The Roar of silence

On 26 September, I presented François de Blois the Festschrift that Adam Benkato and I edited:

Benkato, Adam & Arash Zeini (eds.). 2021. The roar of silence: A Festschrift in honour of François de Blois. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 31(3).

The presentation took place at the Ancient India & Iran Trust in Cambridge a couple of days after François’s 73rd birthday. Here is my speech:

Welcome and thank you for joining us today. It is a great pleasure to celebrate François de Blois and his birthday with his friends, colleagues and most importantly his family.

François doesn’t need an introduction. His vast knowledge, wisdom and scholarly rigour are well-known, and we all have witnessed him in action on numerous occasions. There is much to be said about him, but the very first lesson I and my friends learned from him, was a pragmatic one which prevents me from holding a long speech today. Allow me to explain: When we—a couple of his students—once asked François in panic why conferences allocated only 20 minutes to each speaker, he responded: “If you know what you want to say, 5 minutes are enough”. Technically we would still have 15 minutes to fill. Needless to say that this did not calm us down, but this brief conversation showed to us what we could expect while studying with François. The precision and brevity of his scholarship are exemplary, and for us the editors of his volume, most vividly represented in his legendary grammar of Middle Persian: two pages on an A4 paper. Adam and I paid our tribute to his precision in the introduction of the Festschrift.

Allow me to give you an example why I love François’s scholarship. In the 2008 memorial volume for Prof. Emmerick, François has an article entitled “The Name of the Black Sea”. It’s just 8 pages, and I frequently re-read it. Not the entire article, but its beginning which is a favourite. Within the first paragraph François gives the background to Max Vasmer’s discussion of the sea’s name, which he will discuss in greater detail on the pages that follow. The second paragraph, which is the reason why I frequently come back to this article, is where we see François as a strategist who lays out and shares his plan with his readers: “Vasmer’s thesis has found nearly unanimous approval both among classicists and Iranists, but I think it can be demonstrated that it is definitely wrong. My counter-attack is from three angles: from the testimony of the Greek sources, from the Iranian linguistic evidence concerning the meaning of Avestan axšaēna‐, and from the evidence of historical geography.” Mary Boyce was impressed by François’s article “‘Freeman’ and ‘Nobles’ in Iranian and Semitic Languages”, but I like to believe that she would have loved this one too or even more. And when I say strategist, I mean those ancient Far Eastern generals like Sun Tzu or Miyamoto Musashi who fought all Samurai of his time until there were none left.

But it’s not François’s scholarship that led Adam and me to edit a volume in his honour, but the person, or as often said the human side. François has always impressed the people around him, at least on all those occasions where we were present. In 2014, he was kind enough to accept my invitation to present at the workshop at St Andrews. Ali Ansari knew François, but had, if I am not mistaken, never met him. After the conference, Ali only expressed his excitement about François, whom, again if memory serves right, he called the surprise of the workshop and thanked me for having invited him. When François served as Prof. Emmerick’s replacement in Hamburg he left a deep impression on his students. When I met the late Carsten Bettermann in Vienna we became very close friends, often talking about François. I had a prized copy of François’s Middle Persian grammar, which Carsten didn’t know, and he had a copy of François’s Old Persian grammar which I didn’t know at the time. Most importantly, Carsten was keen to get his hands on another one-page masterpiece, namely François’s derivation of the MP verb from the old optative. After Carsten died, I called his partner whom I had never met. But she recognised me and said that Carsten had often mentioned me. I was surprised, as there was no reason why she should have recognised me, not then and not today. But I was apparently the other François guy whom Carsten had often talked about. Carsten truly loved François and as we Iranians say, his place is empty among the contributors of this volume. I know he would have loved to show his appreciation.

Before I can present this volume to you, François, I would like to and must thank the Royal Asiatic Society for accepting this volume as one of the issues of its journal. As we wrote in the introduction: “It is only appropriate that this Festschrift should be housed in the Royal Asiatic Society’s main scholarly publication venue, as much of François’ career has been interwoven with the Society, and the Journal has been one of the preferred destinations for his studies”. Adam and I would like to express our gratitude to all involved in the publication process. There are too many people to name individually, but we are indebted to everyone at the Society, the Cambridge University Press and the typesetting company who made this publication possible. Having been established in 1824, the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society is a publication with two centuries of accumulated scholarship. I have not researched this, but the journal’s association with Iranian Studies goes at least back to 1848 when Rawlinson published his readings of the Old Persian inscriptions in the journal. Adam and I hope that the society and the journal will continue to support scholarship in an era where humanities are increasingly more under pressure to perform statistically and financially, in an era where scholars become increasingly more brick layers with meaningless tasks in large projects. After all, we seem to be entering the post-human era.

I am delighted to be here today to thank you, François, for everything you have done for us. It is a real pleasure for Adam and me to present to you this Festschrift as a token of our appreciation. We hope you like it.

Ancient India & Iran Trust, 26/09/2021

Bibliography

Blois, François de. 2007. The name of the Black Sea. In Maria Macuch, Mauro Maggi & Werner Sundermann (eds.), Iranian languages and texts from Iran and Turan: Ronald E. Emmerick memorial volume (Iranica 13), 1–8. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.