Cherwell learned of the visit after several of our staff received unsolicited invitations via email to an online lecture in lieu of one Tomin had been hoping to host in Balliol. He said in the email, addressed to Oxford students, “May I appeal to you: Would you raise your voice in support of my request?”
In the emails, he claimed that he asked the Master of Balliol for a platform in the college to present a lecture on “Human Spiritual Nature and the X of Neurophysiologists.” He claims he was refused a public platform by the college.
In response, Tomin travelled from his home in the Cotswolds to stand outside Balliol on Monday. He then spent two hours discussing philosophy with passers by. He held a sign with the words, “A philosopher from Prague appeals to Oxford academics: LET US DISCUSS HUMAN NATURE’.”
Tomin has a long history of engagement with the University. Balliol College invited Tomin to Oxford to give a series of lectures in 1980, hoping to afford him some political protection at home but knowing that permission to travel was likely to be denied.
In September 1980, he succeeded in reaching the UK. Balliol paid a stipend and supported Tomin for six months; a society for the protection of learning gave funds for another eighteen months; and finally some academics used their own funds channelled through a charity to support Tomin while he applied unsucessfully for jobs.
However, Tomin’s connection with Oxford is complicated. In 1979, responding to an invitation from Tomin, several academics travelled to Prague (in solidarity with him) to lecture at Tomin’s unofficial seminars. These were repeatedly disrupted by the police, and some of the academics interrogated and expelled, though not injured. Tomin alleges that even at this early stage some of the visitors were keen to expose his ability to translate and read aloud in Greek, in an effort to discredit him.
Undergraduate classicists contacted by Cherwell were reluctant to comment on Tomin’s visit. Barbara Day’s book The Velvet Philosophers, which details the story of how academics in the former Czechoslovakia worked with their Western contemporaries in secret, references an Oxford don who found Tomin “ill equipped to deal with the competitive academic world of the west.”
The professor told Cherwell, “I don’t think anything is to be gained by going once more into this sad case.”
Other members of the University, speaking off the record, saw Tomin’s confrontational style of debate as the underlying cause of his alienation from Oxford academia.
Julius Tomin ran underground philosophy seminars in Prague, and was visited by prominent academics from Oxford including William Newton-Smith, Anthony Kenny and Kathy Wilkes. However upon reaching the UK he failed to find academic work and has since complained of being side-lined because of his radical theories on Plato.
Academically, Tomin’s main departure with mainstream Classical thinking is over the dating of the Phaedrus, relative to other works by Plato. Tomin, uniquely among scholars, dates it as Plato’s first work, which if true would undermine a substantial body of accepted scholarship on the subject. He also insists on studying texts in the original Greek without translation, and out loud whenever possible. His website offers Greek recordings of the New Testament as a study aid for students.
Through the internet and email, Tomin has been able to publish open letters and papers freely, where before he struggled to have his work published in British journals.