It is said that the value of a Harvard University degree grows in proportion to the bearer’s distance from Harvard Yard. Familiarity can breed contempt through overexposure to the human side of the ivory tower. And if not contempt, then laughter. But a human touch, too.
When I was living in Harvard Square, my psychotherapist, who was a graduate of Harvard College (the fancy local way of saying he got his bachelor’s there), told me about the most moving experience he had during his time in the intellectual wonderland.
Not being a product of the Harvard educational universe, I wondered: Was it hearing a poet declaim a work never before publicly read? Seeing the delicacy and skill in a work of art or music, or a piece of technology? Being stirred by a passionate lecture or political speech? Sharing emotional secrets with a brilliant classmate?
Of course not.
He described something not so unusual for a bunch of young adults: Being joined spontaneously with a group making music and merriment together.
But what made it “Harvard” was that the undergraduates were lined up along one of the large open staircases of one of Harvard’s Houses (as in Harry Potter), and they all had mugs of beer, and they sang a 1924 song best known by its refrain, “Drink! Drink! Drink!”
It’s the only well known piece by Sigmund Romberg, who wrote the operetta “The Student Prince.” But well known is a relative term, and I tend to doubt that most other schools could elicit a spontaneous performance of this song from a random bunch of dorm-mates, as in the 1954 movie clip here, and as in my psychotherapist’s warm memory.
In the movie, the singer drinks from a giant stein. But I think more stylish, at least in the Harvard way, would have been this superb ramshead rhyton, one of the finest drinking vessels I have ever seen. Rhyton, from the ancient Greek word for flow. This is designed mostly in the bottomless style, but modified so that one can put it down carefully on its handle should one lose one’s breath after the first third of the drink.
“Flow” is indeed the operative term here when contemplating this fine design, and I am speaking not only of beverages. Look at the smooth arcs of the horns, the shapely eyes, the flaring nostrils, the fierce lips. This piece is so good, I want it so I can put it in a vitrine and stare at it from time to time as an objet d’art. I don’t even have to drink beer to love to look at it.
Alas, I have no room for a vitrine, no use for a beer mug, and I already have two mugs I don’t use. So in my stead, I want you to buy this rhyton, fill it with nice cold beer, and sing along with Mario Lanza and your friends: Drink! Drink! Drink!