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Jaakko Frösén

Jaakko Lars Henrik Frösén
Born January 9, 1944, Helsinki

Master of Arts 1967 (Greek literature), Roman literature, psychology, general linguistics (1968), Licentiate 1969 (Greek language and literature, Latin and Roman literature) and PhD 1974, University of Helsinki

Emeritus professor 2012–, University of Helsinki
Acting professor of Greek philology 1999–2011, University of Helsinki
Senior Research Fellow and Academy Professor 1992–99 and 2006, Academy of Finland
Director of the Finnish Institute at Athens 1988–92
Acting professor of Greek language and literature 1985, University of Helsinki
Junior Academy Research Fellow and Senior Research Fellow 1981–88, Academy of Finland
Research assistant in Greek language and literature 1977–81, University of Helsinki
Commissioner of the Council of Finnish Academies 1977
Acting associate professor of Classical philology 1976, University of Turku
Research assistant in Greek literature 1974–76, University of Helsinki
Lecturer in Classical philology 1971–73, University of Turku
Research assistant in Roman literature 1970, University of Helsinki
Acting lecturer in Latin 1969, University of Oulu
Part-time teaching positions at schools, universities, summer universities and colleges (Latin, Greek, Italian, sociolinguistics, Classical archaeology) 1967–

Publications, research projects and other academic activity

Research themes
Greek sociolinguistic research
The conservation and publication of papyri, particularly carbonised papyri or papyrus scrolls.
The Mount Aaron archaeological excavations, Petra
Mediaeval scrips of the patriarchate of Alexandria (conservation, digitalisation and codification)
Prolegomena to a Study of the Greek Language in the First Centuries A.D. – The problem of Koiné and Atticism 1974 (doctoral dissertation)
Publication of papyrus texts in collaboration with others 1979–
Numerous articles, book reviews and publications, textbooks, audio recordings, video, radio and television programmes and exhibitions. In addition an expert guide on more than 100 trips to the eastern Mediterranean.

Photo: Mika Federley
Written by Jaakko Frösén (Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

My Best Memories from the University of Helsinki

The more than 50 years I have spent at the University of Helsinki contain many fine memories, from my student days all the way to being an Emeritus Professor.

As a Student

I entered the University to study Greek, Latin and Psychology in the autumn of 1962, and I received my student record book from the then rector Edwin Linkomies. It was of course all a big risk, because such a combination of subjects could not lead to any “proper” profession. From the very beginning I strove towards a career in research, although the universities in Finland did not seem to have much demand for a researcher in Greek philology. What about abroad? However, I quickly found the best possible fellow students at lectures and the student organisation Symposion. In such company, a shy and introverted fresher was positively sucked into active student life and all that it entailed.

I got stuck for years in the Greek advanced seminar by Henrik Zilliacus. The last topic of the seminar was Greek papyri, and when in 1968 we were allowed to examine genuine papyri, the road from a seminar to an academic research group lay open. There were not many of us, but we were all the more active. We learned a great deal about Antiquity and how to study it. We also started to meet regularly for evenings at the Restaurant Messenius to improve the world over a steak dinner. There was some variation in the core group, but before long we even dared to invite teachers to join our debates. We formed an informal “Hellenistic Pipe Club.” In the spring and autumn we also made excursions to our summer houses—even with our teachers, but only one at a time. We were also invited to visit the summer houses of our teachers Henrik Zilliacus and Holger Thesleff, and to go sailing with them. In a way all this served as a continuation of our post-seminars.

“I believe in Santa Claus.” Jaakko Frözen on the cover of the Christmas issue of the magazine Suomen kuvalehti in 1946.

In the student organisation Symposion, we organised parties and gatherings for our fellow students of Antiquity and Oriental studies. At first the events were rather stiff: student nation chairman (inspehtori) Päivö Oksala was joined by a visiting teacher or some other expert to give a presentation. As time went by, we managed to get all the teachers from the study of Antiquity to join the twice-yearly parties. Sing-alongs filled the room. Once we had got started, we would still organise these parties as teachers, at a time when University life became politicised and students of Antiquity were in danger of becoming passive. Symposion organised study trips to Italy and Greece. One of the great experiences was an academic course on the Etruscans and early Roman history organised by Patrick Bruun at Villa Lante. At the time, I was working on my master’s thesis on the historian Herodian, and I became entangled in his use of Greek, which had been studied all wrong.

Of course we did not only delight in our own company. Almost all of us were avid fans of music, and we would often frequent concerts, particularly those in the Great Hall of the University with student tickets. Students did not otherwise have many opportunities to visit that magnificent room, unless you ventured in during the opening ceremony in the autumn. I remember thinking that it would be wonderful to perform in that room someday. Music led me to join the Singers of the Eteläsuomalainen Osakunta Student Nation. The choir was in great form under the leadership of Ilkka Kuusisto. I learned much about music and social interaction alike in the choir. There I also found my future wife, Anja. Or perhaps she found me? Choir alone was not enough, however, as we also went to the same Latin lectures and Symposion events. Every week we also met at lectures on music given by Erik Tawaststjerna. Both of us also lived in Töölö, so the way home from the University was partly the same for us and as time went by even more so.

