Michael John Osborne
Michael John Osborne: The Mortal Immortal An Ecumenical Scholar in the Promotion of Hellenism

Michael John Osborne: The Mortal Immortal

2 July, 2024

An Ecumenical Scholar in Promotion of Hellenism

On Friday, July 5, 2024, Australia’s Hellenes will bid farewell to the man who, more than any other Greek or non-Greek of the Diaspora, administratively and organizationally strengthened the teaching and learning of the Greek language, literature and spread Greek culture and civilization to three continents, Europe, Oceania and Asia.  Professor Michael John Osborne, world-renowned classical philologist, expert in Ancient Greek Epigraphy, a keen researcher, a philanthropic administrator, a man of tremendous intelligence and incomparable humour, emerged as a scholarly personality of global renown. He was endowed with a truly creative mind, who produced great writing and administrative work wherever he passed and who has associated his name with the study and dissemination of Greek culture abroad. 

Professor Osborne (1942-2024) translated his love for Greece and its culture into practice, lived with Greece within him, governed according to the dictates and instructions of the ancient Greeks, spread Greek letters in Australia and China, served ancient Athens through excavations and thousands of inscriptions he studied and highlighted,  and created around him a strong tradition of learning Greek from ancient to modern Greece.

A child from a poor family, with an unrestrained desire to learn, a restless and insightful spirit, he won a scholarship to study at the University of Oxford, where he excelled in the study of Ancient Greek and Latin. He excelled very early in the research and study of Greek epigraphy, spending months and years, under the sun, in the first public cemetery of Ancient Athens, Kerameikos. Kerameikos, inside and outside the walls, has been the burial place of eminent Athenians, great philosophers, poets, writers, politicians, at this northwestern edge of the ancient city. There, Professor Michael John Osborne studied tombstones and inscriptions, managed to read these inscriptions, most of them altered by time, to record the names of the Athenian citizens who referred to the burial ruins, to identify the professions they practiced, the positions they served, their relations with the oldest democracy in the world, their achievements. He resurrected the dead who were housed in those burial schemes, gave them a new entity, conquered their death, recovered them from their forgotten past. And he mentioned them in his monumental books published by world academies, such as those in Germany and Belgium.

Then, after serving primarily in European universities, he was called to offer his services in Australia. He accepted his election as Chair of the Department of Classics at the University of Melbourne, one of the ten best universities in the world, in a department that had been a founding department of the University of Melbourne since 1857. At that time, the Lectureship of Modern Greek Studies had been operating there since 1974, which had been founded as a result of cooperation and understanding between the lecturers who taught Ancient Greek and Latin, with the consent and financial support of the Greeks of Melbourne. Professor Michael John Osborne actively contributed to the expansion of Modern Greek teaching at Monash and La Trobe Universities, with seconded Lecturers of his Department.

And in 1990, when he was elected Rector of La Trobe University in Melbourne, he realised that alongside the research and study of Greek epigraphy, it was time to endow Hellenism with the greatest spiritual gifts ever given by anyone in the Diaspora. He transformed the University he now led as a bastion and stronghold of teaching and learning the Greek language and culture. He established two Chairs for Modern Greek Studies at La Trobe University: one Teaching Chair as the Department of Hellenic Studies and one Research Chair as the National Centre for Hellenic Studies and Research. His action was pioneering on a global scale, transforming this Australian University as the most Hellenizing tertiary university institution in the Diaspora. However, his providence for Greek culture did not stop there. He saw to it that ancient Greek history was introduced to Peking University and that a Center for Greek Culture was to be established there. At the same time, he systematically helped establishing a Program  of Modern Greek Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University. In the history of the development of Greek studies, as far as I know, there is no other academic, researcher or scholar, other Rector or senior university official who has founded or organized four Chairs of Greek on two continents, Asia and Oceania. No one else showed such passion and dedication to the promotion of Greek culture, through student struggles, exhibitions, literary competitions, conferences and seminars, no one else embraced every move related to Greece and the Greeks, as Professor Michael John Osborne.

Nowhere was the impact of the ancient Greek world expressed on modern society, no one else highlighted the timeliness of Greek culture in today’s events. He publicly lamented the great “theft” of the Parthenon Sculptures by the Scottish diplomat. He aroused the reactions of his classical and historical colleagues in favour of the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures. He fought epic battles over the importance of Greek culture in the humanities and advocated the reintroduction of humanist studies in universities. He actively worshipped the two oldest civilizations in the world, the Chinese and the Greek. In China and Greece, he gave his worship and loyalty. He lived and experienced these two cultures, wrote studies and devoted his devotion.

He married an extremely sensitive and prudent woman, a good-natured lady and scientist, whom he met at Peking University, Liang Wenquan. Their wedding took place at the University of Melbourne. He was modest and austere. Professor Michael John Osborne respected his close friends, honoured the loyalists and devotees, always found excerpts from the maturity of the Ancient Greeks to describe cowardice, the ephemerality of cretins, the essence of political science. “I was fundamentally influenced by the actions and state of the ancient Greeks. You cannot govern and your decisions cannot make sense if they are not the product or concomitant of the Athenian state,” he used to say. Liang Wenquan stood by him as a wife and friend, as a companion and partner. She complied with his every wish and stood by him unscrupulously, as the centuries-old Chinese tradition of devotion dictates. Together they reared a brilliant child, their only child, Leon, perhaps Leonidas, but certainly a child who attracts infinite respect and love with his behaviour and maturity. Professor Michael John Osborne will live and perpetuate his graces and virtues through his son’s experiences. Mother and son will continue the legacy left to them by the mortal Immortal, the teacher and leader, the missionary of Greek civilization. He will be remembered, and his memory will perpetuate our hearts ες αεί. AXIOS!

The Management and Staff of the Greek Media Group, the Management and Staff of the Hellenic Museum of Melbourne and the Stamosalis Family, acknowledge Professor Osborne’s enormous contribution and do not forget his valuable help when he contributed to the realization of the first exhibition of the Hellenic Museum “Trendel Collection” by La Trobe University. He will be remembered.

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