Monday, April 28, 2008

Fluctuat nec mergitur

I saw this coat of arms of the city of Paris over a school doorway in the 14e arrondissement.

Fluctuat nec mergitur. Ye motto of ye city of Paris. The tall-masted ship made me wonder when and how the motto came about -- obviously from the maritime trade that reached Paris via the Seine. But how would a boat with masts make it past all the bridges of Paris?

A few light bulbs glimmer in the attic. Duh. When the blason was adopted, there weren't all the bridges. I'm pretty sure I learned about this a decade ago when I read Mort Rosenblum's irresistible The Secret Life of the Seine.

Fluctuat nec mergitur -- or FLVCTVAT NEC MERGITVR when chiseled in stone -- means "She is tossed by the waves yet does not sink."

More modern translation: think of the Timex watch commercials "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking!"

3 comments:

grace said...

Just beautiful, Polly. I was just thinking yesterday that all I lack is a Latin motto. I think I would choose "To know the world." Any Latin scholars out there?

Polly-Vous Francais said...

I used to be good at Latin, but that was long ago. Probably something like Cognare Mundi.

Maybe an online Latin dictionary will do the trick. But a nice motto!

Anonymous said...

Paris was once Lutetia, until about 360 CE, an outpost founded on the site of the Ile de la Cité before the Romans invaded Gaul. It was created by a tribe called the Parisii. The Parisii became wealthy by trading up and down the river, and for charging to transport goods. Eventually, the Guild of Paris Watermen developed (Nautes Parisiens), who controlled commerce on the Seine, the Marne, and other rivers. The coat of arms symbolizes Lutetia, standing in the middle of the Seine. Charles V added the fleur-de-lys to the coat of arms in 1358, although the fleur-de-lys had been used for a royal emblem as early as 507 CE, by Clovis I, king of the Franks. Legend has it that a large swath of water irises indicated to Clovis the presence of a shallow place to cross, and he and his men crossed the river at night and surprised the Visigoths in their sleep, defeating them. The motto others have quoted, "Fluctuat nec mergitur," (She is buffeted by the waves but does not sink) was added in the 16th century, removed after the Revolution, then restored by Haussmann in 1853.

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