Monday, July 26, 2021

Robert Kreich Ritner Jr. (1953-2021)

I just learned that Robert Kriech Ritner, Jr. passed away yesterday. Professor Ritner served as my dissertation advisor until Yale University removed him from the position. [This was not at my request.] An official obituary has been posted. This is very sad.

I do not think I ever held Professor Ritner in the contempt or disdain in which he came to hold me. Still, I will share some positive memories of Professor Ritner.

I met Professor Ritner for the first time at my first international conference. It was devoted to magic in the ancient world and was held in August 1992 in Kansas. I had already been accepted to study under him at Yale. 

One of the essentials I learned from Professor Ritner was demotic paleography. When he was a graduate student, Ritner worked on the Chicago Demotic Dictionary. One of his jobs was to take an exacto knife to photographs of papyri and to separate every demotic word. From that, he learned to account for every speck of ink on the papyrus and he taught us to do the same.

I appreciated how he tried to integrate the archaeology, texts, and art of Egypt. Too many disciplines fail to do so, and Egyptology is not as good as it once was in doing so.

Professor Ritner was an engaging lecturer. He knew how to entertain an audience. Professor Ritner was very skilled at turning a phrase. While this mostly came out in his more vituperative passages, he occasionally turned it with felicitous results into his translations. [Some of us have some measure of appreciation for well-crafted vituperation.]

Professor Ritner was very ambitious. Twenty-five to thirty years ago he intended to publish a number of unpublished texts, such as OIC 25389 and another manuscript of the Bentresh Stele, along with the definitive study of tribalism in the Libyan period and a demotic paleography. [I do not know what the publication status is, but one can always be hopeful that the manuscript is waiting at the editors.]

[It was always an informative experience to read a demotic text with Professor Ritner. I had previously had a class in demotic but not from someone who did paleography; there was a huge difference. The readings of the text would be accompanied with an erudite commentary on secondary literature related to the passage in the text. He also generously shared with the class Edgerton's Chicago House copies of the Setna I text, which were generally easier to read than photocopies of the photographs in Spiegelberg's edition.]

My condolences to his family.

[Updates in brackets]