By Jeff Rider
“In principio erat verbum”: Mélanges offerts en hommage à Paul Tombeur par des anciens étudiants à l’occasion de son éméritat. Edited by B.-M. Tock (Brepols, 2005)
Introduction: In his early twelfth-century Vita Iohannis episcopi Teruanensis, Walter of Therouanne relates that John, in his youth, set off on a scholarly odyssey that took him to many schools and masters. Of these, Walter notes, JohN
duos (…), quos hic pro suae intergritate vitae commemorandos iudicavimus, prae ceteris coluit. Unus fuit magnae religionis et scientiae magister Lambertus Traiectnsis; alter vero (…) domnus Ivo, qui episcopus fuit Carnotensis, qui quantae religionis scientiae temporibus suis colmen tenuerit hodie quoque testantur et monasteria quae instituit et libri quos ordinavit.
Since I do not expect anyone ever to write a Life of Jeff, Professor of Wesleyan, I am forced to be my own biographer and to note that in my youth, I, too, attended many schools and had many masters, but one of those whom I respected above all others was Paul Tombeur, one of the most learned and zealous men of his day.
Professor Tombeur taught me many things but one of the most intriguing and most important was that the ability to access and search medieval texts via computer allows us to answer certain kinds of questions that it would otherwise be very difficult to answer, and to do so with a speed and degree of accuracy that was previously impossible. While the computers and programs we used almost thirty years ago are now altogether obsolete, it is a measure of Professor Tombeur’s vision that many of the methods and kind of studies he foresaw are still unexploited. We use computers to search texts, generate concordances, and so on, but rarely do we allow computers to present texts to us in new ways, to make familiar texts strange, so that the texts, as Professor Tombeur used to put it, ask us questions rather than vice versa. This brief study will hardly do justice to the richness of Professor Tombeur’s though and instruction, but it will, I hope, serve as both small indication of the kinds of things that he foresaw might be done and as pitifully inadequate recognition of the immense intellectual debt I owe magistro nostro.