Richard Broxton Onians

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Richard Broxton Onians (1899 - 1986) was a classicist and Hildred Carlile Professor of Latin in the University of London.[1] His major publication was The Origins of European Thought: About the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time and Fate (Cambridge UP, 1951).

Early life[edit]

Onians was born in Liverpool on 11 January 1899; his father was Richard Henry Onians. He served in the 4th South Lancs and the RAF in 1917-1918,[1] and then gained a first class degree in classics at Liverpool University. In 1922 he became a research student at Trinity College, Cambridge, where his thesis won the Hare Prize.[1][2]

Academic career[edit]

Onians was a lecturer at the University of Liverpool in 1925-33, and professor of Classics at the University of Wales in 1933-1935. In 1936 he became Hildred Carlile Professor of Latin at the University of London until his retirement in 1966, and was thereafter an emeritus professor.[1][2]

Origins of European Thought[edit]

Onians' doctoral research explored concepts in Homer and was awarded the Hare Prize in 1926, a condition being that the work should be published by 1929. He negotiated an extension to this time limit, and although a 1935 draft with the title Origins of Greek & Roman Thought, mainly concerning the body, the mind, the soul and fate is held by the British Library,[3] his book was not published until 1951, as The Origins of European Thought: About the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time and Fate (Cambridge University Press).[4]

An expanded version was published in 1954, and it was reprinted in a paperback edition from Cambridge University Press in 1988 and again in 2011 (ISBN 9781107648005).[5]

His obituary in The Times in 1986 said "Although the book, which covers a vast field, does not always carry conviction, it was one of the most important of its day in the field of classical studies and remains a valuable tool.", and commented that he had published little else although he had worked on additions to the book.[2] Jules Brody wrote in 2014: "His prodigious learning and intellectual daring put Onians squarely in a class with Damaso Alonso, Ernst-Robert Curtius, Mario Praz, and Leo Spitzer. And yet his book has been virtually ignored by classicists, philosophers, and philologists, at least in the world of Anglo-Saxon scholarship."[6]

Personal life[edit]

Onians married Rosalind Lathbury, who had been one of his students, on 27 December 1937. They had two sons: Dick Onians, sculptor[7] and John Onians, polymath, and four daughters. He was a council member of the Association of University Teachers in 1946-53 and a member of its Executive Committee in 1946-51. He died on 21 May 1986.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e "ONIANS, Richard Broxton". Who's Who and Who Was Who. A. & C. Black. 2007. Retrieved 12 April 2013.Available online to subscribers, or in print
  2. ^ a b c "Obituary of Dr Richard Onians , Classical scholar". The Times. 31 May 1986.
  3. ^ "Catalogue record for Origins of Greek & Roman Thought". British Library. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  4. ^ "Catalogue record for The Origins of European Thought". British Library. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  5. ^ The Origins of European Thought: About the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time, and Fate. Googlebooks. Retrieved 12 April 2013. Includes full table of contents and selected pages
  6. ^ Jules Brody, "Fate, Philology, Freud," Philosophy and Literature, Vol. 38, No. 1 (April 2014): 10.
  7. ^ Dick Onians website