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John Harvard's Journal

Party Like It’s the CCCLXXVth—and Many Lustra More

September-October 2011

In the November-December 1986 Harvard Magazine, devoted to coverage of the University’s gala 350th anniversary celebration that September, the editors noted, “Back in 1978 we consulted a classicist—Mason Hammond ’25, caller of academic processions at both the 1936 and 1986 observances—as to how to refer in Latin to a 350th anniversary. Professor Hammond advised against it, but allowed that the ancients might have sanctioned a sesquipedalian term that literally means ‘the seventh half-century anniversary.’ It appears on the spine of this issue,” as indeed it did: sollemnia semisaecularia septima.

How much greater the challenge, 25 years further removed from the classical era, to come up with a suitable phrase for the 375th. The magazine polled a committee consisting of Richard J. Tarrant, Pope professor of the Latin language and literature (the chair Hammond held); Richard F. Thomas, Lane professor of the classics; and Jan Ziolkowski, Porter professor of Medieval Latin.

Ziolkowski, e-mailing from Wash­ing­ton, where he is also director of Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, conceded first. He admitted, “I have proven unable thus far to come up with anything that would not make sesquipedalian look brachylogical.” Thomas could find nothing that wouldn’t be “extremely cumbersome.”

That left Tarrant to the rescue, with this formulation: “I agree that Latin doesn’t easily render ‘375th’ as an ordinal. A Latin time measurement that might be somewhat useful here is the lustrum, denoting a five-year period: 375 years equals 75 lustra, so a Latin translation for (a university) ‘founded 375 years ago’ might be abhinc quinque et septuaginta lustris condita. That doesn’t answer the question of how to say ‘Happy 375th!’ but it may be a start.”

Whatever your preferred language, the University is welcoming the extended Harvard community to a 375th anniversary celebration on Friday, October 14 (375.harvard.edu).

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At left: The field team included (from left) Asah, Naban, Ashton (note his indispensable leech socks), and Ladi.
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