Are Emblem Inscriptiones always Mottoes?
Some readers may wonder whether the question about emblem inscriptiones in relation to emblem theory even matters. It may matter if a modern theory of the emblem is based on the assumption that only a motto can indicate emblematic semiosis.1 It is also possible that one of the authorities may have used such a term as “motto” loosely meaning only the inscriptio, i.e., the short text oen printed above a picture in an emblem. Praz uses the term “motto” both in his designation of the emblem (Praz, 14) and impresa (Praz, 58). ere is also the question whether some unnamed but assumed knowledge about a depicted or named motif is also not at work in the pictura or in the emblem as a whole. But this is not the immediate reason for this exploration. Wolfgang Neuber seems to deny this latter possibility and to equate motto with lemma, which is usually the rst textual part of an emblem, oen also-called in modern studies inscriptio. See the title of Neuber’s inuential essay,2 and pages 358, 368, and 372 of that essay. Perhaps more importantly, Neuber suggests that the role of the articial arts of memory in emblems has been underestimated. It is also this desideratum that he seeks to address. It is likely true, although no one really knows, that over time inscriptiones became predominately mottoes. But what is a motto? Neuber does not provide a denition, probably assuming that we all know. But mottoes may well dier in dierent languages. e mottoes that Neuber quotes (Neuber, 359) are sentences or phrases with a verb. Webster’s Dictionary suggests that a motto is short pithy sentence or phrase inscribed on a coat of arms, or a maxim, or a guiding principle or a passage prexed to a chapter heading of a book. e dictionary does not suggest that mottoes must have verbs. Latin mottoes oen lack a verb, which we usually assume, especially forms of the verb “to be” or passive forms. Latin mottoes also tend to lack denite and indenite articles. Even the subjects of certain Latin verbs, if it is an “it,” “she,” “he” or “they” are
imprecise, and oen only elucidated by the pictura or subscriptio. Mottoes have also served, for example, in the badges of the armed services, schools, colleges, and universities. e motto of the British Royal Air Force during World War II was “Per ardua ad astra” (rough hardship to the stars); the U.S. Marine Corps’s motto of “Semper ” or “Semper des” (Always loyal) will be seen to this day decorating the backs of some cars in America. No verbal forms are contained in these mottoes, but they can be assumed. However, occasionally university mottoes will include a verb, as in McGill’s “In Domino condo” (I trust in the Lord), which was the personal motto of James McGill who founded what became McGill University, and the other McGill motto “Grandescunt aucta labore” ([All things] grow by work). e motto of Bristol University in England also has a verbal form “promovet” (promotes). “Vim promovet insitam” is the University’s motto, which is a contraction of a line from Horace.3