Oliver Lyne, who has died, aged 60, from a cerebral haemorrhage, was an inspiring teacher and an original scholar in the field of Latin poetry. For more than three decades, he was a tutor at Balliol College, Oxford, becoming a professor in 2001.
Under the name of ROAM Lyne, he wrote a sympathetic study of The Latin Love Poets From Catullus To Horace (1980); two detailed and perceptive accounts of the poetic language of Virgil's Aeneid - Further Voices In Virgil's Aeneid (1987) and Words And The Poet (1989); and Horace: Behind The Public Poetry (1995), relating the works produced for state occasions to their writer's personal experience and emotional life.
All Lyne's work is characterised by close attention to the fine detail of the text, with its linguistic and metrical niceties going hand in hand with a full and sensitive aesthetic exegesis. All too often in scholarship of the classic Latin writers, one or other of these qualities is to be found, but not both. Some Latin textual critics have disowned aesthetic comment altogether, or denied that it is possible - "I leave the gush stuff to other people," in the leaden words of an eminent Oxford Latinist of the last generation.
At the other pole, many modern critics launch into a sea of self-indulgent subjectivity, leaving philological considerations aside as too pedantic for free spirits to bother with. Lyne, a fine and sensitive critic of poetry, remained always committed to the exacting and difficult business of grounding his aesthetic judgments in the fine detail of linguistic analysis.
The constant pressure on academics to publish often conflicts with any commitment to teaching or spending time and energy on personal relations with pupils. Lyne was a devoted teacher, generous in time and effort: a highly successful lecturer, above all, he was outstanding in the close relationship of the tutorial, with one or two pupils at a time.
A man of emotional temperament, he did not reserve his knowledge and insights until the most showy occasions for their display. His relations with his pupils were very important to him, and most responded with warm and lasting attachment.
Born in Peterborough, Lyne was brought up in Highgate, north London. He went to Highgate school, where his father was a Latin master, and to St John's College, Cambridge, where he took a first in classics in 1966, and worked as a research student for two years. He then held short-term fellowships at Fitzwilliam and Churchill colleges, gaining his PhD in 1970.
His doctoral thesis was on the Ciris, a tragic love story whose heroine was eventually turned into a bird. The poem survives because it somehow became attached to the name of Virgil. Lyne's supervisor was Frank Goodyear, and his thesis, published in 1978, was a full-dress commentary, discussing the manuscripts and establishing a new text, and offering unusually full discussion, coherently worked out, of the poet's poetic and narrative techniques. Parallels are displayed in quantity, but not amassed as an end in themselves or for mere ostentation.
Lyne showed a perceptive and subtle appreciation of the merits and characteristics of a poem which, though clearly not by Virgil, has its own excellences, often overlooked or minimised by those in hasty search of more classical qualities. His judgments - that its technique was "impressionistic" and "artificial" - were thoroughly grounded in detailed and scrupulous argument. His late dating of the work stands out as persuasive, though that question may never be laid finally to rest.
In 1971, Lyne was elected to a tutorial fellowship at Balliol, and his titular chair in classical languages and literature of four years ago allowed him to continue as a college tutor. His intense style of teaching and lecturing meant that the end of each Oxford term found him drained, and he attached great importance to escaping to his house in Italy. His Italian was excellent, he had access to a university library, and he was on close terms with a number of Italian scholars.
Always disclaiming any interest in, or skill at, administration, he succeeded in avoiding the more burdensome college positions; but he was scrupulous in the writing of references and in overseeing the welfare of pupils. When he reluctantly agreeed to become secretary of the sub-faculty, he showed a crisp efficiency.
Lyne's sudden death comes as a shock to his many friends and pupils. He was a warm and responsive character, never displaying the distance or dryness which so often go with learning and scholarship. Much loved as a colleague, he was also a devoted husband and father, leaving his wife Linda, a son and a daughter.
· Richard Oliver Allen Marcus Lyne, classicist and teacher, born December 21 1944; died March 17 2005