Latin oration at Harvard

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[Introduction, transcription and translation follow on the next page]

Latin Salutatory | Harvard Commencement 2022 | Orator:  Benjamin Porteous

[The following material is courtesy of Benjamin Porteous]

The Latin oration is an exciting part of the commencement that allows for solemnity and grandeur to mix with humor—the English addresses can often get slightly navel gazing; Latin allows for a critical and humorous distance.

Brief description: The Latin Salutatory is a historic part of Harvard University’s Commencement Exercises.  The first of three short addresses delivered by students (the other two both in English), the Salutatory is the first part of the Exercises after the “meeting” has been called “to order” by the High Sheriff of Middlesex County, and an opening invocation offered by a chaplain.  As such, the Latin Salutatory combines a solemn and grand start to the morning—nothing beats Ciceronian cadences for this purpose—with a critical distance (no one understands anything) that allows for lighthearted humor.  The Latin Salutatory (and the Sheriff’s splendid opening and closing raps of his staff*) are often the part of the Exercises remembered with the greatest fondness by the graduating class.

[*VHM:  I still vividly remember those electrifying opening and closing moments half a century after I witnessed them.]

In the speech,  I celebrated the warm first-year community created by John Martin, a legendary Annenberg worker responsible for swiping cards at the dining hall door.  (Harvard Crimson articles about John Martin, seven years apart, here and here)

The Gazette covered the speech here.

Harvard Magazine covered the speech here.

YouTube video

Benjamin James Porteous

Latin Oration Harvard Commencement 2022

May 26, 2022

Latin/English interlinear text

In Honorem Iohannis Martini Annenbergensis

A Salute to John Martin of Annenberg


Praeses Bacow, Decani, Professores doctissimi, Hospites ter-honorati,

President Bacow, Deans, Most Learned Professors, Thrice-Honored Guests,


Alumni Alumnaeque eminentissimae, pro nobis permulta passae familiae,

Esteemed Alumni and Alumnae, Families who have endured so much on our behalf,


et praecipue vosmet, condiscipuli carissimi, salvete!

and especially, You, my most beloved classmates: greetings!

In rostra hodie ante vos ascendi, condiscipuli,

I have climbed these steps today, classmates,


ut virtutes ac mores Iohannis Martini Annenbergensis laudem.

to tell you how wonderful John Martin of Annenberg is.

Cum primum ad hanc Harvardianam Aream pervenissemus,

When we first arrived in this Harvard Yard of ours,


magna cum trepidatione nos omnes illas aulae Annenbergensis ianuas formidabiles aperuimus.

it was with great trepidation that we opened those formidable doors of Annenberg.


Fortunati ei qui cum sociis ad illas ianuas pervenerunt,

How fortunate were those who approached the doors with companions,


contubernales fortasse

roommates, perhaps,


aut qui se cognoverant ex Libro Personarum ad cohortis Harvardianae anni MMXXII usum compilato.

or else friends they had met on the Facebook Page of the Harvard College Class of 2022!

Nobis qui non comitati sunt,

Those of us unaccompanied


aula Annenbergensis solis ineunda erat.

had to enter Annenberg all alone.


Limen tamen transeuntes, huius universitatis excellentissimo civi,

However, passing over the threshold, we encountered that most excellent citizen of this university,


maximo chartarum tractatori, tironum optimo amico, praedilecto Iohanni occurrimus.

greatest of card-swipers, best friend of first-years, the one-and-only John!


Is, egregia memoriae facultate praeditus, ante Idus Septembres,

He, endowed with a remarkable faculty of memory, had learned before the middle of September


non solum nomina nostra, sed etiam nomina dilectarum turmarum athleticarum,

not only our names, but also the names of our favorite sports teams,


parentum fratrumque, verum etiam nomina carissimorum canum feliumque cognoverat.

of our parents and siblings, and even of our cats and dogs.


Nos quotidie in refectorio salutatione hilara iocoque faceto accepit.

Every day he welcomed us into the dining hall with an enthusiastic greeting and cheerful banter.


In pectore meo hic vere

In my heart this


dulcissimus sonus nostri primi in Academia Harvardiana anni est:

is the sound—and how sweet it is! —of our first year at Harvard College:


ita: Tractatur. “Ana Luiza! Mater tua quid agit?

Thus: Swipe. “Ana Luiza! How is your mother doing?


In Monte regali hiems valde crudelis est.

It gets really cold in Montreal in the winter.


Eam mone ut vestimenta lanea gerat.”

Be sure to remind her to dress warmly!”


Tractatur. “Philippe rex, salve!”

Swipe. “Greetings, King Philip!”


Tractatur. “Minjue, feliciter seriem problematorum fac!”

Swipe. “Minjue, good luck with your p-set!”

Tractatur. “Iacobe! Quid….Oh! Exspecta parumper…

Swipe. “Jake! How…Oh! Excuse me a sec…


Vah! Vosmet! Agite! Peregrinis non licet huc inire.

Hey! You there! No tourists allowed in here!


Hic imagines photographicas luce exprimere non licet!

No, tourists aren’t allowed to take photographs in here either.


Nonne signum vidistis? Sex linguis scriptum est….

Didn’t you see the sign? It’s written in six languages.


mmm, quid dicebam?

Hmm, what was I saying?


Ah,” tractatur. “Octavi! Heri Catulos Ursae vicisse audivi, et pro te gaudebam.”

Ah,” swipe. “Octavio! I heard the Cubs won yesterday and I was so happy for you.”  


Tractatur. “Ben, quid agis? Num bibliothecam ipsam in ista sarcina tua portas?”

