John Pentland Mahaffy
|John Pentland Mahaffy|
26 February 1839|
|Died||30 April 1919
|Occupation||Irish classicist and polymathic scholar|
Education and interests 
He was born near Vevey in Switzerland on 26 February 1839 to Irish parents, receiving his early education privately in Switzerland and Germany, and later and more formally at Trinity College, Dublin. As an undergraduate, he became President of the University Philosophical Society. As an academic Mahaffy held a Trinity professorship of ancient history and eventually became Provost. He was a distinguished classicist and Egyptologist as well as a Doctor of Music. He wrote the music for the Grace in chapel. Mahaffy, a man of great versatility, published numerous works across a range of subjects, some of which, especially those dealing with the 'Silver Age' of Greece, became standard authorities. His versatility was not confined to academia: he shot and played cricket for Ireland, and claimed to know the pedigree of every racehorse in Ulster. He was also an expert fly fisherman.
Famous wit 
He was regarded as one of Dublin's great curmudgeons and also one of its greatest wits. When aspiring to be Provost of Trinity College, upon hearing that the incumbent was ill, he is said to have remarked, "Nothing trivial, I hope?" In his academic years, he was acquainted with TCD undergraduate Oscar Wilde, with whom he discussed homosexuality in ancient Greece, and Wilde described him as his "first and greatest teacher". Like his protégés, Wilde and Oliver Gogarty, Mahaffy was a brilliant conversationalist, coming out with such gems as “in Ireland the inevitable never happens and the unexpected constantly occurs.” When asked, by an over-zealous advocate of women’s rights, what the difference was between a man and a woman he replied, “I can’t conceive.” Gerald Griffin records him as saying “James Joyce is a living argument in defence of my contention that it was a mistake to establish a separate university for the aborigines of this island – for the corner boys who spit into the Liffey.”
Mahaffy also had a reputation as being a snob. For instance, he had a great admiration for the nobility and would often prefer the company of dukes and kings. When he moved into Earlscliffe (a house on the Hill of Howth, Co. Dublin) as his summer residence, a wag at the time suggested that maybe it had better be renamed Dukescliffe! 
Curmudgeon and snob though he could undoubtedly be, Mahaffy was also capable of great and spontaneous kindness, as is evident from the instance of the schoolboy whom Mahaffy came upon near the Hill of Howth, where the boy was reading Greek. Mahaffy asked him about his studies, later lent him books to assist him, and eventually saw to it that the young man was admitted free of charge to read Classics at Trinity, Dublin.
Mahaffy's brilliant, polymathic, eccentric life, suffused with wit, snobbery and real erudition, would be much less well known than it is today, were it not for the tireless endeavours of Dr R. B. McDowell, former Junior Dean of Trinity, Dublin. He has become widely known throughout international Academe for his inexhaustible fund of anecdotes on Mahaffy, and published with Professor W. B. Stanford of Trinity Mahaffy: A Biography of an Anglo-Irishman (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971).
Among Mahaffy's most notable works are
- History of Classical Greek Literature (4th ed., 1903 seq.);
- Social Life in Greece from Homer to Menander (4th ed., 1903);
- The Silver Age of the Greek World (1906); The Empire of the Ptolemies (1896);
- Greek Life and Thought from Alexander to the Roman Conquest (2nd ed., 1896);
- The Greek World under Roman Sway from Polybius to Plutarch (1890).
His translation of Kuno Fischer's Commentary on Kant (1866) and his own exhaustive analysis, with elucidations, of Kant's critical philosophy are also highly regarded. He also edited the Petrie papyri in the Cunningham Memoirs (vols. VIII (1891), IX (1893), XI (1905)).
See also 
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: John Pentland Mahaffy|
- Schema (Kant)
- Oscar Wilde's review of Mahaffy's book "Greek Life and Thought: from the Age of Alexander to the Roman Conquest" in the Pall Mall Gazette, Mr. Mahaffy's New Book, November 9, 1887. In a generally scathing review, Wilde remarks: "in his attempts to treat the Hellenic world as ‘Tipperary writ large,’ to use Alexander the Great as a means of whitewashing Mr. Smith, and to finish the battle of Chæronea on the plains of Mitchelstown, Mr. Mahaffy shows an amount of political bias and literary blindness that is quite extraordinary."
- Stanford & R. B. McDowell
- Gerald Griffin, p. 24. The jibe was enshrined in Ellmann's 1959 biography, though not without introducing a slight departure—“a living argument in favour of my contention”—and it continues to circulate widely.
- As quoted on the website www.earlscliffe.com, which, in turn was taken from the Mahaffy biography by W. B. Stanford & R. B. McDowell (1971). Permission to quote this was given by the Earlscliffe website owner, David Foley 28th August 2012
- Ellmann, Richard, James Joyce. Oxford University Press, 1959, revised edition 1982. ISBN 0-19-503103-2.
- Griffin, Gerald. The Wild Geese; Pen Portraits of Famous Irish Exiles. London: Jarrolds, 1938.
- Stanford, W. B. and R. B. McDowell (1971). Mahaffy: A Biography of an Anglo-Irishman. Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-7100-6880-8
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Mahaffy, John Pentland". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
|Provost of Trinity College, Dublin
John Henry Bernard