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.*

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.

If you seek for the truth, be as if with
an eagle's wings, for you must range widely;
an eagle's eyes, for you must see keenly;
an eagle's talons, for you must seize firmly.

Ancient Chinese aphorism.

Motto, below the arms

Be bright: be daring: be joyful.

It is plain that this seemingly classical tricolon urges mindfulness — in the manner of the now somewhat trite but still cogent maxims carpe diem[a] (Latin ▸ pick, pluck or gather the day) and laetus in praesens[b] (Latin ▸ joyful in the present moment) or as rather more obliquely expressed with the Zen notion of ichigo ichie ( “one moment, one meeting”) — yet the first two elements also contain a double pun on familial surnames:

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

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.

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!


Others have expressed similar views:

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.[c]

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.

  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.
  3. Ibn Tufayl. Hayy Ibn Yaqzan - a philosophical tale, trans: Lenn Evan Goodman. University of Chicago Press, 2009.
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Figure 1: the crest: On a Wreath Argent and Azure within a Circlet of Chain fracted 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 fracted Argent an Eagle wings expanded Or grasping in the talons the Chain.

Copyright © 2006, 2010 Alan Geal