Swipe. “Ben, what are you up to? You aren’t carrying the whole library in your backpack are you?”


Tunc demum pestilentia detestabilis ingruit,

Then the detestable pandemic came upon us.


nos de hac universitate amabili eiecit,

It drove us out of this university we love.


orbem terrarum denique manu dira concussit.

It struck the very world with its dread hand.


Septemdecim post menses ad hanc Aream reverti sumus.

After seventeen months, we returned to this Yard.


In quasdam blattas, mures, fungos bellum gessimus;

We waged war on cockroaches, mice, and fungi.


agnovimus illas pallidas imagines olim visas in quodam mundo ficto,

We discovered that pallid phantoms once seen in a made-up world


Zoomlandia nomine, reapse corpora solida habentes condiscipulos amicosque fuisse.

called Zoomland were in fact classmates and friends with actual, physical bodies.  



Una simul mense Martis anni MMXX amissam domum denuo quaesivimus.

At the same time we looked again for the home we had lost in March, 2020.


Proximo autumno, semel in aulam Annenbergensem inivi, ut pranderem.

Last fall, I went into Annenberg for a meal.


Iohannes aberat.

John was not there.


Maestus ex ostio postico egrediebar, et….

Saddened, I was leaving by the back door, when…


ecce! ibi erat, cum collegis matutino otio gaudens.

presto! There he was, enjoying a mid-morning break with his coworkers.


“Iohannes!” exclamo. “Ben!” haud cunctanter respondet.

“John!” I cried. “Ben!” he responded without the least hesitation.


“Iohannes,” inquam, vix auribus credens,

“John,” I said, scarcely believing my ears,


“Mens tua plane est sicut horreum memoriae nubilosum!”

“where is your cloud storage?”


Ridet solum,

He just laughed,


sed eo risu domum meam denuo repperi.

but at his laugh I had found my home again.


Selected readings



The following paper by Benjamin Porteous will be published as Sino-Platonic Papers, 347 (June, 2024):

Reading Genesis 22 and Analects 18 in Late Antiquity

     This paper examines modes of scriptural interpretation in use in China and the Levant in late antiquity, as the ancient world and period of canon creation ceded to the Middle Ages, and traditions fleshed out the implications of their sacred texts. In particular, it examines the genres of interpretation often represented as most characteristic of their era: midrash, for Jewish Levantine communities, and shu 疏 or yishu 義疏 “expository subcommentary” for medieval China.


  1. Joe said,

    May 9, 2024 @ 10:22 am

    Off-topic but

    "that allows for solemnity and grandeur to mix with humor"

    Is there a recent increase in using "allow" and "allow for" interchangeably, or am I just late to notice it?

  2. Coby said,

    May 9, 2024 @ 10:29 am

    It's my recollection that "alumni alumnaeque" means "male and female students", not former students as the English "alumni and alumnae". I wonder which meaning was intended.

  3. David L said,

    May 9, 2024 @ 10:47 am

    Despite knowing very little of the language, I had to occasionally say Latin grace before formal dinner in college. There was a bit that always tripped me up — it went, IIRC, "… nutriti tibi debitum…" I managed to omit or add a syllable whenever I said it, which occasioned booing and hissing from the assembled students. Having a drink before dinner didn't solve the problem, although it didn't make it worse.

  4. Gregory Kusnick said,

    May 9, 2024 @ 1:39 pm

    According to legend, actor John Lithgow sang the Latin oratory at his 1967 commencement, claiming to have misread it as "Latin oratorio".

  5. AntC said,

    May 10, 2024 @ 1:59 am

    condiscipuli carissimi

    'carissimi' is Latin? You're sure it isn't more Italian pronounced that way?

    Gondolieri carissimi! Siamo contadine! [G&S, The Gondoliers] (Remembered from a joint production at my boys school with our twinned girls school.)

  6. Jeff DeMarco said,

    May 10, 2024 @ 10:09 am

    They do (did?) that at Princeton, too

  7. Tom Dawkes said,

    May 11, 2024 @ 4:57 pm

    If you look at the Vulgate New Testament you'll find "carissimi" is used in several of the Pauline Epistles, for example
    Eph5:1 filli carissimi < τέκνα ἀγαπητά,
    Rom12:19 carissimi < ἀγαπητοί

  8. David Marjanović said,

    May 12, 2024 @ 7:15 am

    'carissimi' is Latin? You're sure it isn't more Italian pronounced that way?

    It's identical in both.

    Actually, -issim- is a learned loan into Renaissance Italian.

  9. Rodger C said,

    May 12, 2024 @ 10:20 am

    Eph5:1 filli carissimi < τέκνα ἀγαπητά,
    Rom12:19 carissimi < ἀγαπητοί

    Ah, I'm reminded of IU's Spanish professor from my day, Agapito Rey.

  10. /df said,

    June 2, 2024 @ 2:46 pm

    Whether or not "Alumni Alumnaeque" might mean the equivalent of a similar English phrase, doesn't " eminentissimae" specifically apply to the Alumnae, excluding their possibly less eminent male counterparts?

    Alumni Alumnaeque eminentissimae: only the gals are most eminent
    Alumni Alumnaeque eminentissimi: the guys and also their counterparts of subordinate gender are most eminent
    Alumni eminentissimi Alumnaeque: only the guys are most eminent

  11. Alex said,

    June 14, 2024 @ 5:10 pm

    Attraction of an adjective’s gender to one member of a coordinated pair is found in classical Latin, so “eminentissimae” can reasonably be understood in reference to both “alumni” and “alumnae.” It is simply a matter of being more proximal to “alumnae”

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