HE IS living quietly in retirement, fondly remembered for his charisma, wit and wisdom by generations of academics and students. But the chances are you have never heard of Professor Peter Wiseman.
Look a little more closely at the tall, white-bearded, 67-year-old Classics scholar and you get the first hints of a remarkable secret: Professor Wiseman was the inspiration for one of the most famous characters in modern children's literature.
Academics at Exeter University have revealed that one of their most famous graduates, JK Rowling, based her fictional creation Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore on the real-life Professor Wiseman.
Dumbledore is venerated by millions of readers and film-goers around the world as the genial headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry who inspires Harry Potter to believe in himself and to confront evil.
Wiseman made a big impression on the young JK Rowling as her mentor during her time studying Greek and Roman mythology at Exeter between 1983 and 1986. In the past she has revealed she used her lecturers as the basis for characters in the Potter novels. Now, with the saga about to reach its dramatic climax, Wiseman's fellow academics have broken their silence over the provenance of one of the key characters in the series.
They point to crucial similarities between Dumbledore and Wiseman, including the fact they are both:
• Imposing, tall and thin figures with twinkling eyes and white whiskers;
• Academic leaders who are renowned for their serenity and gentle wisdom as well as their formidable intellects;
• Possessed of whimsical wit and paternal demeanour, commanding reverence and respect from generations of students;
• Have a sweet tooth and a predilection for enjoying confectionery between lectures.
Professor Tim Whitmarsh, of the department of classics and ancient history at Exeter University, said Rowling's years on campus were a topic of frequent discussion.
"During her time here, JK was certainly influenced by some pretty awesome and impressive professorial figures who were there at the time," he said. "There has been much speculation about which of these was the inspiration for Dumbledore and there is a general consensus that the evidence points in one direction.
"Professor Wiseman is a very wise, serene figure and is extremely Dumbledore-like," he said. "Because of this, people look up to him. Of all the staff in the department, he was closest to JK, and when the university awarded her an honorary degree in 2000, he was the one that presented it to her."
At the ceremony Wiseman paid tribute to his former student for encouraging children to rediscover the magic of reading and for firing their imaginations.
He praised the "old-fashioned goodness" of her character and declared: "In more than one way, what she writes makes the world a better place."
Wiseman, who is now largely retired and works as a visiting emeritus professor at Exeter, was flattered by claims that he inspired the character, but modestly refused to take any credit.
"It's true that I did teach her, but I'm sure JK Rowling's imaginative powers are quite capable of creating characters without basing them on the lecturers she listened to at university," he said.
Wiseman confirmed that Rowling took courses in Greek and Roman narrative and drama as well as mythology and historical thought.
"She certainly had plenty of opportunity to read the sources for Greek mythology. But I wouldn't want to claim any special influence," he said. "I'm an avid reader of the books, and I particularly look forward to reading the final volume, but I'm afraid I can't offer any privileged insights."
Wiseman himself is an acclaimed author whose tome The Myths Of Rome was nominated for the British Academy Book Prize 2005.
His entry in Who's Who reveals that he was born on February 3, 1940, and was educated at Manchester Grammar School and Balliol College, Oxford. He lectured at Leicester University between 1963 and 1976 before joining the University of Exeter as Professor of Classics in 1977.
Wiseman has penned a host of acclaimed academic books, including Julius Caesar: The Battle For Gaul, Roman Political Life, Remus: A Roman Myth and Flavius Josephus, Death Of An Emperor.
Rowling has based other characters on real-life academics. It was revealed that Professor Binns, who sends students to sleep with his excruciating, verbose lessons, was modelled on Exeter University history lecturer Hugh Stubbs.
When asked about the alleged similarity, Stubbs admitted he was in "no doubt" that he was the blueprint for Binns. Speaking in 2000, he said: "I admit I could be a bit dopey first thing in the morning and I probably did give some pretty boring lectures."
The rumour mill has gone into overdrive in the run-up to the worldwide release of the last Potter novel on July 21.
Rowling has remained enigmatic about the fate of her bespectacled hero, but there is growing speculation that he may perish.
The author admitted that she had "sobbed her heart out" after completing the final chapter of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows.
It's all Greek to her: Rowling's mythological inspirations
A host of fabulous Greek and Roman-inspired mythological creatures have appeared in the Harry Potter adventures.
• Firenze, a learned centaur, taught divination at Hogwarts. The sage half-human, half-horse teacher bears a distinct resemblance to Chiron, a centaur who tutored many of the ancient Greek heroes in astronomy and medicine.
Firenze is Italian for Florence, the birthplace of Galileo, the first modern astronomer.
• Hedwig is Harry's faithful owl companion who was given to him by his mentor, Hagrid, in the first book of the series.
In the 1981 film, Clash of the Titans, which was based on Greek myths, Zeus himself presents the hero Perseus with an owl assistant named Bubo.
• Buckbeak, below, is a hippogriff - as found in Greek mythology, below left - with the wings, claws and head of a griffin and the body and hindquarters of a horse, which Harry befriends during Hagrid's Care of Magical Creatures class. Hagrid explains that hippogriffs are very calm, powerful giants, but demand respect.
• Cerberus, the monstrous three-headed dog, right, guarded the gates to Hades and was lulled to sleep by the music of Orpheus.
Harry performs a similar feat on Fluffy, an almost identical canine creature in The Philospher's Stone, far right.
The reference to Cerberus is reinforced when Hagrid informs Harry that he bought Fluffy from "a Greek chappie I met in the pub".
• Arachne, an arrogant girl, angered the goddess Athena and her punishment was being turned into a monstrous spider.
In the Chamber of Secrets, Harry is attacked by massive carnivorous female spiders.
• Snakes were used throughout Greek mythology as deadly guardians of the underworld. Orpheus's wife Eurydice died after stumbling into a nest of serpents. The sinister Gorgons, whose gaze could turn people to stone, were human-snake hybrids. Nagini, a sinister snake, is the pet of Harry's arch-enemy Lord Voldemort. The crest of Slytherin House, a deadly rival to Potter's Gryffindor, features a serpent.