A New People

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, wrote Charles Thomson in his report on the US Great Seal.[1]

He made the Seal final design, but never provided a translation, that is, he never wrote what the Latin was to mean exactly. It says:
E pluribus unum,
Annuit cœptis,
Novus ordo seclorum.

Copyright © Teresa Pelka
The text may be used under any of the following licenses:
Creative Commons License 4.0, BY-SA 3.0, or License 2.5.

Wikipedia derives the phrase Novus Ordo Seclorum from legends on ancient ritualists, sibyls, and Virgil’s Eclogues:
… ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo.

Wikipedia adds,
The phrase is sometimes mistranslated as a New World Order, by people who believe in a conspiracy behind the design; however, it does directly translate to a New Order of the Ages.[2]

Direct translation from Virgil has never happened so far, and sibyls remain famed for enigmatic phrasings. The 1894 interpretation of Virgil by Archibald Hamilton Bryce was purportedly literal. The preface for it yet says,
Much has been done both by Foreign and by British scholars to amend the Latin text, and to bring out more clearly the poet’s meaning in the many obscure phrases and sentences which occur in his writings.[3]

We are not developing a conspiracy theory, as Americans would first need a regime in own country, to impose over the world, and to imagine the people willing is not only a little too hard. Virgil yet wrote for Octavian Augustus, who allowed the proscription and execution of Marcus Tullius Cicero. The Framers might have used Virgil to learn Latin, but would they have followed him for the sense in the US Great Seal? Cicero was inspiration to the American republican. Wikipedia tells abut his legacy.[4]

The Latin integrum was closely synonymous with unum, and ordo could be interpreted as unitas, but also had senses as ■array does nowadays. Ab integro, nascitur ordo sæclorum, could be paraphrased as from one, many will come. The Seal says the opposite: out of many, one.

Further, Charles Thomson was a Presbyterian. Would he regard a sibyl as an elder, an authority, or an executive agency? Sibylline rituals were pagan. They involved narcotics and burnt offerings. The women were uneducated; spoke instructed by their ancient ministers.

Pär Fabian Lagerkvist gave the ancient prejudice quite an adequate description in his story “Sibyl”. It is about a simple peasant girl taken to pronounce prophesies in a temple. She does not have mind as well as status enough to oppose the mythology. She depends on the temple for food, clothing, and a roof over her head. The ancient girl cannot make a good pattern for the American democracy.

Finally, it would take a peculiar intellectual discipline, to hold age for unrelated to time. A phrase as a new order of ages implies an altered temporal perspective, and there is no way to claim that ■Romanticism came before ■Enlightenment, and ■Renaissance was only after. It would be as trying to claim the 19th century was before the 18th, and the 16th only after.


Notes for Emily Dickinson’s poetry

Fascicles and print, the poetic correlative with Webster 1828, Latin and Greek inspiration, an Aristotelian motif, Things perpetual — these are not in time, but in eternity. ■More

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There is a feature in Mr. Thomson’s report. His Latin spelling did acknowledge the digraph — æ, the graphemic shortcut for a and e together. He wrote:
… the new American Æra…

The “sæclorum” in the Eclogue has the digraph, but the “seclorum” in the Great Seal does not have it. Differences as these were arbitrary, but they were not trivial to the ancients. They marked a discontinuity between the Classic and Roman Empire Latin, and as such they remained with Latin language scholars. Charles Thomson’s seclorum is classic Roman talk. It is really possible the Eclogue is not quoted here, and we anyway do have plenty of reasons to try to work out the Seal word sense on our own.

There was a man of talent for persuasion, whose thought influenced the Framers. The man was Thomas Paine. He titled his work ■Common Sense: unlike any altered view on time. Let us search the work for words related to the Latin word ordo, and paraphrase the usage.

□ Mankind being originally equals in the order of creation…
We can understand the order as the design for the species, as the DNA (before its discovery, words as order and form were used; feel also welcome to my ■Simple English Aristotle.)

□ It is repugnant to reason, to the universal order of things, to all examples from former ages…
The universal order is comprehensible as principles that show in many environments, as “water does not run uphill”.

