Archive for the ‘personalia’ Tag

Franz Rosenthal on Hans Heinrich Schaeder   3 comments

Hinrich Biesterfeldt, ed. “Franz Rosenthal’s Half an Autobiography.” Die Welt des Islams 54 (2014): 34-105.

I’m now reading the hot-off-the-press memoir of Franz Rosenthal, edited by Hinrich Biesterfeldt. I highly recommend it for reasons of interest academic and historical. Here, as only a taste, are some remarks on his teacher Hans Heinrich Schaeder, with whom Rosenthal studied in Berlin.

My principal mentor and shaykh was Hans Heinrich Schaeder, then at the peak of his mental and physical powers, a conscientious and wonderfully inspiring teacher. His official field was Iranian, and I studied Middle Persian and Islamic Persian with him. Initially, he repaired the damage done me by an earlier course in Syriac that was taught by someone incompetent to teach the language. He showed me how to approach Muslim historical texts, how to reconstruct an Oriental religion, Manichaeism, from fragments transmitted in Arabic, and how to use the tools of scholarship properly. Above all, he was the living example of the need for, and the methods of looking at, the large historical picture without ever neglecting the details offered by the sources. He set the subject of my doctoral dissertation for which he prepared my way by his previous instruction in Aramaic. [p. 54]

I’m very happy that this document has appeared, and thanks are due to the editor and the publisher. As far as I’m concerned, one can never have too much personalia to read.


Happy birthday to Lord Byron, student of Armenian   Leave a comment

Today is the birthday of Lord Byron (1788-1824), well-known, of course, as an English poet, but less so as a student of Armenian. Many of us know

She walks in beauty like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes

but far fewer know of his efforts to learn Armenian. I first learned of the latter from a quotation at the beginning of Matthias Bedrossian’s New Dictionary, Armenian-English (Venice, 1875-1879, p. x). But we have more evidence, still directly from Byron himself, in the form of the posthumously appearing Lord Byron’s Armenian Exercises and Poetry (Venice, 1870), including letters, translation from Armenian into English (“to exercise himself in the arm. language”, 21), and a selection of Byron’s poetry with Armenian translation. The Armenian-English translations are from an “Armenian history”, something by Nerses Lambronac’i, and 3 Corinthians. The history is not further identified in the text, but it turns out to be that of Movsēs Xorenac’i, book 1, chs. 8-9, save the last two paragraphs, a discovery relatively easy to make thanks to the TITUS text database. The whole volume is beautifully typeset with Armenian and English pages facing each other.

Byron arrived in Venice in 1816 and found himself impressed with the monastery San Lazzaro degli Armeni “which appears to unite all the advantages of the monastic institution, without any of its vices” (4). There he studied Armenian. From a letter of Dec. 5, 1816 (10-13):

By way of divertisement, I am studying daily, at an Armenian monastery, the Armenian language. I found that my mind wanted something craggy to break upon; and this — as the most difficult thing I could discover here for an amusement — I have chosen, to torture me into attention. It is a rich language, however, and would amply repay any one the trouble of learning it. I try, and shall go on; — but I answer for nothing, least of all for my intentions or my success. There are some very curious Mss. in the monastery, as well as books; translations also from Greek originals, now lost, and from Persian and Syriac etc.; besides works of their own people.

And in a letter of the previous day (14-17), he says:

I wrote to you at some length last week, and have little to add, except that I have begun, and am proceeding in a study of the Armenian language, which I acquire, as well as I can, at the Armenian convent, where I go every day to take lessons of a learned friar, and have gained some singular and not useless information with regard to the literature and customs of that oriental people. They have an establishment here — a church and convent of ninety monks, very learned and accomplished men, some of them. They have also a press, and make great efforts for the enlightening of their nation. I find the languages (which is twin, the literal and the vulgar) difficult, but not invincible (at least I hope not). I shall go on. I found it necessary to twist my mind round some severer study, and this, as being the hardest I could devise here, will
be a file for the serpent.

So while we may recite some Byron in English today, we can commemorate him, too, by studying Armenian, and by persevering: “I shall go on,” he says, and “I try, and shall go on; — but I answer for nothing, least of all for my intentions or my success.”

Gallery of scholars   Leave a comment

I’ve just published a gallery of scholars (also available at the top of the page) who have worked in the fields of the languages and literature of eastern Christianity. I’ve not listed scholars who are still living. I’m sure I’ve failed to include some people who should be here, so if you have any suggestions for additions, please let me know. Also, I could find no photograph of Georg Graf, and I would be grateful to anyone who will point me to one.

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