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Loss of a Ferdowsi scholar
The death of Jerome Clinton

By Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak
November 7, 2003
The Iranian

Dear Friends Colleagues,

With the heaviest of hearts, I write to inform everyone of the passing away of my friend and our colleague, Jerry Clinton, professor Emeritus of Persian language and literature at Princeton University. Jerome Wright Clinton died on Friday November 7, of biliary cancer; he was 66 years old. He is survived by his wife, Asha Clinton, his three children, Julia, Matthew, and Gabriella, and two grandchildren, Isabel and Laura.

A native Californian and graduate of Stanford University, Jerry received his MA in English and American literature at the University of Pennsylvania, spent two years in the Peace Corps in Iran, and received his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in Persian and Arabic literature. He returned to Iran in 1970 where he did his dissertation research, completing his degree in 1972.

After teaching at the University of Minnesota and directing the Tehran Center of the American Institute of Iranian Studies, he was appointed professor of Persian at Princeton University in 1974. He taught there for twenty-eight years in the Department of Near Eastern Studies until his retirement in 2002. Jerry and his family then moved to Richmond, Massachusetts, where he lived the rest of his life.

Jerry, a man of impeccable integrity and great decency, was a meticulous and impressively forward-looking scholar of Persian literature whose professional interests spanned literary theory and criticism, translation and translation theory, and in recent years, the esthetics of word-image relations. As early as 1969, decades before the idea of computer-generated reference lists would gain currency, he wrote an article in The Journal of Iranian Studies titled "On the Feasibility of an Automated Bibliography of Iranian Studies."

Its unassuming appearance notwithstanding, his 1972 monograph, The Divan of Manuchihri Damghani: A Critical Study offers important keys to approaching the Divan poetry in Persian, including an impressive insistence on closer attention to the texts of Persian poetry, that have just begun to be utilized by scholars of Persian literature.

His many articles on classical Persian literature remain landmark studies of individual works or generic characteristics. Chief among these are two essays on the Mada'en Qasida of Khaqani, Xaqani's Mada'en Qaside (I), (1976), and Xaqani's Mada'en Qaside (II), (1977), Esthetics by Implication: What Metaphors of Craft Tell us About the Unity of the Persian Qasida, (1979), and Madness and Cure in the 1001 Nights: the Tale of Shahriyar and Shahrizad, (1985).

Above all, Jerry was a scholar and translator of the Persian epic, The Shahnama (Book of Kings). His work on various aspects of that work have helped define the field of Shahnama studies for over two decades and his translations of episodes from it have been a staple of university classrooms. Most notably, his 1986 Tragedy of Sohrab and Rostam, was later published in The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces.

In 2002 his rendition of the episode of Esfandiyar, published under the title of In the Dragon's Claws, won the Lois Roth Persian Translation Prize. In recent years, Jerry's research was focused on the relation between text and illustration in illustrated manuscripts of The Book of Kings. Many of us may still remember his perceptive presentation in the Third Biennial Conference on Iranian Studies, provocatively titled, What Color Is the White Div?

Impressive as Jerry's scholarship was, it tends to pale before his vast humanity, his profound loyalty to his friends, and his ever-present habit of 'shekasteh nafsi' (the breaking of the self), which he had so well combined with American self-effacement. Even in the throes of the illness that eventually took him, he was a tremendous help to my family and me as we struggled to come to terms with my son's illness.

Over the thirty years I have known him, I have numerous fond memories of occasions where his demeanor and his inimitable sense of humor deflated tense situations created by undue pomposity and self-serving statements. Yet, thinking that Jerry Clinton is not with us any more, no longer a phone call away from anyone who may wish to reach him, I will not relate any at this time. Recounting such fond remembrances must await a less weighty occasion.

A memorial service will be held, following cremation, at 3 PM on Sunday November 30, 2003, at the Abode of the Message, New Lebanon, New York. Jerry has expressed the wish that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the following two charities:

Therapists with Wings
84 Best St.
Portland, ME 04103


Sufi Order Center at The Abode
5 Abode Road
New Lebanon, NY 12125

May he be showered forever with blessings out of our world of dust and ashes.


Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak is Professor of Persian Language and Literature at the University of Washington in Seattle >>> See academic page

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