Drunken graduation

“Gaudeamus igitur” is a solemn Latin song commonly sung at Western graduation ceremonies. Two hundred and fifty years ago, it was a bawdy student drinking song.

Judith Leyster's painting The Last Drop
Judith Leyster, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hey I’m graduating today (a second Master degree, if you were wondering), so this post is about a well-known Latin graduation song: “Gaudeamus igitur.” Here in New Zealand it is traditionally sung at graduation ceremonies, and it is used for this purpose in several other countries around the world. Here’s the song:

At first glance, the song is a celebration of academic life:

Vivat Academia,
Vivant Professores,
Vivat membrum quodlibet,
Vivant membra quaelibet,
Semper sint in flore!

Long live the academy!
Long live the professors!
Long live each student;
Long live the whole fraternity;
Forever may they flourish!

Gaudeamus igitur

But the next verse, always omitted from ceremonial performances, paint quite a different picture:

Vivant omnes virgines
Faciles, formosae
Vivant et mulieres
Bonae, laboriosae.

Long live all girls,
Easy, beautiful!
Long live mature women too,
Tender, lovable,
Good, hard-working.

Gaudeamus igitur

Yup, this Latin hymn was originally a students’ drinking song. Some of the verses date back as far as 1287, but all the lyrics and accompanying music were not recorded until 1781 – in the German book Studentenlieder (“students’ songs’). Note that this is when the song was first written down in full… there’s plenty of evidence that it predates Studentenlieder by many years.

Funnily enough, it’s not the only currently serious song that has its roots in a more merry tradition. The music for the national anthem of the United States – “The Star-Spangled Banner” – originally came from another piece called “The Anacreontic Song.” It was a celebration song for a London social club of professional musicians. So, not precisely a drinking song, but not far off.

If all this stuffy old music tires you, then check out “Gaudeamus,” a doo-wop version of the song done by the Escorts in 1962. It is perhaps the only doo-wop song sung in Latin:

One Reply to “Drunken graduation”

  1. Turn on the spigot
    Pour the beer and swig it
    And gaudeamus igit-, ur
    — Tom Lehrer


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