The choir had many performances which were used to gather funds for trips and other projects. Some of the performances were held in the Great Hall of the University. I kept learning while travelling with the choir. Travelling truly expands your horizons, and eventually I found myself as the tour leader. We were the first “post-war” Finnish choir to visit and perform in Tallinn. In a choir competition in Italy, I could put the modest Italian language skills that I had picked up on my study trips to use. Italian came easily to someone who had begun his studies in a French elementary school. In Hungary, we became familiar with strong traditions of choir singing on several occasions, and we arranged for the chamber choir of Pécs to make similar visits to Finland.

Sailing in 1969 on the waters of Gullkrona on the Nordic folkboat, which was owned by professor Henrik Zilliacus. Pictured are Jorma Kaimio, Jaakko Frösén, Henrik Zilliacus and Maarit Vuorenjuuri (later Kalmio). Photo by Paavo Hohti, from the family album of Jaakko Frösén.

I had to leave my psychology studies unfinished. They had been planned for those who majored in the subject. Most of the students were women. At the time there were only two men in the Approbatur examination. One of them was Ilkka Taipale, to whose choice of subjects was better suited to psychology. I kept studying a while longer, but I no longer signed up for the pro-seminar. Instead I strengthened my language repertoire by studying Sanskrit and I added French to my subjects. French too was meant for those majoring in the subject, and there were over 20 compulsory hours a week at the start. At the beginning of the spring semester I fled to Rome on an academic course at Villa Lante, and when I returned I did not continue studying French. Instead I had encountered interesting methodological questions in linguistics while working on my master’s thesis, and when the University began offering courses on general linguistics, I was like a moth to a flame. Generative grammar and transformation by Noam Chomsky was the latest rage at the time. However, as a “conservative,” I favoured the more traditional structuralism. The rapidly changing professors brought with them their own points of view, and once again it was the seminar where a varied view of the field was presented, particularly because the participants came from different schools of thought and were very active in shining the spotlight on them. Later on, various public figures from different fields also participated. I ended up applying these new sociolinguistic ideas to the study of ancient Greek. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the subject. I originally intended to get my PhD in ten years, but growing up and starting a family took its time. One of the ways I earned a living was working as a caretaker in a block of flats.

As a Young Teacher

After graduating, Päivö Oksala asked me to teach Latin. It was a considerable challenge. Compulsory Latin studies were not exactly popular at the time, and they were mainly populated by reluctant students on the basic and advanced Latin courses. Fortunately the textbook and other teaching materials left room for improvisation. I accepted the challenge and I spoke of the history, mythology and cultural development of Antiquity as much as I possibly could between the conjugation tables. To my surprise, I found favourable ground among the students, and even compulsory Latin began to receive some understanding.

: Jaakko Frösén gave a speech named “For the University Community” on behalf of the university teachers in the Great Hall of the University of Helsinki at the opening ceremony of the academic year in 1983. Photo from the album of Jaakko Frösén, the archive of the University of Helsinki.

The challenging, even reviled acoustics, at the House of the Estates (Säätytalo) were no problem for a singer. I became enthusiastic about teaching, and I accepted work at various educational institutions, teaching Latin, Greek, Sociolinguistics and Classical Archaeology. Archaeology had been a particular interest of mine since I was a schoolboy. This varied range of teaching almost automatically led to public presentations and mainstream writing, and eventually to organising exhibitions and working as an expert. After compulsory military service and being side-tracked for a few years as a lecturer in classical philology at the University of Turku, I left my tenure and returned as a research assistant in Greek Literature to the University of Helsinki, completing my doctoral dissertation in 1974. Once again there was no shortage of challenges.

I found the textbook that had been used to teach the basics of Greek unsatisfactory, and I went to try out a modern English course on Old Greek. Later I adapted its contrastive approach to the needs of Finnish students. I did not shy away from unconventional and unusual topics in my lectures, although preparing the lectures took a great deal of time. My docent lectures on Greece from the Bronze Age to the Byzantine Empire were very well received. The topics had been requested by the students themselves, and I was interested in the new and old alike. Some of the lectures were intended for a circle of experts who knew Greek well, while others were for all those who were interested, with no language requirements.

