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As I sit here, looking out into the damp grey twilight, a younger Leonard Cohen is lamenting that ’all the rain falls down on last year’s man.’

It’s been raining for five days now and it almost seems as if it will go on forever. The news is full of floods and slips in my area.

(Source: Open Library.)

Last night I started Kostova’s The Historian.

In it the protagonist’s father tells a story, in which he describes a lecture given by a Professor Rossi:

… This semester he was giving a course on the ancient Mediterranean, and I had caught the end of several lectures, each brilliant and dramatic, each imbued with his gift for great oratory. Now I crept to a seat at the back in time to hear him concluding a discussion of Sir Arthur Evan’s restoration of the Minoan palace in Crete. The hall was dim, a vast Gothic auditorium that held five hundred undergraduates. The hush, too, would have suited a cathedral. Not a soul stirred; all eyes were fixed on the trim figure at the front.

Rossi was alone on a lit stage. Sometimes he wandered back and forth, exploring ideas aloud as if ruminating to himself in the privacy of his study. Sometimes he stopped suddenly, fixing his students with an intense stare, an eloquence gesture, an astonishing declaration. He ignored the podium, scorned microphones, and never used notes, although occasionally he showed slides, rapping the huge screen with a pole to make his point.  Sometimes he got so excited that he raised both arms and ran partway across the stage. There was a legend that he’d once fallen off the front in his rapture over the flowering of Greek democracy and had scrambled up again without missing a beat of his lecture. I’d never dared to ask him if this were true.

The character is a historian, not a scientist, and from another age – it’s not stated (yet), as far as I recall, but somewhere in the 1930s perhaps – and this is fiction.

Several movies and books seem to use this motif, the lost obsessive soul with powerful oratory presence.

It makes me wonder what is the image of a professor to those who have never been near universities, who’ve never met a professor.

Is this depiction friend or foe? Or just accepted as fiction?


Other articles in Code for life:

Book sales, frumpy readers, and mental rotation of book titles

Career pathways for NZ science Ph.D. students

Explore ancient science books on-line

Royal science

I remember because my DNA was methylated