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Notable Arthurians collected by Sigmund Eisner Richard O'Gorman Richard O'Gorman and I arrived at Indiana University at the same time, in fall 1962. He was the bearer ofa new Ph.D. and was assuming his first academic position; I had a fresh A.B. and was beginning my work toward the M.A. He was a dozen years my senior but had spent three years in the U.S. Navy (in the Submarine Service, 1946-49), and he had moreover spent several years abroad, studying in Paris but also doing construction work to put food on the table. (Years later, and with some pride, he told me that he had helped build the Casablanca airport.) Only then had he returned to graduate school, where his mentor, William Roach, trained him to be a rigorous textual scholar and a first-rate editor. After studying Old French with him for a year, I went to his office and informed him that I had decided to become a medievalist. I'm not certain what I expected his reaction to be—satisfaction or consternation?—but he simply invited me to sit down, and he reached for a pen and paper. After a couple ofminutes, he handed me a list ofa dozen or fifteen books, including, as I recall, Curtius, Tuve, Bossuat (the history of medieval French literature), and H.O. Taylor. He told me to go read those, to think about them, and then, if I was still interested, to come back and talk further with him. I did. I went on to take two semesters of History of the French Language with him, and then I took my first Arthurian course from him in summer school. There were just three of us students, and we gathered every morning in his office to read and dissect texts, giving equal attention to literary interpretation and to the grammar and syntax of Old and Middle French. I later wrote my dissertation under his direction, although the subject was thefabliaux rather than the Arthurian legend. (Those two subjects were his central interests, and they have remained mine.) I took a position at the University ofKansas, and a year later he moved to the University of Iowa, where he taught until he retired. Whatever the subject matter, the respect for the text was for him the crucial matter, whether he was reading or editing a work. He often, both when I was a student and later, responded to questions or puzzlement by asking simply, 'What does the text say?' FIe was sensitive to the ambiguity inherent in most medieval works (and sometimes in the language itself), but he remained convinced that the text permits certain readings and resolutely excludes others. He tended to be very indulgent of those who agreed with him about the centrality of the text (even if their philological or editorial expertise was seriously inferior to his own), but he 103 104ARTHURIANA could be casually dismissive ofany book or scholar who did not. In those situations, he had a term for interpretations or theories that seemed to him to leave the text far behind: 'Nonsense!' I suspect that the importance ofbasing our ideas on textual readings may explain his attitude toward the 'historical Arthur': it was not so much that he did not believe in it as that he did not much care. For him, medieval literature was what we have, and that was what was worth spending our time on. When the conversation turned to the quest for Arthur, he generally just chuckled. Nevertheless, he later mentioned that he had spent part ofa summer as a volunteer during the excavations of'Cadbury Castle.' He insisted that he did it because he was not otherwise occupied, and he enjoyed telling of evenings spent over a pint—or several—during which the volunteers (and others) had a good laugh at all those people who expected King Arthur's bones to be dug up any day. In 1988 I moved to Washingron University in St. Louis, to the department from which Dick held his M.A. His family was from St. Louis, and until a few months before his death he made frequent trips back...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1539
Print ISSN
1078-6279
Pages
pp. 103-104
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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