Stephen Instone, 1954-2009

Stephen Instone, an inspirational teacher of Classics, has died.

September 24, 2009

He was born on 22 December 1954 and educated at Westminster School and Balliol College, Oxford, before embarking on a PhD at Bedford College - now incorporated into Royal Holloway, University of London. A passionate amateur athlete and runner, he decided to focus on the Greek poet Pindar, whose output consists largely of odes in praise of the victors in the Olympic and other ancient games.

Although he briefly combined academic research with journalism for the Financial Times and local newspapers, it soon became clear that Dr Instone's main focus was Classics.

He spent a year at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York (1986-87) and took on a number of part-time lecturing posts at St Mary's College, University of Surrey (1985-2002), Birkbeck, University of London (1990-2000) and University College London, before finally acquiring a permanent position at UCL in 2002.

A noted scholar who edited Pindar: Selected Odes (1996), co-edited The Complete Odes (2007) and wrote important articles on Homer, Virgil and Greek athletics, Dr Instone was better known and loved for his commitment to teaching, outreach and the pastoral care of his students. Even more remarkable was his sheer enthusiasm for promulgating Classics.

Modern scholars have often wondered whether ancient Greek athletes really ran completely naked. To offer a practical answer to this question, Dr Instone decided to shed his clothes on a deserted Cretan beach "to show you can run perfectly well naked" - an experiment he was persuaded to repeat on Loughborough University's campus by a BBC television crew.

He also risked ridicule and severe headaches by running across London's Regent's Park with a saucepan on his head and a dustbin lid in his hands to demonstrate the ancient sport of armoured racing.

Stephen Colvin, reader in Classics and comparative philology at UCL, remembers Dr Instone as "absolutely upright", "always delightful company" and "the kind of academic who students remember, because he saw it as part of his job to engage the next generation. He would bring an iron into his lectures to demonstrate why the Greeks carried weights for jumping. Although he loved poetry in a romantic style, and had various passions and principles, he was quite without ambition or pretence."

Dr Instone died in a swimming accident while on holiday in Switzerland on 25 July, and is survived by his wife, Shelley, and two children. His Greek Personal Religion: A Reader will be published later this year.

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