JS alerted me to this one from a couple of weeks ago (thanks!) From the Times:

GUY LEE’S forceful versions of Latin poetry bridged the gap between the classical world and a donnish life in Cambridge with elegance and apparent ease.

At a time when the study of Roman life and literature has declined enormously since its Victorian heyday, studies and translations like his did much to make the literature enjoyable to those without Latin and to show how it was a sparkling ancestor of the present.

His work had a freedom and freshness that crossed the centuries and the cultural differences between them. Somehow he managed to dwell in the ancient world and transfer it without strain or affectation to our own.

Lee was born on Guy Fawkes Day in 1918, and as his father, an eye specialist, was then working at Guy’s Hospital, he was not surprisingly named Guy.

He was brought up in Leeds, where at a dame school he first came across Latin. The word for “Moon” being luna in Latin stuck in his mind because he liked the sound of it, and Latin and Greek were very well taught at his prep school, Glebe House, in Hunstanton, Norfolk, where the headmaster could have been called, like Horace’s teacher Orbilius, plagosus or “the whacker”, since three wrongly answered questions in a row meant the cane.

At his public school, Loretto, near Edinburgh, the teachers were equally good, though without the cane (sine ferula), and he learnt Greek and Latin verse composition in his last year. Through Loretto he met his wife Helen, whose brothers were there with him. She too was to be a Cambridge graduate.

At St John’s College, Cambridge, Lee was supervised by the President, Martin Charlesworth, editor of the Cambridge Ancient History, “the friendliest and most interesting man I had ever met”, he wrote later, and the Public Orator, a much-published classical scholar, taught him Latin lyric verse. In part I of the tripos he got a first, with distinction in Greek and Latin verse, a John Stewart of Rannoch scholarship and a medal for a Latin ode on the subject of Horace’s Orbilius. When it came to part II, he found it hard to concentrate while the country was at war. So he joined the Army and was posted, to his disappointment, to Iceland, though he stayed long enough to learn Icelandic and earn a War Office award as a cipher officer, then on to French North Africa, Italy, Belgium, Germany and Norway, where, to his amazement, he heard from his supervisor, Charlesworth, suggesting he return to Cambridge and put in for a fellowship at St John’s.

When his application succeeded his career was in place. He had a grand room to work in, attended lectures on Latin textual criticism and (from F. R. Leavis) on English literature, and decided to work on Ovid. His translation of Book I of Metamorphoses was published in 1953 and, 50 years later, was still in print. Modestly, he admitted that his edition of a minor work of Cicero, The Stoic Paradoxes, published the same year, was remaindered. But the following year Pope Pius XII awarded him a medal for a Latin poem, Aerii vehiculi ope ad lunam ascensus, the subject being “an ascent to the Moon by means of a spacecraft”. This was 15 years before the US astronauts got there, and was cobbled together from Patrick Moore’s Guide to the Moon.

In the meantime he had been made a tutor by St John’s, and served for seven years; then he was praelector for five, and librarian for twenty-three. He published steadily. There were many book reviews for classical journals; translations and editions of Ovid, Cicero, Virgil, Horace and Catullus; translations from English into Latin of Robert Herrick, William Morris, Walter de la Mare and others; poems of his own in the TLS; and many learned pieces on classical literature and translation.

In 2000 his English version of Ovid’s Amores, first published in 1968, was reprinted by John Murray as Ovid in Love with delicately suitable drawings by John Ward. But by then Lee’s ideas on translation had turned around; after many years, he had decided to reject his early free expression as a translator. This was what had given his versions of Latin verse a verve and attractiveness that had kept them fresh and possibly would make them last.

As an example of the liberties he had taken with the Latin text, he quoted a couplet from Ovid. Literally translated, it would read: “If some god said to me, ‘Give up love and enjoy life’, I’d refuse — girls are such sweet torment”. In his, it became “Offered a sexless heaven I’d say No thank you — women are such sweet hell.” His work on Ovid’s Amores over seven years produced a fluent, brilliant version, but gradually he worked round to an exactly opposite view of what translation should be.

It had become clear to him that Greek and Latin would eventually have to be taught in translation, as the Hebrew Bible has been taught since the 16th century. So what was needed, he believed, was close translation, as literal as possible, and that Greek and Latin poetry should be treated by the translator as sacred text.

Lee was a man of great charm and integrity, who managed to be learned without pedantry and to live with simplicity; to be humorous, hospitable and friendly.

He is survived by his wife and their two adopted sons.

Guy Lee, classicist, was born on November 5, 1918. He died on July 31, 2005, aged 86.