:"Cantus redirects here. For other meanings of "cantus", see Cantus (disambiguation)

A cantus (Latin for 'singing', derived from 'canere'), is an activity organised by Belgian and Dutch and Baltic student organisations and fraternities. A cantus mainly involves singing traditional songs and drinking beer. It is governed by strict traditional rules. The use of this dates back a few centuries and was inspired by German student organisations; however some of the songs that are sung date back to the Middle Ages. Cantus probably shares same roots with Commercium, Sitsit and Tableround.


The songs are compiled in what the students refer to as the codex, which contains the club anthems of most student organisations and hundreds of songs in various languages, such as Dutch, French, English, German, Latin and Afrikaans. They usually have easy and familiar melodies. Nearly all of the songs predate World War II and refer to either drinking, the student's (love) life or the history and past of the home country, city or region. For this reason, some songs are typically sung more by students of one city or another, e.g. students from Ghent will not sing songs about Leuven and vice versa, or they will simply replace instances of one city with another. Also due to the old nature of the songs, some of them have in the past years been controversial because they are seen by politically correct people as sexist, right-wing or downright racist.

In Ghent and Leuven, the codex used is that published by the KVHV (Katholiek Vlaams Hoogstudentenverbond or Catholic Flemish Students Union). In Brussels the codex is published jointly by Polytechnische Kring and Brussels Senioren Konvent.

Structure of a cantus

The cantus is being led by the senior. In most cases, the senior is the praeses (president) of the student organisation that organises the cantus. He or she is responsible for keeping order at the cantus and can punish people who disrupt it. These punishments usually involve the drinking of beer in unusual, humorous or sometimes degrading ways if the culprit has committed a grave offence. The rest of the attending people are called the 'corona' (Latin for 'circle'). The senior can be aided by the zedenmeester (Dutch for 'master of customs') and the cantor (Latin for 'singer'). Another group of people at a cantus with a special status are the so-called proseniores (singular: prosenior), former presidents of the student's club.

A special group at the cantus are the so-called 'schachten'. They are freshmen or first-year students and have the lowest status at the cantus itself. Some clubs even include special rites for attaining the position of schacht, with the preceding status of embryo. The schachten are, among other things, responsible for going around with the beer. They are not part of the corona and are supervised by the schachtenmeester or schachtentemmer in less (Dutch for 'tamer of freshmen'), who answers only to the authority of the senior.

People at a cantus use special formulae, usually in Latin. For example, after a song, a senior can order the corona to drink collectively. They can do this by either saying 'prosit corona' (after which the corona responds with 'prosit senior') a few times, or by using the formula 'ad exercissimum sanctissimi salamandris omnes commilitones qui adsunt, surgite' (onwards to the exercise of the most sacred salamander, all of you fellow students present, rise). Then the senior has the choice of either ordering 'ad libitum' (drink as you please, which should be 'ad libidinem' in more accurate Latin) or the more famous and notorious 'ad fundum' (literally: to the bottom, or drink until the glass is empty). The corona can also start such a drinking procedure if it collectively begins with 'prosit senior'. This is usually a manner of teasing the senior or testing their ability to withstand huge amounts of alcohol.

Normally, people at a cantus are required to remain silent (although most seniors are fairly tolerant in this regard), and if they want to address the corona or the senior, they should ask the senior for permission first, by asking 'senior, peto verbum' (senior, I request to speak). They can reply by 'habes' (go ahead) or 'non habes' (forget it). Most of the time the request is granted. At a cantus, people wear hats and sashes that tell something about their status in student life (e.g. broad sashes for members of the presidium, small sashes around the right shoulder for commilitones and small sashes around the left shoulder for the schachten). Not all student clubs hold on to this tradition, however. As of today only a minority wears hats, and the use of sashes is also on the decline. In some towns the use of hats and/or sashes is identified with the extreme-right.

See also: Tableround (University)

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