Saturday, October 01, 2005

Stanislav Segert (1921-2005)

Yesterday Bill Schniedewind of UCLA emailed with the sad news that UCLA's Prof. Stanislav Segert, the great scholar of the North-West Semitic languages, and my own venerated teacher and Doktorvater, died yesterday after a short hospitalization. He was 84.

Segert was the last great grammarian of the Semitic languages in the polymathic European tradition of Dillmann, Brockelmann, and Noeldeke. He is perhaps best known in the US for his textbook Basic Grammar of the Ugaritic Language (1984), but in my opinion his finest work is his Altaramäische Grammatik (1975). He also wrote a fundamental Grammar of Phoenician and Punic (1976). Besides these works he wrote still unpublished grammars of Syriac and Biblical Aramaic for classroom use.

His hundreds of articles include many on the Qumran texts, and dozens more on aspects of Ugaritic studies. His study of the language of the Moabite stone ("Die Sprache der moabitischen Königinschrift," Archiv Orientalni, 1961) is still the best survey of that dialect.

Not only was Segert a great scholar, he was a great gentleman. His erudition was exceeded only by his courtesy, and any suggestion of scholarly hostility or odium theologicum caused him great pain. When someone in class once mentioned to him the falling out that had taken place between two European archaeologists, his only comment was, "Ah! Let us hope that no very great time will pass until they will once again be friends." His epitaph might well be: He died without enemies.

After Samuel Johnson died in 1784, William Hamilton wrote, "He has made a chasm which not only nothing can fill up, but which nothing has a tendency to fill up. Johnson is dead. Let us go to the next best. There is nobody; no man can be said to put you in mind of Johnson."

The same is true of Segert. He is gone, and he is irreplaceable. His books and articles remain for those to learn from who will; I will continue to study them, but even more than these, I will treasure the memory of his kindness and gentleness. As both a scholar and a man, he was a giant.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Further biographical details and a full bibliography through 1989 can be found in the Festschrift Sopher Mahir: Northwest Semitic Studies Presented to Stanislav Segert (Eisenbrauns, 1990).

UPDATE (10/3): Jim Davila has added a personal tribute to Prof. Segert.


Anonymous said...

This is sad news. When I was a graduate student under Loren Fisher at the Claremont Graduate School in the late 60s, we worked closely with Prof. Segert has on a number of projects and he was always extremely helpful. I just finish reading his lengthy review of Dietrich and Loretz', Die Keilalphabete . . . . I consult his Ugaritic and Phoenician grammars often. This death is a real loss.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear the sad news. He was a great scholar whose Altaramaeische Grammatik sits behind me as I write.

Anonymous said...

This is indeed sad news. I remember when I first immigrated to the US in 1983, I went to UCLA to meet the scholar teaching Syriac. He was most gentle and helpful. He will be missed.

Anonymous said...

My condolonces, Ed. His grammars of Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Old Aramaic were my guides as I entered the remarkable worlds of those languages. As Elnatan Weissert of Hebrew U told me upon the death of Jonas Greenfield, with whom I'd traveled to Israel to study, "All we can do is try to continue in his way."

Is there a bibliography of his work post-1990? I gained much consolation from looking at Greenfield's reviews after his death, hearing his voice in even his minor writings.

Seth Sanders