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E.R. Dodds


An autobiography

Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

E.R. Dodds (1893-1979) was a classical scholar, Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford. He came from an Irish Protestant background but was an atheist from an early age. Although most of his adult life was spent in England he always retained strong links with his Irish roots and never became wholly English in outlook. For this reason he didn't fight in either world war, though he helped the war effort in other ways. In 1916 he went to Serbia as a medical orderly, and in 1942 he accompanied Joseph Needham to China to try to assist the Chinese universities under Chiang Kai-shek.

Dodds knew many of the leading literary figures in Britain and Ireland, including W.H. Auden, W.B. Yeats, and 'A.E' (George Russell). He was literary executor for Louis Macneice. His appointment as Regius Professor was thanks to Gilbert Murray, whom he succeeded. It was not a popular one with his colleagues, in part because of his failure to fight in the first world war and his support for Irish nationalism. The post of Regius Professor, in any case, appears to be less glamorous than one might expect from the title. At least in Dodds's day the professor was expected to take on the duties that others didn't want and had responsibility without power. At first Dodds was unhappy in the post although things improved later.

In spite of his atheism Dodds had a life-long interest in parapsychology and was a member of the Society for Psychical Research, of which he became president from 1961 to 1963. He conducted a fair amount of what he himself describes as amateurish research in the paranormal. He had many sittings with mediums and was interested in the phenomenon of trance, although he remained unconvinced by the evidence for survival.

Dodds concludes by saying that the age-old metaphysical question 'Why are we here?' has ceased to be meaningful for him, as it has for many today, though the loss of religious belief is, he thinks, a psychological impoverishment; "whether humanity can in the end without self-destruction learn to accept its own isolation in a universe empty of detectable gods it is still far too soon to decide."

%T Missing Persons
%S An autobiography
%A Dodds, E.R.
%I Clarendon Press
%C Oxford
%D 1977
%G ISBN 0-19-810086-9
%P 202pp
%K autobiography
%O illustrated

25 March 2008

See also The Greeks and the Irrational

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