January 01, 2006

A Giant's Passing

On November 7, 2005, scholar, educator, translator and author Mikhail Leonovich Gasparov died in Moscow at the age of 70, following an extended illness.

It is very difficult to explain in a limited space how important Gasparov’s impact was on Russian culture and scholarship. The feeling of acute bereavement has shaken the country’s humanities community.

Gasparov set an unparalleled standard for intellectual honesty, clarity and brilliance of style, unfathomable knowledge and unrelenting industry (his Western colleagues once enviously dubbed him “the tireless Gasparov”). He was not an active classroom teacher, but countless students, scholars and others benefited from his advice and his example. His presence at conferences and gatherings always created a strong force field – a tall, stooping man with a huge dome of a head, thick spectacles, ever busy writing in his tattered notebook, yet always alert to everything being said around him, never failing to answer a question. Gasparov knew, it seemed, everything. And yet he invariably declined to comment on anything he felt was beyond his competence. Power and restraint are qualities that seldom combine in a thinker. Gasparov was unique, and there is no one to firmly go in his stead, let alone replace him.

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