First printed use of our motto in June 1904
As a Latinist, I can’t help seeing a connection with Virgil’s great poem of the founding of Rome, the Aeneid, which begins and ends with the verb condere (‘found, bury’). The first seven lines of the poem talk of all the Trojan hero Aeneas suffers to found Rome: dum conderet urbem (‘while founding the city’, Virgil, Aeneid 1.5). The poem focuses on the anger of Juno and her hatred of Trojans. This anger leads to the sufferings of the Trojans and Italians as they fight over the migrants’ settlement plans, even though they will eventually join together to form one race.
The poem ends with the death of Turnus, the young man who led the Italians in war, symbolising both victory and loss. The last three lines of the poem (Aen. 12.950-2) run as follows:
hoc dicens ferrum adverso sub pectore condit 950
fervidus; ast illi solvuntur frigore membra
vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras.
Saying this, he buries the sword deep in the breast before him,
Seething with anger; but those limbs are released in cold
And the outraged life flees with a groan down to the shades.
The same verb used of the founding of Rome at the beginning is also used of the killing of Turnus at the end (condit).
The Aeneid was a poem born of civil war, the war which led to the end of the Roman Republic and the establishment of Augustus as emperor. The poem both does and undoes the founding of Rome, suggesting and dissolving an ideal of civic unity. Sapientia (‘wisdom’) features in neither the beginning nor the end: true wisdom, through education and understanding, might have kept the community together and avoided war and autocracy.
The Department of Classics at the university is now paired with Archaeology. Classics and Archaeology continues the tradition of civic engagement. The City of Caves project is collecting oral history about public experiences of the caves and my colleague Dr Lynn Fotheringham runs Nottingham Does Comics. I am currently working on the Aeneid as a way of thinking about loss and resilience (‘The Power of Sadness in Virgil’s Aeneid’), exploring how grief behaviour interacts with power structures in the poem and its receptions. I hope to work with local groups on using ancient texts to think about grief and loss. Long may we continue to learn and build wisdom together in Nottingham!
For some more on university mottoes, read this blog by the Registrar, Dr Paul Greatrix.