□ He who can calmly hear, and digest such doctrine, hath forfeited his claim to rationality—an apostate from the order of manhood…
We can understand this order as humankind.

Interestingly enough, if we wanted to render Thomas Paine’s phrase, “examples of ages”, in classic Latin, the form would be aevi exempla, and not *seclorum exempla. The latter would imply we talk about people of some chronological age, as 50 or 60 years old ( and ■The Curious Case of Benjamin Button does not explain the Seal).


The classic sense for ordo most often was a type, structure or an organizing principle, and Thomas Paine’s usage was not exclusive to himself. Let us read a few passages from Benjamin Franklin’s memoir.
The family had lived in the same village, Ecton, perhaps from the time when the name of Franklin, that before was the name of an order of people was assumed by them as a surname when others took surnames all over the kingdom. — Autobiography.

Those times, second names were often assumed after the line of business, the walk of life. The Frankish word frank meant free, and the English Franklins were freeholders.

Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Charles Thomson went to grammar schools. Thomas Paine wrote he never learned Latin at school, but was able to familiarize with all the Latin content he needed. This means they all began their acquaintance with Latin in early years of life. Linguistics says the years are those of language acquisition.
The Latin in the Seal may be generative, that is, naturally acquired, and Benjamin Franklin can be suspect as well as the other gentlemen here. “Naturally acquired” does not mean “incorrect”. It is the present-day habit to insist on citation to be error more.

(I need to admit my first glimpse at Latin was in my very early years, before school; I was a curious kid at a dictionary — the sentiment lasts, I’m keeping it with my Internet Archive account, seculum p. 786 in the search bar ■here; my view to Latin would be generative, and this does influence my approach.)

Benjamin Franklin wrote,
My elder brothers were all put apprentices to different trades. I was put to the grammar-school at eight years of age, my father intending to devote me, as the tithe of his sons, to the service of the Church. My early readiness in learning to read (which must have been very early, as I do not remember when I could not read), and the opinion of all his friends, that I should certainly make a good scholar, encouraged him in this purpose of his. — Autobiography

Wikipedia reports on the ■Treaty of Paris, representatives of Britain were opposed to the US Seal “until mollified by Benjamin Franklin”. I don’t imagine Franklin arguing a new order of time had come. His saying the Seal stated a new people was come looks much more likely an effective argument.

Let us see how Latin can be still generative. It is natural, in human language acquisition, to learn from usage. For the Classics, we can compare the ■Second Philippic by Cicero, whose death shows what discontinuity the Empire practiced as well.[5]

□ Accuse the senate; accuse the equestrian body, which at that time was united with the senate; accuse every order or society, and all the citizens…

□ at all events you would never have continued in this order or rather in this city…

□ I have been pronounced by this order to be the savior of my country…

□ when you, one single young man, forbade the whole order to pass decrees concerning the safety of the republic…

To picture the sense of the Latin ordo, we would likely think about people with regard to some recognition, and nationality or reference to a country state can be such recognition.


Resource for Emily Dickinson’s poetry

The epsilon, predicate structure, vowel contour, phonemics, person reference in abstract thought, and altogether stylistic coherence, for manuscripts and print piece-by-piece. ■More

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Today, Latin is far more distant to the mind of the man in the street and we most often require a citation, to interpret the language. However, when the language is modern, as English or Polish, we do not insist for words to come from particular books.

Resources continue to differ in presenting the Latin language, and the word shape seclorum is a good example on that. ■The Rudiments of Latin and English Grammar by Alexander Adam, of 1786, page 141, present the form seclor as a consequent of sequor.

We can compare the Latin verb secludere, meaning “to separate oneself”, to stand apart”. It had a participle, seclusus. Latin turned participles into nouns quite regularly. We may compare the verb applicare, to apply:
applicatus, applied, a participle and adjective;
applicatio, application, a noun.

With regard to secludere, we can collate seclusus for the participle, and seclum for the noun. The plural genitive of seclum is seclorum.

In English also today, we have the phrase “how come“, to ask or tell how something has become. The text here tells, how come:

When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the Causes which impel them to the Separation, says the ■Declaration of Independence.


