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Aux armes · the mottoes

Le vent se lève ! … Il faut tenter de vivre !
The wind is rising! … We must try to live!

Paul Valéry (1922). Charms: Le Cimetière marin.*


'Tis writ on Paradise's gate,
“Woe to the dupe that yields to Fate!”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882). Manuscript translations: verses after Hafiz.


We are always hearing of people who are around SEEKING AFTER TRUTH. I have never seen a (permanent) specimen. I think he has never lived. But I have seen several entirely sincere people who THOUGHT they were (permanent) Seekers after the Truth. They sought diligently, persistently, carefully, cautiously, profoundly, with perfect honesty and nicely adjusted judgment — until they believed that without doubt or question they had found the Truth. THAT WAS THE END OF THE SEARCH. The man spent the rest of his life hunting up shingles wherewith to protect his Truth from the weather. … In any case, when he found the Truth HE SOUGHT NO FURTHER; but from that day forth, with his soldering-iron in one hand and his bludgeon in the other he tinkered its leaks and reasoned with objectors.

Mark Twain (1906). What is Man?


Motto, below the arms

CLARERE AUDERE GAUDERE1
Be bright: be daring: be joyful.

This seemingly classical tricolon evidently urges mindfulness — in the manner of the now somewhat trite carpe diem[a] (Latin ▸ pick, pluck or gather the day) or laetus in praesens[b] (Latin ▸ joyful in the present moment): perhaps more quietly expressed in the Zen notion of ichigo ichie ( “one moment, one meeting”) — yet the motto was once merely clarere audere, a double pun on familial surnames. The later felicitous addition of gaudere completed the tricolon:

A patrilineal, Geal:

Clarere (Latin) ▸

  1. Be clear or bright, shine;
  2. Be clear, evident, lucid, manifest;
  3. Be distinguished, illustrious, renowned (ante-classical).


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).

Motto, above the crest

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 a passage in the New Testament:

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. John 8:32

although the implicit scepticism of the motto contrasts with the absolute certainty of the biblical promise.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.

 

* 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.

Pindar (c. 474 BC). Pythian Odes 3.61. (English translation).

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?

Hillel (fl. 30BC–10AD. Attributed). Pirkei Avot 1:14.

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.

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.

References
  1. Carpe diem:
    Horace (Q. Horatius Flaccus). Odes: Carmen I:XI.
    Latin | English (Trans. John Conington, 1882) | Paul Shorey (1910). Commentary on Horace, Odes, Epodes, and Carmen Saeculare: carpe diem.
  2. Laetus in praesens:
    Ibid., Carmen II:XVI.
    Latin | English (Trans. John Conington, 1882) | Paul Shorey (1910). Op. cit.: laetus in praesens.
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Figure 1: the crest: On a Wreath Argent and Azure within a Circlet of Chain broken Argent an Eagle wings expanded Or grasping in the talons the Chain.

Figure 1: the crest

Crest: On … a Wreath Argent and Azure within a Circlet of Chain broken Argent an Eagle wings expanded Or grasping in the talons the Chain.

Copyright © 2006, 2010 Alan Geal