Lowth, Robert°

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LOWTH, ROBERT ° (1710–1787), Hebraist. Appointed professor of poetry at Oxford in 1741, Lowth devoted a series of 34 Latin lectures to the literary qualities of biblical poetry. Originally published as Praelectiones de sacra poesi Hebraeorum (Oxford, 1753), these were translated into English as Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews (London, 1787). Lowth was the first modern scholar to formulate the theory of parallelism as the metrical basis of biblical Hebrew poetry, a discovery which had been partially anticipated in the 16th century by Azariah de *Rossi, whom Lowth quoted. Renaissance scholars, relying on classical and contemporary verse forms, had tried unsuccessfully to scan poetic passages in the Bible as though they were classical hexameters, but Lowth showed that Hebrew poetry was fundamentally antiphonal, the latter part of each verse echoing the idea of the first by corroboration or contrast – "The mountains skipped like rams/the hills like children of the flock." His translation of the Book of Isaiah (1778) was also original in biblical translation, distinguishing between the prose and poetry of the original Hebrew. Lowth is notable for having stressed the sublimity of Old Testament literature and the vividness of its imagery in an era of prudery and circumlocution. He was bishop of Oxford 1766–67 and thereafter bishop of London.


S.H. Monk, The Sublime (1935); M. Roston, Prophet and Poet (1965). Add. Bibliography: R. Marrs, in: dbi, 2, 89–90.

[Murray Roston]