Richard Nelson Frye (born c. 1920) is an American scholar of Iranian and Central Asian Studies, and Aga Khan Professor Emeritus of Iranian Studies at Harvard University. His professional areas of interest are Iranian philology, and the history of Iran and Central Asia before 1000 CE.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama to a family of immigrants from Sweden, "Freij" has four children, his second marriage being to an Iranian-Assyrian scholar, Dr. Eden Naby, from Urmia, Iran who teaches at Columbia University. He speaks fluent Russian, German, Arabic, Persian, French, Pashto, Uzbek, and Turkish, and has extensive knowledge of Avestan, Pahlavi, Sogdian, and other Iranian languages and dialects, both extinct and current.
Frye first attended the University of Illinois, where he received an AB in history and philosophy in 1939. He received his MA from Harvard University in 1940 and his PhD from Harvard in 1946, in Asiatic history.
Frye served with the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. He was stationed in Afghanistan and traveled extensively in the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia.
He returned to Harvard to teach. He was a member of the Harvard faculty from 1948 until 1990. He is now a professor emeritus at Harvard. He has also served as faculty, guest lecturer, or visiting scholar at:
Professor Frye helped found the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard, the first Iranian studies program in America. He also served as Director of the Asia Institute in Shiraz (1970-1975), was on the Board of Trustees of the Pahlavi University at Shiraz (1974-78), and Chairman, Committee on Inner Asian Studies, at Harvard (1983-89), and as Editor of the Bulletin of the Asia Institute (1970-1975 and 1987-99).
Among Frye's students were Annemarie Schimmel, Oleg Grabar, Frank Huddle (former US Ambassador to Tajikistan), John Limbert, and Michael Crichton, whose Hollywood film The 13th Warrior is loosely based on Frye's translation of Ibn Fadlan's account of his travels up the river Volga.
Frye was also directly responsible for inviting Iranian scholars as distinguished visiting fellows to Harvard University, under a fellowship program initiated by Henry Kissinger. Examples of such guests include Mehdi Haeri Yazdi (1923–1999), Sadegh Choubak, Jalal al Ahmad, and others.
Frye as a proponent of Persian culture
Frye felt that Persian civilization was under-appreciated by other Muslims, and Arab Muslims in particular. Frye wrote:
- "Arabs no longer understand the role of Iran and the Persian language in the formation of Islamic culture. Perhaps they wish to forget the past, but in so doing they remove the bases of their own spiritual, moral and cultural being…without the heritage of the past and a healthy respect for it…there is little chance for stability and proper growth."
- (R. N. Frye, The Golden Age of Persia, London: Butler & Tanner Ltd., 1989, page 236)
Iranians responded enthusiastically to his appreciation.
In August 1953, shortly before Mosaddegh's fall, the prominent Iranian linguist Ali Akbar Dehkhoda gave Frye the title (laqab): "Irandoost" (meaning "a friend of Iran").
A ceremony was held in Iran on June 27, 2004 to pay tribute to the six-decade endeavors of Professor Frye on his lifetime contribution to Iranology, research work on the Persian language, and the history and culture of Iran.
In his will, Professor Frye has expressed his wish to be buried next to the Zayandeh River in Isfahan. This request was approved by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in September 2007.
Two other American Iranologists, Arthur Pope and Phyllis Ackerman, are already buried there.
Frye as a public speaker
Frye is a popular public speaker at numerous Iran-related gatherings. In 2005, he spoke at UCLA
, encouraging the Persians present to cherish their culture and identity. In 2004, he spoke at an architectural conference in Tehran, expressing his dismay at hasty modernization that ignores the beauties of traditional Persian architecture (see Architecture of Tehran
Other notable Iranologists:
- The Near East and the Great Powers, Harvard University Press, 1951
- Iran, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1960
- The Heritage of Persia: The pre-Islamic History of One of the World's Great Civilizations, World Publishing Company, New York, 1963
- Bukhara: The Medieval Achievement, University of Oklahoma Press, 1965
- The Histories of Nishapur, Harvard University Press, 1965
- Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum, vol. III, Dura-Europos, London, 1968
- Persia (3rd edition) Allen and Unwin, London, 1969
- The United States and Turkey and Iran, Archon Books, 1971
- Sasanian Remains from Qasr-i Abu Nasr. Seals, Sealings, and Coins, Harvard University Press, 1973
- Neue Methodologie in der Iranistik, Wiesbaden, 1974
- The Golden Age Of Persia: The Arabs in the East, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1993
- The heritage of Central Asia from antiquity to the Turkish expansion Markus Wiener, Princeton, 1996
- Notes on the Early Coinage of Transoxania; Numismatic Notes, 113, American Numismatic Association, New York
- Greater Iran, Mazda Publishers, 2005, ISBN 1-56859-177-2
- Ibn Fadlan's Journey To Russia, 2005, Markus Wiener Publishe, ISBN 1-55876-366-X
- Iranians pay tribute to Richard Nelson Frye, Mehr News Agency, July 5, 2004.
- Professor Frye, a great American Iranologist wills to be buried in Iran another
- Dr. Frye's statements at UCLA in March 2005
- Photos of Dr. Frye's lecture at UCLA, March 13, 2005
- Dr. Frye criticized the architectural development of modern Tehran
- Excerpts from The Greater Iran: A 20th-Century Odyssey, the memoirs of R. N. Frye
- Dr. Frye's page at the Iran Heritage website
- Dr. Frye's page at the Vohuman.org
- Former President of Iran Mr. Khatami praised Dr. Frye
- Ahmadinejad says 'Yes' to Prof. Frye
- Interview with Dr. Frye Pars Times
- Frye, R. N. Reforms of Khosrow Anoushirvan, the Sasanian Shahanshah of Iran, The History of Ancient Iran, 1983.
- Syria and Assyria