Le vent se lève ! … Il faut tenter de vivre !
The wind is rising! … We must try to live!
Then you must know from the start that if you want the truth without flummery you must seek it and seek it diligently.†
Ibn Tufayl (Abu Bakr Ibn Tufayl) (c.1105–85). Hayy Ibn Yaqzan.[a]
If you would seek for truth you must be as if with:
an eagle's wings: since you must range widely;
an eagle's eyes: since you must see clearly;
an eagle's talons: since you must seize firmly.
Ancient Chinese aphorism.
CLARERE AUDERE GAUDERE1
Be bright: be daring: be joyful.
This seemingly classical tricolon evidently urges mindfulness — in the manner of the now rather trite carpe diem [b] (Latin ▸ pick, pluck or gather the day) or laetus in praesens [c] (Latin ▸ joyful in the present moment) and perhaps as more quietly expressed in the Zen notion of ichigo ichie (期 会 “one moment, one meeting”). Yet gaudere was a later addition: the motto was once merely clarere audere, a double pun on familial surnames:‡
Clarere (Latin) ▸
Geal is Irish Gaelic for bright, clear, white; Scottish Gaelic for white, bright, fair; related to Ancient Greek αἴγλη (I. the light of the sun or moon; II. radiance, gleam; III. metaph., splendour, glory); from Proto-Indo-European *ghel- ‘to shine’.2
A matrilineal, Hardy:
Audere (Latin) ▸ to venture, dare, be bold, risk.
Hardy is Middle English for bold, courageous, daring; from Anglo-Norman French and Old French hardi (hardy, tough, durable), of Germanic origin.
Completing the tricolon:
Gaudere (Latin) ▸ to rejoice, be glad, be joyful, from Ancient Greek γαῦρος (exulting in).
ΖΗΤΕΙΝ ΤΗΝ ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑΝ
Seek the truth.
This Ancient Greek quotation seemingly accords with several interpretations of the crest (Fig. 1): for instance, as an eagle is a traditional attribute of St. John the Evangelist, to Christians the crest and motto taken together may evoke passages in the New Testament:
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. John 8:32
… seek, and ye shall find … Matthew 7:7
although the implicit scepticism of the motto contrasts with the absolute certainty of the biblical promises.3
Whereas in the Middle Ages devices such as the crest would likely have been strongly evocative of the Johannine message — even without the distinctly anachronistic motto — it may now more widely be taken as representative of the triumph of freedom over bondage. Likewise the motto could now be seen as urging an endeavour necessary for liberty (and much else besides) to flourish and endure,4 rather than reliance on an imperturbable assurance.
Even so, sceptical inquiry is not in itself the ‘Philosopher's Stone’ of epistemology.5
* The poem has a prefatory verse from a Pindar ode:
μή, φίλα ψυχά, βίον ἀθάνατον σπεῦδε, τὰν δ’ ἔμπρακτον.
Do not crave immortal life, my soul, but use to the full the resources of what is possible.
The urgency of Valéry's poem is shared:
?אם אין אני לי, מי לי? וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני? ואם לא עכשיו, אימתי
If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? When I am only for myself, then what am “I”? And if not now, when?
and was in turn, with striking but unwitting fidelity, summoned in an innocently hedonistic call of American West Coast youth in the 1960's, Surf's up!
\,,,/ Hang loose!
From a clear-eyed and stern critic of human folly, a nevertheless tender benediction on all who are heedless of time's passing:
May you live all the days of your life.
Jonathan Swift (c. 1738). Polite conversation in three dialogues.
† Others have expressed similar views:
There is something even more vital to science than intelligent methods; namely, the sincere desire to discover the truth, whatever it may be.
Charles Sanders Peirce (1903). Pragmatism as a Principle of Right Thinking.
χρὴ γὰρ εὖ μάλα πολλῶν ἵστορας φιλοσόφους ἄνδρας εἶναι καθ'
Those who are lovers of wisdom must be inquirers into many things.
Heraclitus of Ephesus (c.535–c.475 BC). Diels-Kranz. Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. Fragment 35.
‡ Mottoes are not blazoned in English heraldry. Their selection and display has always been subject to the absolute will of the bearer alone — likewise, any subsequent bearer may freely alter a motto. See: glossary.