RIP Richard Nelson Frye

Regarded as the “dean of the world’s Iranists,” Eminent American scholar and Iranologist Richard Nelson Frye passed away on March 27, 2014 aged 94. He was Professor Emeritus of Iranian Studies at Harvard University with specialty on Iranian philology and the history of Iran and Central Asia before 1000 CE. He spoke fluent Russian, German, Arabic, Persian, Pashto, French, Uzbek and Turkish and had extensive knowledge of ancient languages and dialects.

Frye regarded himself as belonging to the last generation of scholars rather than new literary technicians, as is written on his personal website in a note titled Appologia pro Vita Sua:

I grew up in a dinosauric world where education was supposed to produce persons who aspired to be Renaissance scholars, rather than the highly specialized technicians of today. I use the word technician advisedly, since numbers now dominate all fields of knowledge, and one has to be a technician to understand the complexities of contemporary life. I do not wish to imitate the complaints of the aged, for one cannot, or should not, return to the past. Yet experiences and events of the past may, even in a small way, inform the endless search to improve life here on earth. That is why I wrote my memoirs, to portray a life with its foibles as well as accomplishments. For even personal history should be recorded and not forgotten, since one cannot judge the effect on readers who may learn something or even be entertained by experiences of one individual.

Frye was a popular public speaker at numerous Iran-related gatherings. In 2005, he spoke at UCLA, encouraging the Iranians present to cherish their culture and identity. In 2004, he spoke at an architectural conference in Tehran, expressing his dismay at hasty modernization that ignores the beauties of traditional Iranian architectural styles.

According to Mehrzad Boroujerdi, professor at Syracuse University, Frye took pride in being entitled by Ali Akbar Dehkhoda as ‘Iranophil’ rather than an Iranologist. Frye influenced a large number of Iranian intellectuals such as Jalal Ale Ahmad, Mohammad-Ali Eslami Nodoushan, and Sadeq Choubak among others during the 1960s, Boroujerdi added.

Among his best-known publications are: The Near East and the Great Powers, Harvard University Press, 1951; Iran, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1960;The Heritage of Persia: The pre-Islamic History of One of the World’s Great Civilizations, World Publishing Company, New York, 1963. Reprinted by Mazda Publishers, 2004.; Bukhara: The Medieval Achievement, University of Oklahoma Press, 1965; and Greater Iran, Mazda Publishers, 2005.

In an interview with the CNN, Richard Frye – born to a Sweddish family in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1920 – had expressed his wish to be buried in Isfahan, next to Zayanderoud River. Find his wonderful interview here.

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