From Fortean Times 194 (March 2005):

For those who disrelish Classical Corner ("Tedious subject, odious author" - AE Housman on himself), this one's for you...

Several classicists ended up in loony bins, e.g. Rudolf Prinz (1890), Franz Umpfenbach (1885), and Michael Rostovtzeff (1952). Roman schoolboy victims of the flogger Orbilius (poet Horace was one) will have relished his senile dementia (Suetonius, On Grammarians, ch9).

Watery graves claimed top Russian Byzantinists Alexander Kazhdan (Washington DC) and ZV Udal'Cova (Moscow) in the 1990s; there was speculation of foul play apropos the latter. Similar coincidence attended a pair of 19th-century Australian classicists. John Woolley (1864) came job-hunting to England, failed, and returning, drowned in the Bay of Biscay. Going the other way, Henry Rowe (1855) expired of seasickness - on his honeymoon.

A third antipodean, Christopher Brennan, died of drink, having been sacked for adultery with Violet Springer, who fell under a tram just before his dismissal (1932).

Richard Porson's life was also (1808) shortened by the bottle. Two younger brothers died "of a decline" at 22 and 34. A similarly bibulous sister did better - she sensibly married a brewer.

Some fates were poetic. Veteran Greek archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos (1974) was crushed under a wall while excavating - dig that! Kenneth Rose, an expert on Petronius's racy novel Satyricon, choked on his own vomit after a debauch (1967). Hermann Koechly (1876), on his first visit to Greece, had a fatal horse-fall at Marathon. When Michael Marullus (1500) drowned with his steed, a copy of his favourite poet Lucretius was found in his pocket.

Virgil died of sunstroke (19BC). So also Gregor Nitzsch (1861), running home to get a forgotten book, and Karl Ottfried Mueller (1840, excavating at Delphi) - autopsy revealed his brain was "completely soft and decomposed".

Just as Leonard Rossiter and Sid James collapsed on stage, so Albrecht Dieterich (1908) died on the podium, having just announced his intention to biographise classical father-in-law Hermann Usner. At Galway, D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1902), expert on Greek fishes and birds, fell off his perch directly after lecturing on Thucydides, whose famous phrases included (Histories, bk3 ch8l para5) "death in all its forms".

Leontius Pilatus (1367) was struck by lightning aboard ship; Petrarch hastened to plunder his luggage for valuable manuscripts.

Reflecting (Books, p701) on King Tut's curse, Fort opined: "It may be that, telepathically, human beings have been induced to commit suicide." Eduard Fraenkel took his own life the day (5 Feb 1970) his wife died. A daughter had already killed herself. Eleven years later, Colin Macleod, his most brilliant pupil (Fraenkel's own estimation) laid his head on the Oxford railway line. Five weeks before, another contemporary, Robert Ogilvie, had shot himself at St Andrews. There was speculation that Linear B decipherer Michael Ventris's mysterious car crash (5 Sept 1956) was not an accident.

Most recently (11 March 2003), South African Bert van Stekelenberg fell overboard four miles from shore returning from an expedition to observe a rare Patagonian penguin. As far as I know, the bird is fine. So, at the time of writing, am I...

Barry Baldwin
(reprinted with permission of the Author; blame any typically graphic transcription errors on dm)