Clucas, Lowell

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NAME: Lowell Clucas


This piece speaks of Lowell's death:

On Lowell Clucas

From the preface of "The Byzantine Legacy in Eastern Europe", edited

by Lowell Clucas. Publ. East European Monographs, Boulder.


It remains for me to say something about the genesis of the

conference. The Byzantine Legacy in Eastern Europe from which these

papers have emerged. The conference, both as to its conception and

execution, was the product of the thoughts and activities of the late

Lowell Clucas. In stating this fact I enter into the domain of his

scholarly formation and life so tragically terminated by death at the

moment of the full bloom of his intellectual powers and their

scholarly realization. This conference, the fruit of his thoughts,

indicates the strength and comprehensiveness of intellect, and shows

clearly that the development of his thought and vision was dynamic.

Having been trained as a Byzantinist he soon realized that Byzantium

did not die in 1453 and so he began to try to reconstruct the

historical rhythms of this civilization in Eastern Europe at a time

when first the Ottomans and then the Russians appeared on the scene as

the heirs to the political testament of the Byzantine state. Thus as a

Byzantinist he was forced also to become a Balkanist or East

Europeanist. This has been the fate of a restricted number of

Byzantinists who have stopped to ask what happened after 1453. This

concern sharply differentiates Byzantinists even today, when Russia

has become such a given in our world outlook. Lowell Clucas was aware

of the profundity of the Byzantine influence and particularly of its

longevity. Having arrived at this state of mind, he decided to pursue

the matter in a conference, which would try to draw a sharper or newer

focus on the problem of Byzance après Byzance.

I first came to know Lowell when he matriculated at UCLA and where he

took the BA degree in German language and literature in 1966. During

the senior year he had enrolled in the survey course on Byzantine

history and for reasons, which were never clear to me, he made the

fateful decision to dedicate his life to the study of Byzantine

civilization. I can only surmise that the richness, extraordinary

variety, and the 'exotic' character of this civilization fascinated

him. At that time I suggested to him that he should go away for a

period of time and study classical Greek, as this would be essential

for such a dedication on his part. He quietly agreed, enrolled at San

Francisco State where for three years he turned to the study of

classical Greek, history (with a special interest in the Islamic World

thanks to the presence of the Orientalist Prof. Gerard Salinger). At

the end of the three years he had mastered the fundamentals of

classical Greek, could read the basic texts, had studied and learned

to speak modern Greek, and took the master's degree. In 1969 he

returned to UCLA where for the next few years he continued to study

classical Greek and had the seminars in Byzantine texts with Professor

Milton Anastos and myself. During this period of intense work on

Byzantium Lowell had already displayed his great philological

dexterity and his intellectual brilliance, particularly in the realm

of Ideengeschichte. By 1975 his doctoral dissertation, The Hesychast

Controversy in Byzantium in the Fourteenth Century was submitted,

accepted, and he received his doctoral degree. The dissertation was a

massive work, steeped in the complex texts of the Hesychast and

anti-Hesychast circles, some of the texts still accessible only in

manuscript form. Unlike much intellectual history this work was based

on a simultaneous analysis of the intellectual debate of the times and

of the social, economic and political factors, which were fast,

sucking Byzantium into the vortex of political disintegration and

destruction. These two features remained characteristic of all

Lowell's publications, research, and historical thought, resulting in

the book, The Trial of John Italos and the Crisis of Intellectual

Values in Byzantium in the Eleventh Century (Munich, 1981). Having

begun with the clash of mystical and humanistic strains in Byzantine

intellectual life and culture during the Palaeologan era (in his

dissertation) he went back in time to this crucial trial of Italos to

mark a mile stone in the strengthening of the mystical or perhaps one

should say the "revealed" basis of Byzantine intellectual life.

Lowell, throughout his mature life, was exercised by the life of the

mind, its freedom, and the history of its release from the

historically imposed fetters on the mind, which in the European

tradition goes back to the monotheistic revelation and its

predominance over the ancient belief in the priority of human reason.

Lowell was also a poet of very considerable merit, and though Plato

might have decried the presence of the poet in his ideal society,

nevertheless the first historian, Herodotus was greatly affected by

the tradition of epic poetry. So also in Lowell we see the union of

the historical and poetical tastes and gifts. In the beginning he

published his poems individually on single sheets, which he then

circulated to his friends and of these I am fortunate to have six in

my files. He then published in such poetic journals as The Blue Cloud

Quarterly, a magazine of Indian themes, and in Hard Pressed. Many of

these poems, as well as newer ones, were published in the volume An

Indian Triptych and other Poems, The Red Chrysanthemum Press

(Berkeley, 1984). He also published a historical drama entitled The

Death of Alexander (Oakland, 1982). I have read and reread his poems

and have been moved not only by his gift of poetic language but also

by his sensitivity to time, to the earth, mountains and streams of

California, that is to nature, and by the sensitivity which he shows

to the destruction of America's first inhabitants and our great

historical innocents, the American Indians. During the final phase of

his struggle with death Lowell spoke to me frequently and in our

conversations, which in texture, force, velocity and clarity were not

unlike the cascading mountain streams of the California mountains

which he so dearly loved, his ongoing involvement with poetry received

equal attention with this work on Byzantine intellectual history. He

was determined to face death bravely, quietly, and to maintain the

quality of his intellectual life at the same high level which he had

always attained. Thus the conversations interchanged between his two

primary concerns: intellectual history and poetry. I can think of no

more fitting sample of his poetic and historical mind than to let

Lowell's poetry speak for him.

The American River, Sacramento

(Sacramento, 1975)

You don't see any more Maidu Indians

down highway 50

beside the American River flowing west

towards Sacramento

Sacramento from sacramentum


what should be a communion

shared in common

a deep draught of this water

sliding toward dusk

between cottonwoods.

They are gone now, driven out

because we came, because,

as Pizarro growled to Atahualpa

we suffer from a disease of the heart

"that can only be cured

by gold".

In a second poem Lowell contemplates time the eternal.

Palo Colorado Canyon

(in Hard Pressed, No 3, Sacramento 1977)

I look up at stars

over towering redwoods

and wonder what ages

layered branches count:

I listen to the far off

murmur of water

and wonder what tales

a man could tell

who held all time

in his hand

like a stone

from a lost creek.

In a third poem we see Lowell's personal feelings.

Winter Passage

(Sacramento, 1980)

Bones of trees

wash into the sea

or break into soil.

They scatter seeds

on the forest floor;

new shoots have already

sprung from the ground.

And at your laughter

beside me, as we speak

in a stillness

over the rusing torrent

the little gods of death

regard us quizzically

they fold their feathers,

they fall silent and

sit still at attention.

I stand on the bank

and look up the ravine:

groves of pine, laurel

and taller redwood

rise up green

upon green

in the cold mist.

I close by calling to memory this extraordinary human being, so

gifted, intense, and above all creative. We recall his memory fondly

and sadly: the wife her husband, the parents their son, the scholars

their colleague, the muse her poet, and the teacher his student.

Los Angeles 1987

Picture: (Insert picture if available)

Date of Birth: 7/11/1944

Date of Death (delete if non-applicable): 1/1986

Age at Death (delete if non-applicable): 42

Employment: Professor of Byzantine Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

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