Already ancients used the Latin seclum for people to have taken own stand. With the Latin ordo as an organizing principle, we can comprehend the Novus Ordo Seclorum as A New People Come, where come is the third form, as spoken, written, etc. A new nation has become.

Ordo did not have to denote a linear arrangement, but it also could: moving through territories, Roman military happened to face local people, some in groups for welcome, some in battle formations, more or less as here, in the motion picture ■The Eagle. The people are not new to the Roman, they are Scottish.

We can caption the image:
Se Ordo Caledonicus secludit.

In short, the picture shows the Scottish doing what the Great Seal says Americans have done.

Secludit is the 3rd person singular praesens of secludere, the very verb to derive seclum and seclorum from.

Records on Scottish parliamentarian activity have ■macaronic uses of the form secludit. The uses have were practiced throughout Europe then. The Scottish parliament was expected to prevent separation: Newir to be separatit nor secludit — the search field has more.
■The Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, Volume 4
■The Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, 1424-1707

We might wonder, why Mr. Thomson did not use the word populus, if he meant people?

Paths have happened to diverge, for word sense and etymology. Today, we derive the words equal as well as adequate from the Latin aequus. In practice, adequate remuneration may not mean equal money, and equal money might be inadequate for jobs of different specifics.

We derive the form of the word people from the Latin populus. However, the sense of the ancient populus did not connote nationality or citizenship. The word often referred to laying waste or degrading.

■Perpopulor meant to devastate, pillage. ■Populabilis was close in meaning to destructible. Senatus populusque Romanus remains associated with practices adverse to Christians.

Ancient Romans did not have much sentiment for nationality. Their culture favored status, and that beyond people’s rights. The Roman ■civitas gave origin to the word civilian, but the sense was inseparable from the city of Rome. Well, and the city was not as much or often a republic, as a practice at pretending a liberal government.

The law of the civitas had words as ■aerarius and ■aerarium, for residents who had to pay tax, but were not allowed to vote or hold offices. The conditions were actually military regime, and made business difficult, giving no sense of national identity to the people at large. Without legal rationale, Caesars were able effectively to give death verdicts among any people within the military range.

The word ■ordo had a dignified sense, and the Seal does not follow Imperial Latin:
Out of many, one;
Favor to the endeavor,
A new people come.

Charles Thomson proved that if there are no linguistic means ready, the human is able to form new language uses. “The instance is without a precedent; the case never existed before”, wrote Thomas Paine about America in 1776.

The people who went to war for a new country then had not been all born in America, and some of those who had been, did not have the citizen or civilian status, because of policies by George III. However, to reflect on nationality: place of birth does not in itself provide for values in common, and all nations are in fact ordines seclorum, where various people of various walks of life — secla — have a preferred recognition — here a national ordo. Importantly I think, you could tell such a motto also to a child: the new people had a future, and you couldn’t need to be 18 or 19 to become citizen.

Well, and sibyls were women with word play at hand.

Feel welcome to read about saying the Seal Latin,
The Latin demeanor.

■This text is also available in Polish.


[1] Facsimile of Cahrles Thomson’s handwritten ■Report.
[2] Wikipedia, ■Novus Ordo Seclorum.
[3] Bryce, A. Hamilton. 1894. The Works of Virgil, A Literal Translation. London: George Bell. ■Internet Archive.
[4] Wikipedia, Marcus Tullius Cicero, legacy. See ■screenshot / live page.
[5] Wikipedia, Marcus Tullius Cicero, ■Opposition to Mark Antony and death.


The world may never have seen her original handwriting, if her skill was taken for supernatural. Feel welcome to Poems by Emily Dickinson prepared for print by Teresa Pelka: thematic stanzas, notes on the Greek and Latin inspiration, the correlative with Webster 1828, and the Aristotelian motif, Things perpetual — these are not in time, but in eternity.
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Świat może i nigdy nie widział jej oryginalnego pisma, jeśli jej umiejętność została wzięta za nadnaturalną. Zapraszam do Wierszy Emilii Dickinson w przekładzie Teresy Pelka: zwrotka tematyczna, notki o inspiracji greką i łaciną, korelacie z Websterem 1828 oraz wątku arystotelesowskim, Rzecz perpetualna — ta nie zasadza się na czasie, ale na wieczności.
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