Grigory Vorobyev is one of the first members of the MELA project, which started last year. We gave him some time to settle in and look around, and now Serena Causo is very pleased to ask him some questions as our medewerker van de maand!
Hi Grigory! Let’s break the ice with some academic questions: what is your work scope within the project?
Hi Serena! The pleasure is all mine! In MELA, I am responsible for the most down-to-earth part of the job, that is to say paleographic and codicological analysis of manuscripts. Rummaging among old books might sound boring, but I find it the most fascinating activity of all! Indeed, such humble details as a manuscript’s handwriting, watermarks or even wormholes shed light on the history of the texts transmitted in it. Thanks to such information, my colleagues who draw linguistic evidence from Byzantine texts can interpret their data in a more precise way. I immensely enjoy my role as MELA’s paleographer in charge!
It is exciting to be a member of a growing team, to share interests and ideas with your team members, all while building new friendships. How are you getting along with your colleagues within the project and the department? We hope that you had a warm welcome at the Blandijn!
More than that, I am feeling at home! One aspect I would like to highlight is the sense of freedom, and I am not (only) speaking of free coffee. I am deeply grateful to the people who made this feeling possible. Besides, when I just arrived, I was impressed by the chronological span covered by the Hellenists here, and I have to say – this is not an attempt at flattery! – that sharing the office with papyrologists has a strengthening, reassuring effect: I am doing stuff in many ways similar to what you guys are doing for the earlier period, so I feel I am stepping on firm ground! This diachronic dimension of the office space is something I appreciate a lot, just as much as the great help I got, synchronically, from several colleagues when I was looking for a flat and moving! 🙂 As for everyday life at Blandijn, sure enough, I am not the first interviewee to tell you how enjoyable the multilingual atmosphere in the project team and in the department is. This constant code-switching is a healthy habit! Of course, in whatever language you are chatting with a colleague, it is always fun to discover they share your non-academic interests, like early music or water sports.
As for everyday life at Blandijn, sure enough, I am not the first interviewee to tell you how enjoyable the multilingual atmosphere in the project team and in the department is. This constant code-switching is a healthy habit!
We hear that you are a wanderer, both for your interesting academic journey but also because you like to wandel (“walk”) in nature. Tell us more about it!
Indeed, I adore traveling in the wilderness, be it on water or in the woods. When you go kayaking or trekking, the huge advantage is that, in contrast to a conventional vacation, you cannot but leave your laptop at home. The study of manuscripts is a continuous voyage, too: doing codicology is impossible without consulting the originals, and they are kept in libraries all over the world. As for my academic journey, I did my BA and MA in Saint Petersburg, the city where I was born, but that period also included a fantastic exchange semester in Florence (that’s where I fell for paleography) and a short research stay in the Hellenic Institute in Venice. My double passion, for the Italian Renaissance and for Greek manuscripts, brought me then to Münster and Rome. I defended two doctoral theses on different topics, in Rome and in Saint Petersburg, and started working in the latter place. Apart from teaching, I was involved in several projects in the fields of Neo-Latin philology and Greek paleography. It was rewarding to work with manuscripts there, for they are quite numerous and to a great extent unstudied. Still, something went wrong outside academia. Already in the 2000s I was aware that terrible things were going on in my country, the feeling of helplessness and shame has been increasing ever since, and yet, even after the catastrophic invasions in 2008 and 2014, despite the steady growth of repressions and censorship, I hoped against hope that the regime would change soon. Well, that optimism turned out to be naïve. In late February 2022, I grabbed my backpack and got on board one of the crowded airplanes heading to Istanbul. As numerous Russian scholars who spoke up against the war and for whom it was unbearable to stay in their country any longer, I fled. I was lucky enough to have that possibility (indeed, so many people who want to leave are unable to), and I was even luckier to quickly get two short-term research positions, first at the University of Innsbruck, in the Noscemus project, and then at the Free University of Berlin, in the Aristoteles-Archiv. In both places I had the opportunity to work on topics very close to those I had been dealing with before. In 2023, I became a member of the MELA team, and I cannot express how happy I am to be part of it now. Ghent University is more than a safe haven for me: as I said, I feel at home.
In late February 2022, I grabbed my backpack and got on board one of the crowded airplanes heading to Istanbul. As numerous Russian scholars who spoke up against the war and for whom it was unbearable to stay in their country any longer, I fled. I was lucky enough to have that possibility (indeed, so many people who want to leave are unable to).
The initial period in a new country is the moment when one starts to settle in and build his own new habits. Have you already established some favorite rituals – maybe a place to go, a bite to eat, a person to hang out with – in Ghent?
In Ghent it is easy, for this city is so welcoming and, if I may use this word, cozy! It boasts a marvelous selection of cafés, but almost directly upon my arrival I discovered an alternative to having a piece of cake in one of those: you can just take a broodpudding at Bloch and consume it meditatively in the stillness of Blandijn’s Japanese hortus conclusus. As for my other new rituals, I found a regular jam session to participate in and I joined a choir. Besides, I am enthusiastic about the fact that Ghent has so much water. I grew up at the riverside, so the mere fact of crossing two bridges on my way to the university is a gratifying routine.
Last question for a travelling academic: what is the one book that you must always bring with you when you move to a new country?L
Well, this might sound strange from a person who works with manuscripts, but the nomadic life I have got used to over the past decade has taught me that living close to a good library is more important than possessing books. Hence, to my mind, the only indispensable book-like object to carry with you whenever you move to a new country is your head!
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Grigory! We are glad to have you with us and we wish you the best of luck with your work!