Ohio History Journal

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Meliorem Lapsa Locavit: An Intriguing

Puzzle Solved


Adorning the handsome facade of The Ohio State University's

William Oxley Thompson Library in Columbus are four central half-

columns of a piano nobile that encloses a shallow balcony in three

bays. Supporting the half-columns are four inscribed stone corbels,

each in the form of a shield. The figures on these shields depict re-

spectively from left to right the Great Seal of the United States, the

Great Seals of the Northwest Territory and Ohio, and the Academic

Seal of The Ohio State University. Because of its Latin motto it is the

second of the four seals with which we are here concerned.1

Dr. John T. Mount, shortly before his retirement as Vice President

of The Ohio State University last year, informed the writer in a letter

that "The Latin phrase, Meliorem Lapsa Locavit, . . . is part of the

seal of the Northwest Territory, . . . We have not found an explana-

tion of why the seal was chosen to appear on the front of the Library.

A Boston architectural firm, Allen and Collins, was selected by a pro-

fessional jury to design the Library," which was ready for occupan-

cy in December, 1912.2 Nor were the University's classicists, despite

diligent search years ago in the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae and other

publications, reportedly able to locate the source or explain the

meaning of the baffling Latin motto.3




Edgar C. Reinke is Professor Emeritus of Classical Languages at Valparaiso Universi-



1. Since the four seals are of related significance in the history of Ohio, their selec-

tion and chronological arrangement side by side on the front of the Library are indeed


2. In his letter, dated June 10, 1983, Dr. Mount included a detailed description of

the Thompson Library and its construction, for which the writer is grateful. For sup-

plying him with needed information requested from his isolated site of retirement in

Florida he is likewise indebted to Mr. Mark Schultz of Columbus, Prof. Rosamond K.

Sprague of the University of South Carolina, and Prof. Mark P.O. Morford of The Ohio

State University.

3. According to oral information received from classicists at OSU; cf. the brief ac-

count, "Meliorem Lapsa Locavit Puzzles Latin Experts Also," in the OSU student-

newspaper, The Lantern, Monday, March 2, 1953.