“The Date underneath is that of the Declaration of Independence, and the words under it signify the beginning of the new American Æra which commences from that Date”, says Charles Thomson report on the design of the Great Seal to have become the accepted pattern.
Believably, the picture on the left is not suggestive of aprons or paganism, and the Great Seal may be associated with American executive powers. Charles Thomson, the author of the Great Seal design, was a staunch Presbyterian. Importantly, he was also a sound expert at Latin and Greek. His spelling would acknowledge the digraph “æ”, as may be seen in the preserved original presented on the right.
NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM, says the Seal. Could we really interpret the motto for an echo of Virgil or a secular expansionist foreboding, as Wikipedia points? Magnus ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo, says Virgil.
Naturally, the Seal does not have a misspelling. The Latin form seclum is earlier; it preceded the forms saeclum and seculum. The forms were also used in ancient Rome and not only in the Middle Ages, as Wikipedia would say. The lexical item referred to people, a kind, and a generation, especially when combined with ordo: ex ordine meant “in succession”. In this light, the Seal does not prescribe on secularity, religion, or any world order. Needless to say, the phrase “We, the people” opens the Constitution.
I am not convinced by “direct translations” to render the Seal as saying “New Order of the Ages”. Telling the time by the people would have been an endeavor too haphazard even to the human as irrational as an ancient Roman.
Religious or expansionist interpretations would have been influenced by later, English uses. Let us compare ephemera. In Latin, the word “ephemeris” denoted a day-book. Today, something ephemeral is something especially short-lived. Naturally, no one kept day-books in ancient Rome having disposal of the notes for the very purpose.
Languages change, and etymology may not warrant on the meaning. There is another aspect of language use that we need to take into account interpreting mottoes. When we speak, we do not always refer our words to written resources ― do we say “morning!” early in the day because there would be a Whig journal to come with the Oxford Companion? Just the same, Latin experts are our human contemporaries; they are not people just to memorize dead text. This means that Latin experts are people capable of using Latin generatively.
Since Latin experts are able not only to interpret text, but also to produce novel strings of language, I believe Charles Thomson formed the motto himself. This would explain why his report does not provide a bibliographical reference and it gives a rendition of meaning ― Attat (!)
“Hailing the Nation: the American Great Seal” is another project of mine purposed to discard at least some of the bias and prejudice about the Democracy.