“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, that is, he never wrote what the Latin phrase denotes exactly.
ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo
Wikipedia adds, “The phrase is sometimes mistranslated as “New World Order”, by people who believe in a conspiracy behind the design; however, it does directly translate to “New Order of the Ages”.
Well, one can have doubt without elaborating into an entire scheming theory. Here, the Great Seal belongs with US powers to involve the executive. Charles Thomson was a Presbyterian, not a mantic. He — same as many people, me included — would not have a sibyl for an elder, authority, or factor of strength. The rituals involved narcotics and burnt offerings.
More, we can say “an age” as well as “a century”. A “new order of ages” implies an altered approach to time, and we could not have Romanticism before Enlightenment, and Renaissance only after. It would be as trying to have the 19th century before the 18th, and the 14th century only after.
There is a feature in Mr. Thomson’s report that deserves thought. His spelling did acknowledge the Latin digraph æ. We can see it in the report:
…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. Possibly, the Eclogues are 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”. The links here allow downloading it from a Project Gutenberg file, as well as reading my translation for public domain.
- Project Gutenberg Common Sense by Thomas Paine
- Public domain translation, Common Sense by Thomas Paine in Polish
If we search the Gutenberg 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 Thomas Paine’s 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, reverses 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 would have written about examples from former ages, but he would not have put them into an alternate order. In his use, we could paraphrase the word “order” as a “pattern, kind” or … “people”, also “people in a situation”.
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 usus.
“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 an “order”, 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 been influenced with Cicero, or he might have followed the word use as he disambiguated it from Latin resources generally. Pointing at a particular source of language use might be 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. I think he formed the motto on his own.
Resources continue to differ in presenting the Latin language. We may compare The Rudiments of Latin and English Grammar by Alexander Adam, of about 1786. On page 141, he presents seclor as a consequent of sequor.
We can compare the Latin secludere as to stand apart, and seclusus as separate. The form seclorum would be the plural genitive of seclum. The word is translated broadly, as “a race, generation, age, the people of any time” (compare the Perseus word study tool; it relates 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, which in turn originated 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. We can say that seclum generally meant “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” — a new formation has become, by people to have separated from others, to stand as a nation, for example. Literal, word-for-word translation happens to be clumsy, also for ancient Latin (new form/order of/by the separate/separated?) In English, we have the form how come ― it can render the verb-participle-adjective-or-noun interplay.
“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 yet might wonder, why Mr. Thomson did not use the word populus, if he meant people (?)
We derive the word form people from the Latin populus. 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.
The Latin populus did not connote nationality in ancient times. It often referred to laying waste or degrading: perpopulor, to devastate, pillage; populabilis, 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. The Roman civitas was inseparable from the city of Rome. Latin had words as aerarius and aerarium, for Roman residents who had to pay tax, but were not allowed to vote or hold offices. The temple of Saturn had different rooms for elite offerings as distinct from those by the public: social status was to matter also in afterlife. Without legal rationale, Cesars could give death verdicts among any people within their armed range. Ancient Rome was not as much or often a republic, as a practice at pretending it. We have to be very selective, if we think to pick worthwhile aspects about the Antiquity. Feel welcome to compare the PIE, the Proto-Indo-European theory.
I think Charles Thomson was selective. Contrary to the word populus, the word ordo had a dignified sense, already in its ancient contexts. Though translated scarce by Lewis and Short, we may compare Cicero, whose sense is obviously not that for some people to have convened with troops or monasteries. 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, the noun people means a group of human beings, or a nationality. To mean a group, it takes a plural verb: The people here all speak English. The plural is for human persons, men or women. As a nationality or ethnicity, the noun may take on the plural itself: The peoples of Europe have formed a Union. Status can no longer decide on civil rights. The word sense of the noun people today does not translate into the ancient Latin populus.
Well, would the Declaration be for males only? “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal…” Feel welcome to practice on the civics, with my grammar course.
Interestingly, the Great Seal could make a rhyme also a child might remember:
Out of many one,
Favor to the endeavor,
A new people come.
Learn to read the Seal in Latin.