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Edwin Linkomies

Edwin Johan Hildegard Linkomies (Flinck until 1928)
Born 22 December, 1894, Viipuri. Died 8 September, 1963, Helsinki.

Master of Arts, 1913 (Latin and General History, Philosophy and Greek), Imperial Alexander University
Doctor of Philosophy, 1923, University of Helsinki
Honorary Doctor of Laws, 1963, University of Helsinki

Docent of Roman Philology, 1921–1923, University of Helsinki
Professor of Roman Letters, 1923–1963, Vice-rector 1932–1943, Rector 1956–1962, and Chancellor 1962–1963, University of Helsinki
Member of Parliament, 1933–1945, Deputy Speaker 1933–1943, Prime Minister 1943–1944

Held positions in the Helsinki City Council, Chair of the Sibelius Academy executive board and Chair of the National Coalition Party.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Written by Lauri Lönnström
Translated by John Calton

A legend in his own lifetime – Linkomies’ academic career

Edwin Linkomies had studied Latin at school, but it became his principal focus once he began his university studies, having matriculated in 1911. He studied diligently and efficiently, gaining his Master’s degree in November 1913. Upon graduation he trained as a teacher and between 1914 and 1920 taught Latin in various Helsinki schools.

Whilst teaching, Linkomies began to show an interest in academic research and defended his thesis in December 1919. The thesis dealt with the author of the Roman tragedy Octavia praetexta, concentrating on the linguistic features of the work. In part, he was spurred on by the retirement age for professors; Fridolf Gustafsson had but a few potential successors in contention for his chair. The new Doctor of Philosophy continued with his study of language history, publishing in 1921 a study of the etymology of the word auguuri and in 1929 a work on the ablative absolute.

Linkomies’ third study was published following his appointment in 1923 as Professor of Roman Letters at the University of Helsinki. The selection was not without complications however. Another serious contender for the post was Aarne Salonius. Initially the faculty and the University’s governing body, the Consistorium, found for Linkomies, but Salonius’ backers managed to win over the selection committee. The Chancellor of the day, President of the Republic K.J.Ståhlberg did indeed propose Salonius but then recanted and Linkomies was chosen. The University needed active, young professors, a point not lost on the president, whose background was academic.

In the Thirties and Forties Linkomies moved away from academic work, turning his attention increasingly to national politics. He continued to teach meanwhile, and wrote a course in Latin grammar. In the spring of 1942, together with Eino Kaila, professor of Theoretical Philosophy, he proposed the establishment of a new faculty of social science, plans which came to fruition in 1944. The war years effectively paralysed the University and with his appointment as prime minister in 1943 Linkomies finally relinquished his teaching duties.

Linkomies returned to the University in 1949, having been granted a pardon from alleged war crimes as part of Risto Ryti’s wartime cabinet. During his incarceration he had written four general historical works, the best known of them being Keisari Augustus ja Rooman perintö (‘Emperor Augustus and the legacy of Rome’), reflecting his admiration for the Roman leader.

On his release from gaol, Linkomies set about studying the poetics of the Roman elegy as well as writing a history of Greek and Latin literature, for which he had received four years’ academic funding. These works were never completed however, as once again he became embroiled in politics. This time around, though, his energies were directed towards the politics of the scientific community. He was appointed head of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, board member of the Federation of Finnish Learned Societies, board member of the Institutum Romanum Finlandiae Foundation, together with chairman of the National Arts Committee, the precursor of the Academy of Finland.

Linkomies had already made unsuccessful bids to become rector of Helsinki University on four occasions between 1932 and 1941, but was appointed vice-rector as the custom dictated. The incumbent chancellor was another humanist, Hugo Suolahti, and many were of the opinion that the top two posts could not be held by representatives from the same faculty. Besides, Linkomies was very active again in national political life.

By 1956 these preoccupations with politics were behind him and he won the University elections in the autumn and was duly inaugurated as rector. He was re-elected in 1959 and in 1962 became chancellor. During his time as rector the student roll in the University swelled and the teaching staff grew by half again. Moreover, there was a great deal of capital investment in the University premises after the war years. The shining example of this is probably the Porthania building, which Linkomies named after the great historian of Finnish matter, Henrik Gabriel Porthan.

Linkomies saw the importance of training researchers, maintaining the University’s autonomy as well as keeping on good terms with the government of the day, all of which continue to be burning issues in today’s university politics.



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