Professor Waldemar Ceran
(7 September 1936 – 20 July 2009)
On 20th June 2009, professor Waldemar Ceran died. He was an internationally renowned Polish scholar specializing in the history of late Antiquity and Byzantium, Professor emeritus of the University of Łódź, former head of the Department of Byzantine History at the University of Łódź.
In the 1950s, the interest in Byzantium was limited all over Poland and it was only Prof. Halina Evert-Kappesowa who conducted research in this area at the University of Łódź. Not popular as Byzantine studies were at that time, they remained intellectually stimulating for the most daring and devoted.
The beginning of Prof. Ceran’s academic career was not easy. His first two attempts to become a student were unsuccessful for political reasons. However, the mishap did not make the young man surrender. He applied for the third time and eventually commenced his studies in 1955. He turned out to be not only a conscientious student but also an active and energetic member of the academic community. The young man’s scholarly development and clearly defined interests attracted attention of the above-mentioned Prof. Evert-Kappesowa, who was the head of the Unit of Byzantine History and whose seminar young Ceran was desperate to attend. It was the year 1957.
Three years later, he took his final exams and was employed as an assistant to Professor Evert-Kappesowa. It was the moment when he not only started work on his doctorate but also, and obviously under the Professor’s wise guidance, he got down to translation of Geschichte des byzantinischen Staates, written by the Serbian historian Georgije Ostrogorski. The translation was made available to Polish readers in the year 1967 and coincided with Ceran’s completion of his PhD dissertation.
In the year 1970, as a result of restructuring the higher education system, the Unit of the History of Byzantium ceased to exist. In the same year, it was replaced with the Unit of Ancient and Medieval History, whose employees continued to take interest in Byzantine studies.
On 20th December 1979, he took his habilitation colloquium. As a result, he was promoted to the position of an assistant professor and, after Prof. Evert-Kappesowa’s retirement and Prof. Bogumił Zwolski’s (who headed the Unit in Prof. Evert-Kapessowa’s stead) premature death, Ceran became the head of the Unit. It is worth stressing that in the year 1992 he succeeded in reactivating the Unit of Byzantine History, which later evolved into the Department of Byzantine History, at present the largest group of Polish researchers active in the field of Byzantine history and culture.
Over the period of his reign in the Unit, he transformed it into a well-known center for Byzantine studies, which have come to be perceived as the Łódź school of Byzantine studies. He also initiated a series, in which the opuscula of the Łódź Byzantine school members have been published ever since. It is entitled Byzantina Lodziensia and consists of eleven volumes (the twelfth is already being prepared).
Ceran’s incessant activity contributed to integrating Polish byzantinists. He has achieved this goal by being active as an organizer of academic life in the country. Since 1983, he acted as a deputy head, and between 1995 and 2005, he headed the Byzantine Committee affiliated with the Scientific Committee on Ancient Culture of the Polish Academy of Sciences. It should be added that the Byzantine Committee simultaneously plays the role of the Polish National Committee of the Association Internationale des Études Byzantines. Ceran was also a member of the Committee for Research into Christian Antiquity at the Catholic University of Lublin and the Association des Amis de Sources Chrétiennes at the University of Lyon.
One should not forget that he was also a permanent collaborator of the internationally famous and prestigious periodical Byzantinoslavica. There, he would systematically present his bibliographical notes demonstrating the latest articles and books on Byzantium-related subjects published in Poland. Additionally, he was an active member of a number of editorial boards. For instance, his advice was appreciated by the editors of Przegląd Historyczny (Warsaw), Przegląd Nauk Historycznych (Łódź) and Piotrkowskie Zeszyty Historyczne (Piotrków Trybunalski).
There is a number of publications which he penned. The first decade of his academic life was dominated by his research into economic and social history. The result, namely his PhD dissertation, was entitled Rzemieślnicy i kupcy w Antiochii i ich ranga społeczna, II połowa IV w. n.e. (Craftsmen and merchants of Antioch and their social status, the second part of the 4th century). In the book, he elucidated reasons for the city’s eminent administrative, strategic and economic position in the 4th century and characterized its social structure. His research put special stress on branches of industry and commerce present in the city as well as on the social position of craftsmen and merchants.
In his habilitation dissertation entitled Kościół wobec antychrześcijańskiej polityki cesarza Juliana Apostaty (The Church versus Julian the Apostate’s anti-Christian policy, Łódź 1980), he analyzed religion-related undertakings of the emperor. He conclusively proved the existence of support for Julian on the part of numerous municipal councils, a substantial fraction of the army and the pagans inhabiting the western part of Asia Minor. He maintained that the reaction of the Church was moderate and limited to prayers and sermons condemning Julian’s undertakings. The ruler did not open war on the Christians until his march across Asia Minor, where he had to face strong opposition of the Christian population(assassination attempts in Pessynus and unrest in Ancyra).
Ceran devoted a number of articles to the political thought of late Antiquity. The first to be mentioned is Cesarz w politycznej teologii Euzebiusza z Cezarei i nauczaniu Jana Chryzostoma (The emperor in the political theology of Eusebius of Caesarea and the teachings of John Chrysostom, in Acta Universitatis Lodziensis. Folia Historica 44, 1992, p. 13-27), where he presented two contrasting views, worked out by the two eminent Church personalities mentioned in the title. Another important work by Waldemar Ceran is Libanius et Jean Chrysostome – deux attitudes envers la centralisation et la bureaucratisation de l’Empire byzantine au IV e siècle (Mélanges d’histoire byzantine offerts à Oktawiusz Jurewicz à l’occasion de son soixante-dixieme anniversaire, Łódź 1998, p. 29-42), which elaborated on the doctrine presented by Libanius and the bishop of Constantinople. Professor showed that the rhetorician saw the emperor as a “good father,” first and foremost assisting local communities (and their councils) in case of a disaster, and observing local customs and habits. On the other hand, Libanius’ pupil, John Chrysostom, deemed the emperor to be the head of a central administration system, which he considered beneficial to the wellbeing of the population, while criticizing decurions for their irresponsibility and propensity to sin.
The crowning of Ceran’s career was, however, his Historia i bibliografia rozumowana bizantynologii polskiej (1800 – 1998) (History and reasoned bibliography of Byzantine studies in Poland) (vol.1-2, Łódź 2001) for which, in the year 2002, he was awarded the title of professor by the President of Poland. The work encompasses the whole history of research conducted by the Poles from 1886 (the time of publication of Meletemata graeca by Leon Sternbach) to 1998, and it includes a considerable body of information on each centre for Byzantine studies in which Polish academics conducted their work. The analysis of publications consists of four thousand seven hundred and sixty five entries.
The present reminiscences would be incomplete without mentioning Ceran’s virtues as an academic teacher. His lectures on ancient and Byzantine history saw unusually high attendance. No wonder. They were not only competent but also fascinating due to Ceran’s inborn eloquence as and clarity of presentation.
Although perceived as a typical academic, he was a much more complex person. In his younger years, he was a boxer and an athlete. He took interest in football, was mad about motorbikes and loved driving fast (though never turned into a reckless driver). He would often go to concerts of classical music and say that every event of this kind made him a better man. He was excellent at all DIY jobs and would often discuss his achievements in the field with his friends.
At first sight, he appeared to be somewhat inaccessible. It was a very misleading impression. After a short conversation, he would transform into a charming interlocutor. Strict as he was, he was always fair. Graying as he appeared, he was still young at heart.
Now he is gone and the loss is irreparable.
Paweł Filipczak, Maciej Kokoszko (Łódź)