Death of a Master: Belated Thoughts on Alan Treloar
I've previously mentioned Professor Alan Treloar as a master of languages whom I became acquainted with during a postdoctoral stint of mine at the University of New England, in Armidale, NSW, Australia. He was an amazing man, unfailingly courteous, ever helpful, and profoundly knowledgeable. I was recently reworking an old article of mine on an Egyptian word that surfaces in a Greek text, when I came upon his linguistic analysis:
[I]t seems to me that Neb[t]hietep, which would be Nb[t]hitp in the original, vocalised conventionally by Budge with e's, might be read hiotep. Then if the n is taken to be the article and is dropped, b is replaced by another labial, h is dropped, and the o is lengthened. You get very close to the Coptic term.Without going into the details of Professor Treloar's analysis, let me just say that this note given to me after he read an early version of my article helped a lot in my research, and I incorporated it into my argument.
Anyway, that note was nearly thirteen years ago, but I was his colleague from 1996 to 1998 and knew him fairly well, so I found myself wondering what had ever happened to this old scholar who knew so many languages and was seeking the Mutter-Sprache of them all, a quest that led him to the Nostratic Theory, as shown by this review he wrote of Nikita Tschenkeli's Einfuehrung in die Georgische Sprache. Did he ever find that holy grail? I ran a search of the internet and found sad news.
He died two years ago, at age 91 (November 13, 1919 - July 22, 2011). Here's his obituary, "Eminent linguist fought for country," written by a former student who also became a scholar, Trevor Evans, appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald (August 15, 2011):
Colonel Alan Treloar was one of Australia's greatest linguists and classical scholars and also a distinguished soldier.Professor Treloar told me some of these stories, but I learned still more from this obituary. For those interested in learning yet more about such an impressive scholar, go to this three-part remembrance of the man by a former colleague.
Few could rival his knowledge as a scholar of ancient Greek and Latin. He had a special interest in the Roman poet Horace but had read the entire classical literatures of both languages at least twice.
He had an astonishing gift for languages and would admit, when pressed, to direct knowledge of about 80. He had a formidable command of many, such as Sanskrit, Russian, Chinese, Arabic and Hittite. In his early 80s he was investigating Bunuba, a language of the Kimberley.
Alan Treloar was born in Ivanhoe, Victoria, on November 13, 1919, the eldest of four children of John Treloar, who became the first director of the Australian War Memorial, and his wife, Clarissa (nee Aldridge), a music teacher.
His first linguistic interests were in French at six and Latin at 10. He soon took up ancient Greek as well and was learning Japanese by correspondence while at school.
He went to Carey Baptist Grammar School and the University of Melbourne, where he took a bachelor of arts and was the Victorian Rhodes Scholar for 1940 but did not take up the scholarship then because of his service in the Second Australian Imperial Force. He began his military career with the Melbourne University Regiment and went on to serve with the 2/14th Battalion from 1940 to 1944, first in the Syrian campaign, during which he was seriously wounded, and later on the Kokoda Track.
His wounding meant he was no longer able to march with the infantry and he was transferred to a staff appointment at Victoria Barracks in Melbourne. After hours, he worked for his master of arts degree from the University of Melbourne, which he took in 1943. He then transferred to the Australian Army Intelligence Corps from 1944 to 1945.
In 1945 he married Bronnie Taylor, a fellow linguist and diplomatic staff cadet.
On release from the army, Treloar was a lecturer in classics at the University of Melbourne and tutor at Trinity College, Melbourne, before taking up his Rhodes Scholarship. At Oxford, he chose to read classical moderations and greats.
He also served with the British Army of the Rhine in 1946 and from 1949 to 1950 was assistant lecturer in ancient history at the University of Nottingham. He then went to the University of Glasgow from 1950 to 1959. During this period, he was attached from the Australian Army to the University of Nottingham Training Corps and then the Glasgow Highlanders, then was transferred to the Territorial Army.
In 1959 the Treloars moved back to Australia. He became first warden of Hytten Hall and reader in classics at the University of Tasmania in 1959 and, in 1960, moved to the University of New England, where he was master of Wright College (1960 to 1966) then reader in comparative philology (1966 to 1984).
He also continued his military involvement, transferring back to the Australian Army to serve with the Tasmania Command and then the Sydney University Regiment in command of New England Company until retiring in 1969.
Academic retirement came nominally in 1984 but in fact ended only with failing health in the past few years. He continued to be sought out for expert advice by scholars from around the world and to make his skills available as an inspirational teacher to a string of students.
His publications reflect the diversity of his interests and include The Importance of Music (1987) and Lyra (1994), as well as academic and military papers.
Treloar was a reserved and dignified man of honesty and integrity and a warm and generous friend. In 1992, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of New England.
Alan Treloar is survived by his children, Anna and Jeannie, son-in-law James and grandchildren Sarah, Katy and Alex. Bronnie died in 1991, as did daughter Meg, in 1995.
As for me, I knew him only for about two years, but I'll remain impressed with him all my life.