In memoriam: Arthur Keaveney

It was with great sadness that the Department of Classical & Archaeological Studies learned of the death of Dr Arthur Keaveney, our dear friend and colleague for many years, who passed away on Tuesday 23 June after a short illness.

Arthur Keaveney

Arthur began his teaching and research career at the University of Kent in 1979, developing a distinguished reputation as an Ancient Historian. He was an immensely popular teacher and published frequently, this interest covering wide themes in the history of the Classical World and extending as far as Elizabethan political thought. He retired as Reader in Ancient History in 2014 but remained fully committed to promoting his subject, and primarily assisting and enthusing students and all these who came to share in the fascination of exploring the ancient past.

Patty Baker writes: “I was very saddened to read this news. Arthur was a wonderful colleague, and I have similar sentiments to Adam (below). He took me under his wing when I arrived at Kent. We taught two classes together for a couple of years: ‘Roman Britain’ and ‘Eastern Empires’, and the students always enjoyed the dynamics of how these worked. He had a wicked sense of humour, but I think the most wonderful thing about him was that he truly cared about his students, and they loved him for it.”

Adam Bartley writes: “From my first day in the department Arthur and I became friends. He was a loyal friend, provided endless important advice and support in what were sometimes very challenging times for us both and was an energetic, effective and cheerful collaborator in fields ranging from the Ancient Near East through Roman History and finally Medieval Latin. He provided endless support to both Lauren and myself in difficult circumstances. We were delighted to have Arthur and Jen to our wedding in London in 2011 and to introduce Arthur to our son Conrad on our last visit in early 2019. He took great delight in speaking Italian and had a fine command of Irish. He was an eager traveller, including to locations such as Iran and Russia. He was a Hemingway aficionado. When I went to conferences there was always someone there eager to express their esteem for him, especially for his work on Rome and Persia. Arthur was always obviously delighted by his life together with Jen. He was very proud to show off Jen’s Mastermind trophy to anyone who visited. Our thoughts are with her from Australia in this terrible time. There was no one with whom he could not find some common ground as he went through life. I will miss the winter afternoons spent swearing and cursing over the deficiencies of medieval scribes. I will miss the evenings at The Unicorn. His friendship, loyalty, intelligence and wit will be sorely missed. Despite having apparently written a lot here, I am beyond words.”

Anton Baryshnikov writes: “The news about Arthur Keaveney reached Russia and the reaction proves how great Arthur was and that his excellence goes far beyond the UK. In Russian social media, scholars are in grief. I feel it can be important to honor such an outstanding scholar and person from a very distant land … a short text from thousands of kilometres to honor a great man.”

Kirsty Corrigan writes: “Arthur was a dear friend and mentor to me for over 20 years. He was a genuinely kind and supportive person, without whose encouragement I would never have had the belief in myself to do such things as teaching the Latin modules and publishing my research. He was always there, without fail, whenever I had a question or idea to run past him. Despite being such a prolific scholar, he was a very down-to-earth man, and I will miss his sense of humour.”

Louise Gaukroger and Kirsty Mason write: “It is an enormous challenge to try to articulate the positive impact of Arthur Keaveney on those around him, as he was able to support his family, friends, colleagues and students in such a wide variety of ways. From the sudden surprise of his wicked wit and mischievous chortle, to his gruff ‘tough love’ approach, to americanos in the Gulbenkian and drinks in the Unicorn, Arthur always made time to listen, steer and encourage, and went completely above and beyond in his role as a supervisor. Arthur laughed freely, sometimes at himself, and was reassuringly protective of ‘his own’.

As an Ancient Historian and Classicist, Arthur was able to stretch the most capable and chivvy along those struggling simultaneously, leaving those of us in his lectures or seminars in awe of the breadth and depth of his knowledge and inspiring us to strive for excellence. His research was meticulous and he was always full of ideas for publications, usually with multiple pieces on the go at any one time. He had a wide network of fellow academics and would happily introduce a nervous postgraduate student to the people behind the names of books they had read. He was taken from us far too soon and a gaping Arthur-shaped hole has been left in Canterbury. He was kind, thoughtful and unwaveringly loyal, and he will be sorely missed.”

