Classics students attend Penn’s first Certamen

Harry Koenig ’25, Phineas Manogue ’25, Grayson Morgan ’26, and Nicholas Lu ’25 at work in the Certamen Competition at Penn, March 18, 2023 – Dr. Andrew Fenton

Have you ever wondered which group of warriors Achilles led or what derivative of the Greek noun for “child” refers to the practice and study of teaching? I thought so. 

These questions and many more were answered at the 2023 University of Pennsylvania’s first Certamen, the literal translation of which means “competition.” 

On Saturday, March 18, Haverford students joined 30 other schools primarily from the Northeast to engage in multiple rounds of Certamen, a classics quiz-bowl competition for students of Latin, Greek and classical civilizations and their relationships to the modern world. 

Despite Haverford’s team not finishing as high as they had hoped, students fought hard at this year’s first Penn Certamen, perhaps creating a new tradition. 

In Certamen, students test their knowledge of mythology, classical history, culture, and all things Latin, as they answer questions created by other students. 

Classics enthusiasts have few opportunities to collaborate and test their knowledge of the ancient world. There are individual assessments where students can participate, such as The National Latin Exam, The National Greek Exam, and The National Mythology Exam, but these individual assessments are no different than taking an exam at school. Certamen is unique and collaborative—comprised of a team of like-minded peers. 

“I think that Certamen has a lot of potential at Haverford,” Fourth Form Certamen student leader Phineas Manogue said. “We have an abundance of bright students who are interested in classics, not to mention all of our great Latin teachers.”

Competitive Certamen runs in three divisions: Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced. At Penn’s Beginner Certamen, however, the target group of participants was students who were classics enthusiasts but who had not formerly competed in Certamen. Penn Certamen offered both Novice and Intermediate divisions, with The  Fords competing in the Intermediate level.

Last October, students were given a Certamen Starter Kit, a six-week syllabus with practice questions. Haverford students tested the waters with a practice scrimmage with The Baldwin School in January. 

“Penn was the only organized tournament that we could compete in this year,” Manogue said. “Luckily, we have been able to have friendly one-on-one competitions with Baldwin and hope to have another scrimmage involving more schools soon.”

To prepare for Penn Certamen, however, students dove deeply into the syllabus to study tricky material. From then on, Manogue kept students’ minds focused on all things classics in weekly Certamen club meetings. 

 Led by Latin teacher Dr. Andrew Fenton, Fourth Formers Phineas Manogue, Harry Koenig, and Nicholas Lu, and Third Former Grayson Morgan—comprised the first group of students to attend the contest. 

Colleges across the country such as Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, have hosted high school participation in Certamen contests, but this was Penn’s first foray into the competition. 

“After the tournament at Penn, it was clear that the spirit of competition ignited some enthusiasm amongst the team.”

Phineas Manogue ’25

The group concluded their day with a group lunch in which they reflected on the contest. 

“After the tournament at Penn, it was clear that the spirit of competition ignited some enthusiasm amongst the team,” Manogue said.

The group’s attendance and enjoyment of the Certamen will likely create optimism for Haverford’s Classics teachers, as they hope to bring an even larger and better-prepared group of students next year. 

“Next year, I hope to get a team organized for Yale in November,” Manogue said. “I am [also] excited for Penn in March, when we might have enough interest to send multiple teams.”