Index / News / Arabist Federico Corriente passes away

Arabist Federico Corriente passes away

The professor, born in Granada in 1940, passed away on June 16, 2020 at the age of 79. He was a head department professor at the University of Zaragoza and held Chair “K” of the Real Academia Española (RAE). Juan Pedro Monferrer Sala, a professor at the University of Cordoba, authored this obituary.

June 17, 2020
These blue days and this sun from childhood… So goes the last known verse by Antonio Machado, found by his brother José in the pocket of a frayed coat which the poet was wearing when he arrived in Colliure during the icy month of February 1939. The loss of Professor Federico Corriente yesterday has brought back to my memory this lonely, unfinished verse, just as the last writings which Professor Corriente had been working on are now left.

Ice-cold was the day when I first met Professor Federico Corriente in Granada; a cold February day with a blue sky that cast its light onto the pavement of the Gran Vía. There he was, humming some tune with a set of papers in his hand, standing by the entranceway to a building. He didn’t allow me to walk up to him, but instead stepped out to meet me. He held out his hand and said to me, in that jovial voice which so characterized his pleasant conversation: How are you doing? I was hoping to meet you. A kind of electric shock ran through all my bones. Why would someone of his intellectual stature be hoping to meet me? I felt overcome with an odd sensation, quite certainly the result of his imposing presence. Yes, that’s what I felt.

That is the way Federico was, however, so he demanded we speak to each other with familiarity after forming this bond of camaraderie (oh, how he loved that term!): he gave everything for his friends, he was deeply committed. You could say he craved a state of full camaraderie, which he so much enjoyed with his friends. That is why he always fled from the idea of forming a “school” and sought to replace with one more like a group of friends or colleagues. And that is what he did all these years. But it was not this alone: with his immense wisdom, he was always ready and willing to spread his knowledge and mastery of the subject matter to also those interested in any facet of Arab Studies, whether it was a linguistic, philological, historical or literary matter, both inside and outside Spain. Because Federico was, is, a Master. What would have become of so many of us, be it directly or indirectly, without his teachings, his huge personality, which engulfed everything no matter where he went.

He was and is a Teacher, one of those who are aware that they form a link in a chain which must never be severed. They very much know what role they play and tirelessly strive to do the duty which life has set before them: passing on their knowledge in the best way possible so that those who follow in their footsteps can do the same, honoring the famous adage, Corona magister discipulus est. This is no simple task to achieve, but Federico knew that this was the role he played, so he committed to it with all his strength, with all his intelligence, which was truly colossal, with an amazing memory and innate skill, with all the self-assuredness that had been handed down to him by parents and teachers, who must have done an excellent job during his early upbringing. And selflessly, expecting nothing in exchange, without hoping to form his “own school,” he would say, “Spain and I are just that way.” He was and is unique, for certain.

Federico has left behind an immense legacy to us, as both an educator and a researcher. His potential could already be imagined with a doctoral thesis -as unusual in our country as it was formidable- defended on June 23, 1967, with which he left his mark behind not only because of the enormous budding research potential he already displayed, but with it he also showed that he was a thousand light years ahead of the reality surrounding him. His stay at Dropsie College in Philadelphia, a decisive part of his education, as he liked to remember, was essential to his later activity as a linguist. After this period in America and his return to Spain, he undertook work of great importance to the field of Arab Studies in our country, as he kindly provided dictionaries, grammars and lexical glossaries by rate of frequency, which could be used to take on the learning of the Arabic language using a strong methodological system. We all owe him so much for these efforts, which consumed a part of his energy throughout several essential years of his research activity, that it is difficult to know whether we have thanked him properly. However, he was aware of the need for these materials in the Spanish language and did not hesitate one bit to undertake this effort, certainly in an exemplary and productive manner, like everything else he engaged in.

This titanic enterprise, to which we owe so much, in no way led him to pay less attention to his research work, though. Quite the contrary, he produced an overwhelming bibliography, replete with studies of the highest rigor and scientific value throughout his rich, intense career in academia. A pioneer in linguistic studies on the Arabic language in Spain, and in Comparative Semitics, as well, he has provided Arab Studies with works difficult to surpass in the field of lexicography and, of course, on the dialect of Al-Andalus. This is not his only legacy, however, since we have also been handed down his major work devoted to translations and the study of Arabic literature, from the earliest forms of expression, the Mu’allaqāt, to modern texts (Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm), and including the stanza poetry of Al-Andalus (kharajāt, muwashshaḥāt, zajals), in addition to studies in other fields such as editing and the translation of sources, amongst which we might mention the Muqtabis by Ibn Ḥayyān. In addition to all of this, besides being acknowledged by the international community for many years, he was duly recognized by his appointment as a member of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language.

Federico has completed the final stretch of his journey. He did so happily, in the company of Asun, his wife, colleague and confidante during so many experiences... Federico began this journey during the difficult days of the post-war period, in the middle of November 1940, on the fourteenth day of the month. And now he has left us still smiling in spring, on the sixteenth day of June in 2020, a blue day like those of his childhood lived in Granada, Valencia and Tenerife… He has gone away with a smile on his face, that seraphic smile so typical and unique, all his own. Because Federico was and is unique, irreplaceable, one of a kind. It will take a long time to see another man or woman like him, if ever. The void he leaves behind, the emptiness we feel, is huge, the way we feel when we lose a parent, only and helpless. That is how we feel, but at the same time we can be content, because we know he has left behind a legacy which we have the duty to preserve and, to the greatest degree within our power, to build upon, as he liked to say, thereby honoring his memory and teachings.

Rest in peace, Professor Federico Corriente.

Dr. Juan Pedro Monferrer Sala
University of Cordoba
Arabist Federico Corriente passes away