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Historic Campus Tour: Benefactor Plaza

A Self-Guided Multimedia Tour of the History of the University of Puget Sound's North Warner Campus

Benefactor Plaza

Benefactor Plaza, a roughly elliptical courtyard at the intersection of Commencement Walk and the path which runs between Howarth and Trimble, was constructed in 2001 to give "prominent recognition to those major benefactors who have helped sustain and build the institution." These donors' names line the interior faces of the short walls which surround the plaza. At the center of the plaza is a large bronze rendering of Puget Sound's current seal, featuring the school's name and founding date ("University of Puget Sound – 1888"), an iconic image of Mount Tahoma (also known as Rainer), and the university motto (in ancient Greek). 

University of Puget Sound's Seal(s)

Two of the many iterations of Puget Sound's seal over the past hundred years. The image on the left (source: A Sound Past) shows the version of the seal in use in 1982, which included the university's Latin motto CHRISTVS FVNDAMENTVM ("Christ is the foundation"). The same version of the seal appears in a history of the university written by alumnus James Earley in 1987. The image on the right (source: Wikimedia) shows one of the versions of the seal currently in use, which is the version represented on the circular bronze plaque in Benefactor Plaza. 

Placement of Benefactor Plaza

An aerial view of Benefactor Plaza, which serves as one of the main 'hubs' of the campus, sitting at the place where Commencement Walk meets several other high-use pathways (Image source: Puget Sound). According to the "Tapestry of Learning," a planning document from 2003 that details use of space and travel routes on campus, Benefactor Plaza sits at the "pedestrian gathering intersection" where the 'Science' and 'Academic Community' axes meet. (Note that this map was made before the construction of the Weyerhaeuser Center for Health Sciences in 2011; before the completion of Weyerhaeuser, a number of these sciences classes were taught in Howarth Hall, meaning that the 'science' axis in the Tapestry ran, at that time, between the two centers of science teaching, Howarth and Thompson.)

Puget Sound's "Errant Greek Motto"

As it is written on the Benefactor Plaza bronze seal, Puget Sound's ancient Greek motto reads: προs τα ακρα. This motto, commonly translated as "To the heights!" has existed – in some form – since 1909. The fact that Puget Sound has a Greek motto at all places our school among only 12 other universities worldwide with a Greek motto. However, the form of the motto has changed over the hundred-plus years of its existence, and its for most of those hundred years, it has contained what Greek professor Brett Rogers calls "typographical errors" (Rogers 2014:29). Initially, the visual elements of the seal were designed by M. Elinor Riley, the sister of Puget Sound biology professor Mabel Riley Simpson, and Professor Roger's historical research has shown that the motto was likely devised by Professor Simpson's husband, Arthur Lyman Marsh, who served as the school's very first teacher of ancient Greek. When the seal was formally proposed by then-president Lee Benbow in 1909, the motto on the seal read πρὸς τὸ ἄκρον. This version of the motto differs from the bronze seal's προs τα ακρα in three noticeable ways. First, the singular word ἄκρον ("top") has been replaced with its plural ἄκρα ("heights"). This change, dating back inconsistently to the period from 1917 to 1925, is not an error in and of itself, but at the same time, the motto lost its diacritic marks – those four small lines and curves that top the Greek letters. This second change, the loss of the diacritics, makes the pronunciation of the Greek unclear, because the diacritic marks alert the reader that the Greek is to be read as "pros ta akra" rather than "pros ta hakra" with an 'h' sound, and they also inform the reader about the pitch accent used to pronounce the ancient Greek words (since Greek was, in antiquity, a tonal language – think modern Chinese). Professor Rogers argues that the diacritic marks were likely removed because the printing process made them indistinct to the point where they were unrecognizable, but he also notes that the absence of an ancient Greek professor at the university between 1918 and 1981 likely played a role as well. While the lack of diacritic marks is inarguably an error in the Greek of the motto, it is an error obvious only to the small but fervent cohort of ancient Greek students at the university (typically between 10 and 20), as well as to a staff of four classics professors, and any other scholars of classical languages who might interact with the school. The third change apparent in the bronze seal's προs τα ακρα motto is rather more blatant: the letter at the end of προs is not the Greek letter sigma (as at the end of πρὸς), but the Roman letter 's' – and, it appears in a different font and smaller font size on the bronze plaque. How this additional error crept into the motto is, as yet, unknown, but there is hope; during the Commencement of 2014, Puget Sound rolled out a new version of the motto, its new plural form intact, but with the errors corrected: πρὸς τὰ ἄκρα. This new design can be seen on recent graduates' diplomas and other formal university documents. But for now, the bronze seal in Benefactor Plaza is still a fossil, a reminder of our school's tumultuous history with ancient languages. 

 

 

Figures depicting three iterations of the Puget Sound seal, from Rogers 2014:31. 

For the more complete overview of the history of Puget Sound's motto, read the Summer 2014 Arches Alumni Magazine article "To the Height(s)? The Mystery of Puget Sound's Errant Greek Motto," by Associate Professor of Classics, Dr. Brett Rogers.