Campus & Community

Classics scholar Mason Hammond dead at 99:

4 min read

Quintessential Harvard man remembered as house master, historian, and friend to many

Mason Hammond ’25, Pope Professor of the Latin Language and Literature Emeritus, died Sunday (Oct. 13), in his Cambridge home. He was 99 years old.

In his long affiliation with Harvard, Hammond served a variety of roles: student, scholar of Roman history and member of the Classics faculty, senior tutor of Lowell House and master of Kirkland House from 1946-55, commencement caller for 50 years and, since his retirement in 1973, Harvard historian.

Hammond was also well known for his unflagging attendance at Morning Prayers in the Memorial Church. From his freshman year in 1921 until the mid-1990s, Hammond attended the services six days a week, skipping only during his time away from Harvard for sabbaticals and military service.

“It’s a record that never has nor never will be exceeded,” said Rev. Peter Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, who remembered Hammond in a special service of Morning Prayers yesterday (Oct. 16).

Gomes recalled Hammond saying, “I am not a holy man, but I am a creature of habit, and Morning Prayers is a good habit to cultivate.”

A native Bostonian, Hammond was a graduate of St. Mark’s School. He studied at Oxford for three years, partially on a Rhodes Scholarship, before returning to Harvard to teach. He directed classical studies at the American Academy in Rome from 1937-39 and again in the 1950s, and he twice served as acting director of Harvard’s Villa I Tatti in Florence, Italy.

During World War II, as a monument, fine arts, and archives officer with the Allied Military Government in Italy and Germany, he recovered and protected fine arts stolen by the Nazis.

Hammond remained deeply engaged with Harvard in his retirement, bicycling to campus from his Brattle Street home and researching Harvard history. He catalogued and translated all the Latin inscriptions that adorn the University’s buildings, gates, and plaques.

“He was indefatigable in his research,” both in his field and in his study of Harvard, said Zeph Stewart, Mellon Professor of the Humanities Emeritus and a friend and former colleague of Hammond’s. “He’s the sort of person who would, if necessary, get up on ladders to find inscriptions.”

Gomes, who became friendly with Hammond through Morning Prayers, described him as a Boston Brahmin and quintessential Harvard man with a great capacity for friendship across traditional boundaries.

“Here was a man who had no reason to share his Harvard with anyone else, and yet I don’t think I know anybody who was more democratic,” said Gomes, adding that even into his 90s, Hammond counted undergraduates among his friends.

Fluent in Italian, which he spoke with a broad Boston accent, Hammond befriended an Italian woman who worked on Harvard’s building and grounds staff and spoke very little English, Gomes recalled.

“Here was a lady who did the dusting, and he took her on,” said Gomes.

His youngest daughter, Elizabeth Llewellyn of London, said that it was her mother, the late Florence Pierson Hammond, who drew out her father’s social side.

“They were a wonderful team,” she said.

Hammond, a Roman history and Latin language scholar, was the author of several books: “The Augustan Principate,” “The Menaechmi of Plautus,” “The City in the Ancient World,” and “The Antonine Monarchy.”

His daughter, Antsiss Krueck of Chicago, said her father embraced the best of Roman ideals.

“He was just this model of moral integrity,” she said.

Harvard honored Hammond with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree at the 1994 Commencement, and he received the Harvard Medal of the Harvard Alumni Association in 1987. As an undergraduate, he received the Wendell Scholarship, awarded on the basis of academic achievement and contribution to the College community.

In addition to Llewellyn and Krueck, Hammond leaves his daughter, Florence Phillips of Cos Cob, Conn.

A funeral will be held on Tuesday (Oct. 22) at 11 a.m. in the Memorial Church.