Greek tragedies Euripides was there, and so was Irish novelist James Joyce. But when the night was done, it was Peter Weiss's book. The Investigation, as orally interpreted by Justin Richardson '85 that captured the Boylston Prize, Harvard's oldest award.
Three judges, appropriately dressed in tuxedos and cocktail dresses, deliberated privately for 40 minutes before announcing a titlist and runner-up from seven upperclassman finalist. The prize is awarded for the best presentation of a memorized selection from English, Greek, or Latin literature.
Richardson's selection featured first-person accounts of three survivors of the Holocaust contrasted by the monologue of a German army oficer who said he was only guilty of following orders for his part in the atrocities.
The Lowell House resident said he was "never a speaker," and found the Weiss book while preparing for an audition for Harvard Summer Theatre.
"The night before [the registration deadline]. I was hunting for other pieces and didn't find any," said Richardson.
Lydia G. Segal '83 took second place for a rendition, in Greek, of a dialogue between Medea and her husband from Euripides's play Medea.
"I choose the piece because I was looking for a variation of moods," explained the Mather House resident, adding that the selection could "portray [a woman's] venom" as well as capturing "a slimy man."
The first Boylston Prize was awarded in 1919, according to the deed of founder Ward Nicholas Boylston. The award is named after Boylston's uncle. Nicholas Boylston, who endowed the Boylston Professorship of Rhetoric and Oratory.
According to the deed, the three judges must have "been themselves distinguished themselves for their clocution particularly, either at the Bar, in the Pulpit, or in the Senate."
But according to Archie C. Epps III, dean of students and "convener of the competition," several changes in the original rules have been made since the turn of the century. Women are now allowed to be judges, a Faculty member must now serve as one judge instead of an elected official, and the Board of Overseers of the College--who approves the panel of judges--is no longer the state legislature.
The most important change for Richardson was the amount of the prize--$100--an increase of nearly 600 percent from 1919.