Farewell to a friend
[Translated by John Leatham]
From the New Griffon, A Gennadius Library Publication, American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Editor: Haris A. Kalligas, Director, Gennadius Library. Athens 2002.
IN SPEAKING OF OUR FRIENDS words are always inadequate, conventional and unequal to our purpose. Even when it comes to farewells our thoughts flit from moments of particular pleasure to the joy of surprises occasioned by unexpected encounters, to the sense of euphoria brought about by arranged meetings, to cheerful welcomes, to the intensity of personal contact.
The great loss suffered by historical research through the death of Steven Runciman has already been stressed by others more competent than I am. I shall limit myself to expressing the sense of desolation that wells up within us as we take leave of the last representative of the generation to which we are so deeply indebted, above all for the precept of reconciling a special interest with wider needs, for perceiving a personal objective through the prism of social obligation, for awareness that individuality is permeated through and through by what is attributable to science and what is attributable to man, and further for the fascination promised us by the balance struck between theoretical considerations and intellectual dedication in the realm of specific action, for devotion to the dictates of a militant defense of ideas, for faith in the auspicious prospects opened up by an unbiased mind that lie beyond the arid territory of circumscribed branches of study and the pettiness of their exponents.
I shall speak mostly of the teacher, or rather of that invaluable friend who displayed a generosity of spirit and fairness in his judgments, a friend with a genuine concern for others and a readiness to show solidarity, with faith in younger people and an aura of youthfulness in himself, who enchanted with telling word and the repute of proven wisdom. He was a friend with an irrepressible and trenchant humour as well as an unyielding tenacity in the face of ideological recriminations which even in his absence ensured that he was there to give generously of his help without begrudging his knowledge or fear of compromising his standing and prestige. This was so not only during the years of dictatorship but also at many other peaceful and troubled times.
Greeks and foreign visitors will be reminded of Steven Runciman's affection for the Benaki Museum by a rare view of Thebes in 1819 which he gave to the Museum towards the end of his long life. For my part I shall always remember the ten days I spent in his company at his ghost-ridden tower in Scotland, the treasures in private collections in the castles and great houses that opened their doors to us, the endless heated evening discussions about the role played by foreign powers and our fresh memories of those seven years dictators ruled, about History as experience and teacher, about Greece's past and our hopes for a different Greece in the future.
I shall remember him as a pure-bred Scot but one with an unlikely idiosyncrasy, a sympathy with the Mediterranean world; in others words as one of us and a faithful friend.