Verity Irvine writes: “It was with great sadness and a sense of shock that I learnt of Arthur’s death. Teacher, scholar, traveller, linguist, eminent historian, rebel and friend, he had seemed an indestructible force of nature and leaves such a gaping void behind. I am going to miss working with him, his historical insight – and his mordant, iconoclastic wit. We shall not see his like again. Ní bheidh mo leithéid arís ann! Rest in peace, Arthur.”

Yuri Kuzmin writes: “I met Arthur Keaveney in Kazan on the banks of Volga River in September 2011 at the conference entitled ‘Iran and the Classical World’. As we parted, we exchanged email addresses, and I promised to send him a review of one of his books published by Anton Korolenkov in VDI. Later Arthur helped to improve the style of several of my articles and summaries in English. We exchanged Christmas and New Year greetings as well as liked and commented on Facebook posts. All this was until quite recently. R.I.P.”

Luke Lavan writes: “Arthur was my neighbour; he lived a few houses away in the same terrace. He always had kind words for my kids. Since his retirement we often passed each other and said a few words. The last time I saw him he was out walking with Jenny on a warm evening and seemed radiant. He was greatly enjoying his retirement, and told me as much. I will miss his smile and laugh, which was merrier in recent years due to his distance from the comedies we chuckle at daily ‘on the hill’.”

John Madden writes:”I was deeply shocked and saddened to learn of Arthur Keaveney’s death. I  had known Arthur since he first arrived in University College Galway in the autumn of 1969. From the very beginning he was an outstanding student. In fact, he was the best Classics student I ever had – his studies culminated in the award of an MA in Classics with First Class Honours and the prestigious Travelling Studentship (all the more meritorious since he had begun Greek in University). After his departure to England for doctoral studies our teacher – pupil relationship changed to one of friendship and collaboration and it remained thus thereafter.

As the years passed my admiration for his outstanding talent as a historian grew – I had direct insight into his mastery of the relevant sources, his ability to extract crucial evidence from what seemed even the most bland of fragments and his mental energy which propelled him to work with exceptional speed and to bring each project to a timely and successful conclusion. Arthur’s early death is a real loss to Classical scholarship, but it is a dreadfully sad one for his best friend and dear wife, Jenny, with whom he shared such a happy marriage and to whom I extend my very sincere sympathies. May Arthur Rest in Peace.”

Alison Palmer writes: “Dr Keaveney was a talented and good man. He was my Latin and ancient history lecturer at the university and we became true friends. He is one of life’s irreplaceables and a solid rock of a person. I will forever miss his intelligence and friendship. He gave so much encouragement and help to me in my studies and career. I feel sad beyond words that he has gone and will remember and treasure all that he has taught me.”

William Rowlandson writes: “It hit me particularly hard to read the announcement of former colleague and UCU member Arthur Keaveney. I became friends with Arthur in my first year in SECL in 2005, and held many kitchen and corridor chats with him over the years. It was always a delight to hear him cheerfully speaking in Gaelic with an Irish colleague, especially when he told me they would use Gaelic to gossip about colleagues.

I often ran into Arthur in the neighbourhood of Beverley Meadow, and we would bemoan the rise of nationalists, populists and kleptocrats. He was always cheerful, drawing on his deep knowledge of Ancient History to point out that history always comes and goes in waves, that dynasties, empires and civilisations rise and eventually fall, that the social tension of today was the same thousands of years ago.

