Myres, John Linton
Myres, John Linton
Sir John Linton Myres (1869–1954), a historian of classical antiquity, showed in his work a knowledge and competence gained from other disciplines—notably, from geography, anthropology, and archeology. The width of his interests led him to anthropology, at that time a broad, inclusive study that combined both humanist and scientific orientations, and he devoted much of his long life to furthering its cause in institutional ways—by his long association with the Royal Anthropological Institute, by founding and editing the journal Man, by helping to extend the teaching of anthropology at Oxford, and by organizing various national and international conferences and congresses.
For most of his life Myres lived and worked at Oxford, where from 1910 until 1939 he was Wykeham professor of ancient history. His central interest as a scholar was the origin and development of Greek civilization, and his most important book, Who Were the Greeks? (1930), was a contribution to this theme. First delivered as the Sather lectures at the University of California at Berkeley, this book might be described as an inquiry into the ethnological origins of Greek culture: Myres drew his data from geography, physical anthropology, comparative philology, and archeology, as well as from the traditions and beliefs recorded in Greek literature. In his general conclusions he emphasized the heterogeneity of Greek origins and the processes of selection and adaptation that occurred to produce the seeming unity of the Greek people in its “great age.” Myres excelled in this kind of cross-disciplinary study, his own particular contribution being to show the relevance of geography and history for the development of culture. It was this theme that he took up in his Frazer lecture, entitled “An Essay in Geographical History” (see 1943), and that underlay also the collection of essays published shortly before his death, Geographical History in Greek Lands (1953). His other notable books are The Dawn of History (1911) and The Political Ideas of the Greeks (1927). In the field of classics Myres’ scholarly achievement was substantial, but in anthropology his influence lay perhaps to a greater extent in his enthusiasm for, and promotion of, the subject and in the opportunities that he created for others. Thus, when Myres was recorder of the anthropological section for the 1899 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, he wrote to another Oxford-trained classicist, R. R. Marett, asking him to enliven a potentially dull meeting with something “really startling”; for the occasion Marett produced his paper “Pre-animistic Religion,” which had indeed the desired effect and brought fame to Marett [see the biography ofMarett]. In the following year, as honorary secretary to the Royal Anthropological Institute, Myres conceived the need for a journal which would report on recent work in the field of anthropological studies and would provide a place for general discussion through shorter articles and reviews. As a result, Man: A Monthly Record of Anthropological Science started publication in 1901. Myres became the first editor, and the form and policy of the journal were largely shaped by him. He was editor from 1901 to 1903 and again from 1931 to 1946. At Oxford, E. B. Tylor had been lecturing in anthropology since 1884, but there was no separate department or school until, in the first years of this century, Myres, with others, helped to create such a school and to establish the diploma course in anthropology. He became the first secretary to the committee for anthropology, which the university set up in 1905 to administer the teaching of the course. In 1908 he contributed to a course of public lectures that Marett (who had succeeded him as secretary to the committee) had arranged to stimulate an interest in anthropology. The lectures, published as Anthropology and the Classics, are an interesting reflection of the subject as it was then conceived; some of the other speakers were Arthur J. Evans, Andrew Lang, Gilbert Murray, and F. B. Jevons. In 1912 Myres, with Barbara Freire-Marreco, one of the first pupils in the diploma course, prepared a new edition of Notes and Queries on Anthropology. From 1919 to 1932 Myres was the honorary general secretary to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He was vice-president of the Royal Anthropological Institute from 1921 to 1923 and thereafter continued to serve as an active member on committees until 1928, when he was elected president, an office he held for the very long period of three years. He was active in the creation of the International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences and served as honorary general secretary of the group from its first meeting in 1934 until 1947.
M. J. Ruel
1908 Herodotus and Anthropology. Pages 121–168 in Robert R. Marett (editor), Anthropology and the Classics. Oxford: Clarendon.
1911 The Dawn of History. New York: Holt.
1912 British Association for the Advancement of ScienceNotes and Queries on Anthropology. 4th ed. Edited by Barbara Freire-Marreco and J. L. Myres. London: Routledge. → First published in 1874. A sixth, revised edition was published in 1954.
1927 The Political Ideas of the Greeks, With Special Reference to Early Notions About Law, Authority, and Natural Order in Relation to Human Ordinance. London: Arnold; New York: Abingdon.
1930 Who Were the Greeks? Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.
1943 Mediterranean Culture. Cambridge Univ. Press.
1953 Geographical History in Greek Lands. Oxford: Clarendon. → Includes a bibliography of Myres’ works.
John Linton Myres: 1869–1954. 1954 Man 54:37–43. → Memorial tributes by Raymond W. Firth and others.