Heraldry, Symbols and Emblems

Most texts and materials on this site have to do with the Latin language, including its perception in popular culture: movies, tattoos, inscriptions, engravings, bits of ancient philosophy, online Latin resources and company names. There is also information about learning Latin and Greek: textbooks, dictionaries, DVDs and software that can be used in a homeschooling environment.


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Zodiac signs meanings

 
There is a little bit of Latin to be learned from the names of the Zodiac signs. More importantly, one should not always rely upon these names as a source of meaning for the corresponding words. This goes especially for Sagittarius, Capricord and Aquarius. The traditional translations of these names is more relevant to the depictions of these constellations, rather than to the Latin words and their meanings.

1. Aries (The Ram) - a ram, a battering ram
2. Taurus (The Bull) - a bull, ox
3. Gemini (The Twins) - plural of 'geminus' 'born at the same time', twin, double, similar
4. Cancer (The Crab) -a crab, the South (because this sign of the Zodiac is found at the time of the summer solstice), cancer
5. Leo (The Lion) - a lion
6. Virgo (The Virgin) - a maid, a virgin, a young woman or girl, something pure
7. Libra (The Scale) - a pair of scales, a measure, the Roman pound, balance
8. Scorpio (The Scorpion) - a scorpion
9. Sagittarius (The Centaur) - an archer, a bowman
10. Capricorn (The Sea-goat) - caper-cornu; cf. in Gr. aigokereus, having goat's horns
11. Aquarius (The Pitcher) - relating to water, a water carrier
12. Pisces (The Fish) - plural of 'piscis' 'fish'

Engraved promise ring

 


After making a special page with a nice selection of what can be justly seen as promise ring poems I decided to dig a little deeper. Needless to say, Elizabethan English folk did not invent the art of inscribing rings to be given as pledges of love. Here is a simple inscription from an old Roman ring:

PIGNUS AMORIS HABES - "You have the pledge of love!"

The engraved emblem on the ring is probably that of a dolphin or a fish. I have to consult with my books on symbols about the meaning of this. The Christian interpretation, of course, would involve fish as a symbol of Christ.

Sure, the inscription does not rhyme or anything... Ancient Romans pretty much did not have a conception of a rhyme.

See also:
Modern promise (purity) ring: "True love waits"
What to Engrave of a Wedding Ring?
Promise rings: History and meaning
P.S. It has been confirmed that the fish-like image on this engraved ring is indeed a dolphin, in agreement with popular misconception regarding this aquatic mammal.
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A variation of the 'Quod me nutrit me destruit' theme

 


'Nutrisco et extinguo' - I feed and extinguish.

This is from an old "Devises Heroiques". The explanation is that salamanders can extinguish fire with their frigid bodies, but they also feed on its flames.

More info about 'Quod me nutrit me destruit'

Harvard's motto and the limits of knowledge

 
This is the Harvard shield with the Veritas motto, as it is used today. The word VERITAS (Latin for 'truth') is broken up so it appears on the pages of three books. The third book has to accommodate three letters (TAS), which produces what is known in typography as a two-page spread -- one of the ugliest things to be observed in a publication, because the gutter goes straight through the illustration, in our case the capital A of TAS. Truly a sore sight. How did this even become possible?

The truth (don't know what to say about the status of the pun here) lies in the fact that originally the third book was actually facing the other way. The A in TAS therefore appeared on the spine of the book. This design was supposed to represent the belief that truth is never known to us in its entirety. To complement this, the Harvard shield also had another motto (sometimes seen as forming a single sentence with "Veritas"): "Christo et Ecclesiae" (For Christ and the Church).

This design can still be seen on many buildings at Harvard, including the Widener library. At some point in the early XXth century it was decided that the third book should be turned the other way, to reflect the modernist belief in attainability of truth through progress. It is quite ironic that the resulting design was not exactly easy on the eye. The religious part of the motto was also dropped.

It remains to be seen, however, how soon the word Veritas would disappear from the shield. 'Truth' is simply not a concept favored by our postmodernist society.

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