In 2018 Arthur joined us on the pickets during the USS dispute, quietly and gently chatting with colleagues about the changing dynamics in HE; changes whose rumblings had already troubled him prior to his retirement in 2014. In February of this year, he again joined us outside the School of Arts at the picket. On this occasion, visibly poorly in the cold morning wind, he was heading to the medical centre on Giles Lane. He stopped briefly on his way back down the hill. That was my last contact with Arthur. I’m happy to have known him and happy to have been his friend. Safe journey, Arthur!”

Ellen Swift writes: “I appreciated Arthur’s support at various times especially when I was Head of Department. He had a love of art house films and Classical music, a great sense of humour, and a notorious yet healthy disregard for hierarchy, and authority figures(!).”

Jake Weekes writes: “We are all still in shock. I first met Arthur Keaveney, fiery Irishman, eminent ancient historian and biographer, linguist, when he took my first seminar as an undergraduate in 1996. He was an excellent and natural educator whom you knew wanted to help you learn, often through hilarious dry, and apparently cross, sarcasm. I have to laugh even now when I remember the “no prisoners” atmosphere of his early morning Latin lessons. His lectures were abrupt, insightful, cutting and entertaining, as were his research papers. His writing is superb: the office where it was generated a landscape of columns of books and notes in his unintelligible handwriting. Arthur was a fundamentally decent and compassionate person, and he became a great and true friend. He was best man at our wedding and godfather to our eldest son. We’ll always remember him with love and always miss him.”

Steve Willis writes: “Arthur was a cornerstone of our teaching in Ancient History for many years. His style of delivery and guidance was invariably popular with our student cohorts year on year. He had a rich hinterland of interests, with stories and anecdotes to accompany his observations on the human condition. There was something of the old-style political Radical to him. Well-travelled, often to less commonly visited locations, I recall that at the end of three terms of very full teaching and marking, culminating in long Exams Board meetings, he delighted in the prospect of his imminent departure on a Caribbean holiday: to Cuba.”

Ian Worthington writes: “I first met Arthur in September 1976. I was starting my BA at Hull and he was moving into the final stages of his PhD under A.F. (Frank) Norman. The university owned a number of houses across the city, and I was living in the same ‘student house’ (I still remember the address – 49 Salisbury Avenue) as Arthur (through whom, incidentally, I met Jenny). I remember nervously ringing the door bell – this was my first time away from home – and there stood someone who peered at me, and said ‘yes?’ in a very thick Irish accent. As he showed me around he asked what I was studying. I told him theology (which is what I started off doing), and he humphed and said ‘oh another one’.  When I later changed to Classical Studies he seemed actually pleased – probably the only time I was in his good books (he loved his classical music, whereas I didn’t: ‘oh no, not that s— again’, he would bark at me as I blasted ‘Born to Run’).

Arthur and I lost touch over the years, though I followed his books. Then he (with John Madden) prepared the outstanding entry on Memnon for BNJ, and we reignited our earlier relationship. More recently, over the past three or so years, we had a thoroughly enjoyable, no-holds-barred email exchange about all manner of gossipy things, which I valued hugely. I also bent his ear on things to do with Sulla and Athens, part of a forthcoming book on Hellenistic Athens, and he always responded with enormous detail and asked hard questions; he had a no-nonsense approach to scholarship, always kept his head rightly anchored in our sources, and in my case, improved what I had written or was thinking by about 99.9%. I’d hoped to visit him and Jenny last year when I was on a quick trip to the UK (from Australia), but timing was against it. We said next time, and now that will never be.

I was devastated to hear of his passing. I still can’t grasp it truth be told. Arthur was a caring and kind man, a first rate scholar, and as I can see from the tributes I’ve read, a wonderful supervisor, mentor, and colleague (hardly a surprise). Perhaps I can leave my closing words to him: I remember one time in Hull talking about the future with him, and he told me he wanted to become one of the foremost Roman historians in the world. And he did.”

Charlie Young writes: “I always found Arthur to be a genuinely nice person who always gave an honest opinion and had no time for life’s social climbers. Very sad.”

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