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Lot more to our Island’s motto

Deeper meaning: when seen in the context of their original source, the words on Bermuda’s crest convey something positive and powerful

Dear Sir,

I write as an historian motivated to encourage greater awareness of our past. As a Bermudian, I hope that what follows may help in achieving greater understanding of the relevance of the past in the present day.

Bermuda’s motto and crest were adopted officially only in 1910. They have been in existence, however, for some 300 years, since their use by the Bermuda Company (c. 1615).

The words of the motto come from Virgil’s Aeneid (Book V: 707-710). Like the voyage of the Sea Venture to Virginia and the wreck on Bermuda, Aeneas was sent on a mission from Troy to found a second home that was to become Rome, but became wrecked on Sicily. Also like Bermuda’s castaways, Aeneas and his fellow Trojans deliberated whether to stay or continue the journey to their destination. Aeneas had a vision in which his father said to him: “ ... Quo fata trahunt (or ferunt) retrahuntque sequamur; Quidquid erit, superanda omnis fortuna ferendo est.”

This may be translated as: “ ... let us follow where the Fates take us or take us back; Whatever will be, every fortune/misfortune can be overcome through perseverance.”

These words convey something positive and powerful: whatever obstacles may be confronted, they will be overcome through endurance and determination. In short, the motto indicates precisely the reverse of the interpretation that suggests that Bermudians have inherited one implying a certain lackadaisical, wherever-the-winds-may-blow-us approach to life and the world around us.

Further, that the shield bearing the shipwreck is held upright by a griffin is significant. This mythical creature, possessing the body of a lion (king of beasts) and the head and wings of an eagle (king of birds), represented the guarding of treasured and priceless possessions. Able to walk on land and fly in the air, its use rested upon the belief in the human and divine oversight of Jesus Christ, man and God.

Most Bermudians will readily believe that we do inhabit treasured and priceless possessions in these islands. Some indeed will assert that we are blessed. In my judgment, what is required is not a new motto or arms, but a more accurate and historically sound interpretation of their original adoption. Quo Fata Ferunt.

Yours sincerely, GEORGE L COOK, Smith’s