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Alma mater


Alma mater (Latin: "nourishing/kind", "mother"; pl. [rarely used] almae matres) is an allegorical Latin phrase for a university or college. In modern usage, it is a school or university which an individual has attended, or a song or hymn associated with that school. The phrase is variously translated as "nourishing mother", "nursing mother", or "fostering mother", suggesting that a school provides intellectual nourishment to its students.

Before its modern usage, Alma mater was an honorific title in Latin for various mother goddesses, especially Ceres or Cybele, and later in Catholicism for the Virgin Mary. The source of its current use is the motto, Alma Mater Studiorum ("nurturing mother of studies"), of the oldest university in continuous operation in the Western world: the University of Bologna, founded in 1088. It is related to the term alumnus, denoting a university graduate, which literally means a "nursling" or "one who is nourished".

The phrase can also denote a song or hymn associated with a school.

Although alma (nourishing) was a common epithet for Ceres, Cybele, Venus, and other mother goddesses, it was not frequently used in conjunction with mater in classical Latin. In the Oxford Latin Dictionary, the phrase is attributed to Lucretius' De rerum natura, where it is used as an epithet to describe an earth goddess:

Denique caelesti sumus omnes semine oriundi
omnibus ille idem pater est, unde alma liquentis
umoris guttas mater cum terra recepit
(2.991–93)


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