by Daniel Jacobs
Terence DuQuesne, 1942-2014
The brilliant if unorthodox poet, classicist and Egyptologist, Terence DuQuesne has died at the age of seventy-two.
Born in 1942, Terence was educated, as he always said, “despite scholarships to Dulwich and Oxford”. By the age of thirteen he was reading Greek poetry in the original, and claimed that one of his main motivations for learning ancient Greek was to be able to read Sappho in her own language. In later life he translated her works into English, having rejected earlier renditions as “dull and distorted reflexions”. At school, it was not long before he was in trouble for correcting the translations of her poems made by his classics teacher, but this failed to thwart his love of Greek or of poetry, of which he published several collections in his lifetime. Indeed, to the end of his life, he would celebrate each Celtic Pagan festival of the year by writing a new poem and circulating it to his friends.
Terence’s first book, published under the name “Terence Deakin” in 1964, was a study of sexological source materials, the Catalogi Librorum Eroticorum, still an important bibliographical resource. Terence also took an interest in pharmacology: his Handbook of Psychoactive Medicines was aimed at the layperson who needed to know more about the drugs they were being prescribed, but also with the fair claim that health professionals could benefit from the book, which criticized the over-prescription of psychotropic drugs. His knowledge of clinical pharmacology, self-taught, enabled him to contribute to journals such as Psychiatry in Practice and even The Lancet.
The cause of freedom was one that Terence espoused wholeheartedly, often working with the Libertarian Alliance. In 1986, Terence published Illicit Drugs: Myth And Reality for the Libertarian Alliance, who presented it as evidence to a House of Commons Home Affairs Committee on the use of illicit drugs. At the same time, with his friend and solicitor Edward Goodman, he published Britain an Unfree Country, a detailed critique of the erosion of personal freedom under the Thatcher regime. Yet all of this was really by way of an aside from the detailed academic study which dominated Terence’s work, namely that of the religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians.
Terence’s love of and fascination with dogs combined with his interests in ancient Egyptian religion and led him to specialize in studying ancient Egypt’s jackal deities, of whom he himself became something of a devotee. He was also interested in Osiris and Ptolemaic religion. He published a number of short works on Egyptian religion which were soon out of print, but which became classics in their field, and now change hands on ebay for extraordinary prices, but his long-term project was a wide-ranging survey of Egypt’s jackal gods. In 2005 he produced the first volume of this, covering the Old Kingdom. Two further volumes (for the Middle and New Kingdoms) remain unpublished.
Terence was far from being a chair-bound Egyptologist, and each year he would travel to Egypt to undertake research, mainly in the basement of the Cairo Museum, although he also travelled frequently to Asyut and Abydos in Middle Egypt. He particularly loved being with his adopted family in Abusir, and playing with their dogs, whom he always spoiled with large presents of fresh meat. His access to the vaults of the Cairo Museum, envied by many colleagues, enabled him to study and catalogue the amazing trove of devotional stelae – most of them dedicated to local jackal deities – which had been unearthed in the XIIth Dynasty Salakhana tomb in 1922, and had then been all but forgotten when Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered only weeks later. After fifteen years of studying this amazing trove, Terence eventually published his work on it in 2010, finally doing justice to one of the twentieth century’s most important Egyptological finds.
Although he was critical of much of British Egyptology – and always felt more at home within European, particularly German Egyptology – his contributions to ancient Egyptian religion is immense. His publications on the Salakhana trove and the jackal divinities of Egypt in particular will remain as lasting monuments to his scholarship.
An accomplished linguist and poet, Terence translated poetry from languages ancient and modern, in addition to publishing several books of his own verse, much of which was inspired by works in anything from Sanskrit to classical Hebrew. Terence was a kind and gentle man, who inspired friendship in many quarters, from glamorous rock stars to undergraduates with whom he would freely share his great knowledge. A self-professed (and provable) eccentric, who belonged in a different century. As a practising pagan, he directed in his will that “on no account shall my body be buried or the ashes from my cremation be place in ground consecrated to the Christian religion”. Terence was also a strict vegan. Although he had at least one long term relationship, he never married. He will be missed by his many friends, but will be greeted with open arms by his patron deity Anubis.
At the time of his death, Terence was working on a new edition of The Poems of Sappho, on a Geography of the Landscape of the Underworld, and on a second volume of The Jackal Divinities of Egypt.