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, concluded Charles Thomson, reporting on his design of the Great Seal.
He never provided a translation; he never wrote what the Latin words were to mean exactly.
ORIGINAL REPORT ON THE GREAT SEAL, PAGE 2
Wikipedia refers the Great Seal motto, Novus Ordo Seclorum, to Virgil’s Eclogues and ancient pagan ritualists, sibyls.
ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo
Wikipedia, Novus ordo seclorum
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”.
One can doubt the “direct translation”, without elaborating into a conspiracy theory. Sibyls were famed for enigmatic phrasings, and translation of Virgil has caused disputes.
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, says the preface to the 1894 translation by A. Hamilton Bryce, claimed to have been literal.
Full text is available from INTERNET ARCHIVE.
Further, Charles Thomson was a Presbyterian. He — same as many people, me included — would not have a sibyl for an elder, authority, or factor of strength. The pagan, sibylline rituals involved narcotics and burnt offerings.
Doubt only begins here.
It would be as trying to have the 19th century before the 18th, and the 14th century only after.
Most importantly, there is a feature in Mr. Thomson’s report. His spelling did acknowledge the Latin digraph æ. He wrote:
…the new American Æra…
(Charles Thomson’s report).
The “seclorum” in the Great Seal does not have the digraph. The “sæclorum” in the Eclogues has it. Most probably, the Eclogues were not the source.
There was a man who had a talent for persuasion, and his thought influenced the Framers. The man was Thomas Paine. He titled his work “Common Sense” — much unlike an idea for altered time.
If we search the Common Sense for æra, we get:
By referring the matter from argument to arms, a new æra for politics is struck.
The independancy of America, should have been considered, as dating its æra from, and published by, the first musket that was fired against her.
Let us search the Common Sense for the word “order”:
Mankind being originally equals in the order of creation…
It is repugnant to reason, to the universal order of things, to all examples from former ages…
England and America, with respect to each other, reverse the common order of nature…
He who can calmly hear, and digest such doctrine, hath forfeited his claim to rationality—an apostate from the order of manhood…
Do they take within their view, all the various orders of men whose situation and circumstances…
Thomas Paine wrote about examples from former ages, but he did not put ages into an alternate order. In his language use, we could paraphrase the word order as a pattern, kind or… people.
The ordo in the Seal is a Latin word. We can compare Cicero’s Second Philippic. In linguistics, we can call it learning from the language use.
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;
when 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…
Here again, if we tried to picture what the Latin word ordo means, we would think about a body of people, or simply — people.
Marcus Tullius Cicero was of considerable influence on the Founding Fathers. Mr. Thomson might have followed Cicero, or the word use in Latin resources generally. Pointing at a particular source is impossible, without the author’s indication.
When we people speak, we do not take our words from books, magazines, or other resources. Latin was a dead language when Charles Thomson was making the motto, but he was alive. He might have formed the motto on his own.
Resources continue to differ in presenting the Latin language. 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, to stand apart, and the adjective seclusus, separate. The form seclorum would be the plural genitive of the noun seclum.
The word seclum is translated broadly, as a race, generation, age, the people of any time. Perseus word study tool relates the word seclum to a later form we can now associate with secular people, but that owing to developments in modern languages.
Backtracking, the Latin verb secludere had a Perfect participle seclusus that became used as an adjective; the adjective in turn gave origin to the noun seclum.
The form seclusum would have been still an adjective, gramatically neuter; seclusus est: he is separate; seclusa est: she is separate; seclusum est: it is separate.
In the light, we can interpret seclum as people who are separate, different with a regard, be it features, chronological age, or even decisions made at a given time.
With the Latin ordo as a group, arrangement, body or class, we can interpret the Novus Ordo Seclorum as A new people come — some people have gone separate and make a new formation or body.
Literal, word-for-word translation happens to be clumsy, also for ancient Latin (a new form by the separate?)
In English, we have the phrase how come, to ask to tell how something has become. It shows the verb-participle-adjective interplay.
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.
We might wonder why Mr. Thomson did not use the word populus, if he meant people (?)
Paths happen 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 word form people from the Latin populus. However, the sense of Latin populus did not connote nationality, in ancient times. The word often referred to laying waste or degrading.
perpopulor meant to devastate, pillage; populabilis meant destructible. The Senatus populusque Romanus, never a real power over the Roman military, can be associated with practices of times unpleasant to Christians.
Ancient Roman military did not have much sentiment for nationality. Their culture favored status beyond rights. The Roman civitas was inseparable from the city of Rome.
It did not mean respect for civilian norms. Latin had words as aerarius and aerarium, for Roman residents who had to pay tax, but were not allowed to vote or hold offices. Without legal rationale, Caesars could give death verdicts among any people within the military range.
Ancient Rome was not as much or often a republic, as a practice at pretending it, and the most convincing theory on the true causes for its fall remains the one to blame financial shortages, along with a mercenary culture.
Civilians had difficulty venturing and doing business, under the actually regime conditions. Foreign land exploitation required infrastructure and staffing the Roman coffer became unable to pay. The status-driven culture did not give a sense of national identity, to the people at large.
We have to be very selective, if we want to pick worthwhile aspects about the Antiquity. Feel welcome to compare the PIE, the Proto-Indo-European theory.
Contrary to the word populus, the word ordo had a dignified sense, already in its ancient contexts. Ordo did not have to denote a linear arrangement, but it also could: bringing territories down, the Roman military happened to face local people in battle formations.
Nowadays, status can no longer decide on civil rights. The word sense of the noun people today does not translate into the ancient Latin populus. It did not already in Charles Thomson’s times.
What is worth noting here, if we wanted to render the Thomas Paine phrase “examples of (former) ages” in classic Latin, the Latin phrase would be aevi exempla, and not *seclorum exempla.
Finally, we may think about Latinist habits. Texts have happened to be rhymed, to help remember classic forms. Here, the rhyme would be,
Out of many, one;
Favor to the endeavor,
A new people come.
Feel welcome to learn reading the Seal in classic Latin.
The Latin demeanor: reading the Seal
My Latin vocabulary initially came with the Latin-Polish dictionary by Łukasz Koncewicz, available here at the link.
SŁOWNIK PODRĘCZNY ŁACIŃSKO POLSKI, DIGITIZED CONTENT
DJVU page 000785 tells the Latin secludere as to separate, also oneself; DJVU page 000786 tells seculum as a human age or people.
The translations are consistent with those in Perseus word study tool.
A new order in human chronological age is not likely the idea; Wiktionary explains the French SIÈCLE as an Old French borrowing, “semi-learned” from the Latin saeculum, that is, a development partial and much later than classic Latin.
For the Great Seal, we may collate secludere, seclusus, seclum.
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