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Latest Archaeological and Cultural News of Iran and the Iranian World


Great British Iranologist, Peter Avery Dies, Age 85


06 October 2008



  Peter Avery OBE (1923-2008)


LONDON, (CAIS) --  King's Fellow and Persian scholar Peter Avery OBE died on 6 October. He was one of the world's foremost experts on the history and literature of Iran.


Peter Avery (1923-2008) was born in Derby, England, and devoted his life to Persian literature and history. As a child he was introduced to Fitzgerald's paraphrase of Omar Khayyam's quatrains which lead to a lifelong interest in Persian poetry.


Iranian scholars visiting Britain came to regard his office at King's College in Cambridge University as a home away from home. When Avery first visited Esfahan in 1950, he reported feeling as though he already knew his way around the city despite having never even seen a map of the city.  Describing certain parts of Iran, Avery said he felt a strong sense of "knowing the place intimately; of returning as it were, home, to somewhere where I had once been 'at home." Avery speculated these intense feelings and memories might have been formed in a previous life. Avery viewed Iran as a "wellspring of a civilizing grace and beauty that can afford cultural and spiritual nourishment to the whole world."


Avery's interest in the Persian language and history began when he was introduced to a translation of the poems of Omar Khayyam as a child.  His interest in Persian language and culture developed when he served in the Royal Indian Naval Volunteer Reserve in World War II.  After the war, he studied Arabic and Persian and received his bachelor's degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).  Upon graduation, in 1949, Avery worked as educational liaison officer with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.


In 1951, when the Iranian government nationalized the oil industry, Avery moved to Baghdad where he taught English, first at the Iraqi Staff and Military College and then at the Baghdad College of Arts and Sciences.  Four years later, Avery returned to Iran where he was employed by a company of civil engineers engaged in road construction.


In 1958, he came to the University of Cambridge in England as a lecturer in Persian language, literature and history, and became a fellow of King's College on 1964. He became a Life Fellow upon his retirement in 1990. In 2001 "for the Promotion of Oriental Studies" he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).


Peter Avery's publications include translations of the Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam, of 'Attar's Mantiq al-tayr and of the poems of Hafiz, as well as Modern Iran, published in 1965.


Professor Avery has also authored several books on the history of Iran including the "The Age of Expansion and Medieval Persia" and "Modern Iran," a classic work published in 1965.

During his career, he served as one of the members of the editorial board of the multi-volume "Cambridge History of Iran" and edited its final volume entitled "From Nader Shah to the Islamic Republic" published in 1991. King's Provost Ross Harrison said, 'Peter's death means the passing of a unique and utterly distinctive aspect of life at King's.'


A Requiem Mass was held at 12 noon in King's College Chapel on Friday 24 October, followed by a Private Committal Service at Cambridge Crematorium. A Memorial Service will be held in King's College Chapel at 2.30pm on Saturday 7 March.


Peter Avery 123-2008




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