I suspect that few News Weekly readers will have heard of Roger Sworder and even fewer will have read his books. In the rural city of Bendigo, however, he was a scholarly equivalent of “the Man from Snowy River” – his name was “a household word”.
Roger James Sworder:
December 27, 19446 – October 27, 2016
First, at the former Bendigo College of Advanced Education, then at La Trobe University Bendigo, he taught philosophy and classics for 36 years. His special interest and great love was the literature and philosophy of ancient Greece. He was, perhaps, the last Platonist.
His death is recorded here because many of his beliefs about human society and human life were perfectly aligned with the general outlook of News Weekly and its parent organisation. Though not a practising Christian, he was a staunch defender of traditional Christianity and its moral order.
Due very largely to his efforts, a new degree course was introduced in 1981 and was known as the “Western Traditions” course. Here students were given the opportunity to look at important elements in the history of the West, and they were made literate in the visual traditions of the West as well as the verbal. The course subjects picked particular periods or developments and looked at them in some detail rather than attempting a linear history. So, there were lectures on Homer’s Odyssey, on the synoptic Gospels and on the sacred architecture of the Gothic cathedrals, to mention just three.
Here, students were made to realise that history was not just a sort of prelude to the present but a great deal more – it tells us who and what we are.
Roger Sworder was a man of prodigious erudition. Born in England just after World War II, he attended a private boarding school with the aid of a scholarship. He began to learn Latin from the age of six, and Greek from the age of 10. From school, he went on to Wadham College, Oxford – again on an academic scholarship – where he read Classics, and from there, to the ANU in Canberra. His doctoral thesis on Plato concerned his superiors because of its brevity. Asked to reconsider, he ended up by producing an even shorter version! He wrote with precision and economy.
As a lecturer he was something of a legend. Such was his delivery that many of his lectures were attended by students not enrolled in the course! When he read from Homer, you could hear a pin drop in the room. Once, as I vividly recall, a student from a former year (back to listen to the same lecture again) asked him to read a passage from Homer in the original Greek. Not one student in the room could understand the language, but all were enthralled by the delivery.
At his funeral, dozens of former students turned up.
At his own request, Roger was buried from Sacred Heart Cathedral, Bendigo, a cathedral he loved in a city he loved. He is survived by his wife Nancy, and children Zeno and Zoe.
Friends and colleagues have arranged for the production of a dedicatory volume of essays – a Gedenkschrift – to be published by Connor Court later this year. The book will include Roger’s last poems, autobiographical in nature. Most of his own books are still available through Sophia Perennis, San Rafael, CA, www.sophiaperennis.com.