater poet than Sophocles would not be a very profitable question to ask, and the answer given to it would probably show considerable divergence of opinion. But that he was the most prosperous of poets, the most enviable both for the circumstances of his life and for the triumphs of his art, will be denied by none who are acquainted with his career. Such was his personal beauty and grace, that he was chosen, when sixteen years old, to lead the choir which celebrated the victory of Salamis with song and dance. The boy Sophocles walked naked in.front of the choir, bearing an ivory lyre in hand. He afterwards held high office' in the State, and died at a great age, the accepted poet of Greece, not least happy in his death, by which, as Phrynichus wrote in an epitaph on his brother poet, he was taken away from. the evil to come.' According to Aristophanes, the sweetness of disposition, which was naturally fostered by his fortunate lot, survived even the grave and attended him in the world below [41]. “Genial he was above and genial here”, says Dionysus of Sophocles in the Frogs. [...] ’ (p.41-42.)

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Essays on Greek Literature (1909) [Of the papyri edited in Dublin]: ‘Egyptian papyri have been the vehicle of most of our recent acquisition, and bid fair to yield a further and still more abundant harvest. Dr. Flinders Petrie has recently exhumed a great pile of mummy-cases at Gurob in the Fayoum. These contain quantities of waste paper stuffed into the interstices between the thin planks or strips of wood which form the walls of the cases, apparently for the purpose ... of enabling the carpenter to economise his timber. Among these bundles of waste paper have been lying for cnturies parts of old MSS of Plato’s Phaedo and the Antiope of Euripides. Dr. Mahaffy has succeeded in eliciting from these papyri some new fragments of a play very celebrated in antiquity. He has published them in the Dublin Hermathena and in the Transactions of the Irish Academy. The preliminary labours of deciphering, involving, no doubt, frequent appeals to the art of emendation, have been skillfully performed by Dr. Mahaffy and Dr. Sayce, and have been [88] supplemented by the critical sagacity of Mr (now Professor) Bury, who has made many excellent corrections to the text [..] Dr. Flinders Petrie has become possessed of some new and genuine portions of a lost play of Euripides [...] but the newly-acquired portions of the play have very little interest except of an antiquarian kind, and contrast badly with the fragments of the Antiope [89] already known and published. [...] But we cannot share the confidence with with Dr Mahaffy claims sum an enormous antiquity for the [90] codex. At least we cannot admit the cogency of the reasoning by which he seeks to establish his opinion. [There follows a discussion of the manner in which legal papers in a Registry of Deeds would have become fit for discarding as waste paper; 91] At least the arguments in support of the great antiquity which Dr Mahaffy claims for them must be drawn from the character of the handwriting alone.’ [92 - cont.]

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Essays on Greek Literature (1909) [of the papyri] - cont.: Tyrrell goes on to discuss papyri finds in the British Museum, the Aristolelian Athenian Constitution, which he holds to be a forgery, though not a ‘modern forgery’. [93] In the ensuing paragraph, in regard to the role of the French scholar M. Clermont-Ganneau in detecting the forgery on behalf of the British, speaks of the disposition of the French press ‘to crow over us’ (p.94) - that is the British community of scholars. In his essay on Plutarch - ‘the Parallel Lives have [...] the seal of immortality’ - he compares the rendition of a passage from the “Life of Coriolanus” in North’s Plutarch, and in Shakespeare’s play in support of his own contention that ‘Shakespeare is seen at his worst when he puts Holinshed into blank verse, but he rises to his noblest heights in some of his adaptations of Plutarch. It was in his power of realizing a character or scene already sketched in outline, that his consummate genius lay.’ (Quoted in W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the C lassical Tradition, 1984, pp.88-94.)

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Notes
Kith & Kin: Biography of Richard Tyrrel [sic], in Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. II, pp.607-610. Note also, a grandson, Robert Tyrrell, greeted Brian Inglis when he reached Coastal Command in Norfolk (Downstart, Chatto & Windus 1990, p.123f.).

Univ. hons.: Tyrrell was awarded Litt.D. by TCD, Cambridge University, Durham University and Queen's Univ. Belfast; DCL by Oxford; LLD by Edinburgh and St. Andrews.; he was a Fellow of the British Academy, Fellow of TCD, and Formerly REgius Prof. of Greek (Univ. of Dublin/TCD) [See title-page of Essays on Greek Literature, Macmillan, 1909]

Sir William Wilde said of Tyrrell, ‘If he had known less, he would have been a poet’. (Quoted in Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, Oklahoma UP 1962; 1972 Edn., p.76.)

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