North American Scholar
A.B. Harvard, 1925; B.A. Oxford (Rhodes Scholar), 1927; B.Litt., 1930; L.H.D., St. Bonaventure, 1978; D.Litt. (hon.), Harvard, 1994.
- Professional Experience:
Instr. to prof. classics, Harvard, 1928-50; Pope Professor of Latin, 1950-73; instr. to prof. classics, Radcliffe College, 1928-42; prof.-in-charge- for classical studies, AAR, 1937-39, 1955-57; vis. prof., 1951-52,1963; acting director, Villa I Tatti (Florence, IT), 1972-73; vis. prof. classics, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1974.
Mason Hammond devoted nearly all of his professional life to Harvard. He was prepared at St. Mark’s School, to which he later rendered service including as chairman of the Board of Trustees, in 1921 he achieved the highest score of all those who sat for examinations for admission to the Harvard Class of 1925, which also included John H. Finley and Sterling Dow. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year, graduated summa cum laude, and gave the Latin Oration at Commencement. He earned a second B.A. and a B. Litt. at Balliol College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar.
In 1928 Hammond returned to Harvard, where he began his career in the Classics and History departments. He served three terms as professor-in-charge at the American Academy in Rome and two terms as director of the Villa I Tatti, Harvard’s Center for Renaissance Studies. In 1950, he succeeded his mentor, Arthur Stanley Pease, as Pope Professor of the Latin Language and Literature.
In World War II, Hammond served as chief of the section for Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives in the allied military government, seeing duty in Algiers, Palermo, Naples, London, Paris, Frankfurt, and Berlin. In Berlin, placed in charge of German art works saved from transportation to Russia by General Patton’s Third Army, he faced boxes marked “Rembrandt” and “Rubens,” which he considered unwise to open; he did, however, open another box, to find an original illustration by Botticelli for Dante’s Divine Comedy. His work, and that of many others, is recorded in Rescuing da Vinci by Robert M. Edsel (2006), adapted by George Clooney for his 2014 film, The Monuments Men. For his services in the war Hammond was awarded the Bronze Star, and was decorated by the governments of Holland, France, and Italy.
Hammond’s research and teaching were directed mainly to Roman constitutional history, ancient political thought, and Latin literature. These themes were exemplified in his first and last books, The Augustan Principate (1933) and The City in the Ancient World (1972). He also took a great interest in pedagogy, and all of his students remember the long scrawl of commentary which adorned each of their papers. He was among the few who used Harvard’s collection of ancient artifacts to illustrate literary texts and social history, and it was he who established and administered an A.M. teaching program in classics. His edition of Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus (edited with two students), was aimed specifically at students and his Latin: A Historical and Linguistic Handbook is a comprehensive description of the language.
At Harvard he was master of Kirkland House from 1946 to 1955, and before that was the first head tutor of Lowell House where, with professor Julian Lowell Coolidge and President Lowell, he helped foster the first generation of the House system. He served for many years on the Committee on Commencement Parts, where he supervised the delivery of the Latin oration and for more than fifty years (1936-86)—with exceptions for war service and leaves of absence—he was Commencement Caller, calling forth the procession from the Old Yard. During his service on the Committee on Seals, Arms, and Diplomas, he helped to provoke the “Latin Riots” when he supported President Pusey’s view that the College diploma be printed in English, using the practical argument that most undergraduates could not read Latin.
During his retirement, Hammond devoted himself to the history of the Harvard as college and university, writing monographs on the stained glass in Memorial Hall, music at Commencement, Harvard china, Latin and Greek inscriptions on College buildings, and the gated enclosures of the Yard.
For nearly seventy-five years Hammond maintained an almost unbroken record of participation in the daily service of Morning Prayers, and long after retirement he nourished his friendships with undergraduates through regular attendance at the Signet Society, whose graduate board he once served as president.
His marriage to the former Florence Pierson (1909-99) of New Orleans, which lasted nearly 65 years, led his classmate and colleague John Finley to declare that Hammond “went off to conquer Rome but was conquered by Florence.”
NYTimes (21 October 2002); WhAm (1980-81) 1423; Harvard Gazette (17 October 2002)
- Author: Wendell V. Clausen & Elliot Forbes