Czeglédy Károly

Czeglédy Károly (December 21, 1914 — June 20, 1996)

Recipient of the Indiana University Prize for Altaic Studies (“PIAC Medal”) in 1986




When, on June 13, 1996 I sat at the side of what I knew would be his death-bed, I did not think – or, should I say, I could not hope – that his deliverance would come so soon, on June 20. Not that there were any signs of suffering or even of discomfort. His always jovial, roundish face had become serene in its meagerness as he was lying on his back, incapable of the smallest movement. He had been lying there for about a year and a half, in his own home, in the proximity of his books which he could no longer read, being taken care of by his wife Kati with as much skill as love and infinite patience. In this and in many other respects, Károly has been a lucky man. Happy in an exemplary married life, he was not devoured by any ambition which could have been thwarted, he relentlessly pursued his research, produced fine articles and taught with devotion and great competence.

He had studied to become a Calvinist clergyman and throughout life his comportment reflected a quiet though cheerful dignity. I can easily imagine his fitting splendidly into the group of other students of theology of pre-war Belfast or Utrecht. He obtained his first doctorate in Semitic Philology, his second in Turcology. Between 1960 and his retirement in 1984 he was head of the Department of Arabic and Semitic Philology at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. He also had a solid knowledge of Syriac and Persian. Astonishing as it may seem to anyone unfamiliar with the Hungarians’ obsession with their prehistory, it was in this field that Czeglédy’s main achievements lay and it was this interest in Inner Asian history that brought him to the PIAC. If my data are correct, he first appeared in 1962, in Bloomington, at our fifth meeting. In 1986, in Tashkent at our 29th meeting, he was awarded the Indiana University Prize for Altaic Studies. His last attendance was in 1990, in Budapest, where the premonitory signs of his long illness could already be perceived.

In the very difficult and dangerous years of the late 1940s and early 1950s of Hungarian history he seemed to have walked above the waters, untouched by the floating scum. In the 1956 revolution the confidential files kept on each member of the university were revealed, Károly read with some amusement and pride that he had been characterized as someone inherently unable to understand Marxism (as practiced by the then regime). So he was never hurt, never asked to act against his conscience. The Good Lord extended his protection over him, a fact which did not seem to surprise him the least.

The products of his vast knowledge will continue to be used by those interested in the medieval history of the steppes. His gentle humor, his engaging smile, his readiness to help others will be missed by all who knew him. What a really nice man has left us!

Denis Sinor

(Source: Permanent International Altaistic Conference Newsletter No. 25, May 1997, p. 4)