As a Teacher and a Researcher

Finding the necessary funding for research was problematic ever since I completed my doctoral dissertation. Year after year, the idea of applying sociolinguistics to ancient Greek was rejected at the Academy of Finland. Instead I received small grants from foundations. For papyrus research the funds were somewhat easier to come by. Papyri also took me abroad, first to the Austrian National Library in Vienna, from 1975 onwards. It was there that we became acquainted with conservation methods and encountered carbonised papyri for the first time. I figured that would be unusual enough of a challenge, I used it to apply for a research position at the Academy. It worked, and from 1981 onwards I was on their payroll. Funding for the entire Papyrus Project followed, as did several trips abroad to the centres of papyrus research in Europe and Egypt. Carbonised papyrus scrolls and recycled papyri from mummy cartonnages marked the way on my academic career, all the way to being appointed an Academy Professor.

I gave up my position as an assistant and my office. However, I would remain at the University: when professor extraordinary Holger Thesleff became an office from the department, he gave me space to work in his office when we moved from the Porthania building to Vuorikatu. He only needed the room for seminars and receptions. I made myself comfortable, and I moved the papyrological reference library of the University Library there. The room filled up with books. After Thesleff retired, the room remained at my disposal, although the department itself moved several times: first from one floor to another on Vuorikatu, then to Heimola, and yet again to Kluuvi. It was promised that the Metsätalo building would be its permanent location. The office remained the base and command centre of the Papyrus Project even when I was abroad.

Early Hellenistic Athens team of the Finnish Institute at Athens at the residence of the Finnish ambassador after the independence day reception in 1990. Pictured are Petra Pentikäinen (Pakkanen), Erja Salmenkivi, Tiina Purola, Tua Korhonen, Jaakko Frösén, Kenneth Lönnqvist, Minna Lönnqvist and Maria Martsoukou (the office secretary of the Institute), and at the front are Martti Leiwo and Mika Hakkarainen.

When I was spending more than half of my annual working hours abroad, I started to cut down on travelling. Lengthier stays included an Alexander von Humboldt fellowship to the University of Cologne between 1984 and 1985, and position as the director of the Finnish Institute at Athens between 1988 and 1992. The entire family with our four children lived in Germany, but only the youngest stayed in Greece. Maintaining two households would not have been possible without the honorary home for a young scientist that Iines and Ernst Nevanlinna left for the University of Helsinki in their will and where I was allowed to live for a long time.

In 1993, American archaeologists found an archive of carbonised papyri in Petra, and I was invited to open the scrolls and then publish the papyri together with researchers from the University of Michigan. Thus the Papyrus Project, expanded with archaeology and codicology, grew into a Centre of Excellence of the Academy of Finland from 2000 to 2011. Its leader was invited to be a professor at the University of Helsinki for 5 year terms at a time, starting in 1999 until the end of its status as a Centre of Excellence. At the beginning of 2012, I signed an Emeritus Professor contract with the University. The project continued as a diminished Centre of Excellence with funding from foundations, and starting in 2014 as a four-year papyrus project by the Academy of Finland.

Testing the acoustics at the Urn Tomb in Petra. A trip to Jordan by the Friends of History in 2010. Photo from the album of Jaakko Frösén.

Closely related to the research work has been supervising students with their theses. Papyrus research is a demanding field which requires varied studies and a wide range of languages. Those cannot be acquired overnight. The Papyrus Project has needed new researchers and fresh blood. It has been a joy to participate in educating a new generation of researchers and to enjoy their successes as well as their abilities to form international networks. Circumstances at the University have greatly changed over the last five decades through many “reforms.”

The future, however, does not appear any rosier for the new generation of students of Antiquity. There will be less academic appointments for researchers in the field. The path of temporary employment is still rocky and narrow. But I have to admit that I been fortunate. I have tried to think positively and believe in Santa Claus. My memories of my time as a researcher are mainly happy ones, although there have been plenty of bumps in the road along the way. At least it never became necessary to move permanently abroad. A few times I nearly ended up on unemployment benefit when the deadlines and methods of research applications at the University of Helsinki and the Academy of Finland did not coincide.

My dream of performing at the Great Hall of the University of Helsinki came true four times in addition to my choir performances. At the opening ceremony of the academic year in 1983, I was allowed to speak on behalf of the faculty. My topic was “For the University Community.” In 1999, I was honoured to give the professorial inaugural lecture at the main celebration on the topic “The Story of the Testament of Obodianos.” At the 30th anniversary of the University press in 2002, I gave a festival oration on “Papyri and the Electronic Book,” and in 2004 I gave the welcome address at the opening ceremony of the international papyrology conference I had organised. All of these events were extremely festive and it was a fantastic feeling to speak in the Great Hall.

Panel at the Book and Science Fair in Turku on October 2, 2010 on the topic “The Midden Does Not Lie.” Pictured are Jaakko Frösén, Terttu Lempiäinen and Jukka-Pekka Taavitsainen. Mia Rönkä was the interviewer. Organised by the Academy of Finland and the Finnish Association of Science Editors and Journalists. Photo from the Academy of Finland.



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