Annuit cœptis (/ˈænuɪt ˈsɛptɪs/, Classical Latin: [ˈannʊ.ɪt ˈkoe̯ptiːs]) is one of two mottos on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States. The literal translation is "[He/She] favors (or "has favored") [our] undertakings", from Latin annuo ("I approve, I favor"), and coeptum ("commencement, undertaking"). Because of its context as a caption above the Eye of Providence, the standard translations are "Providence favors our undertakings" and "Providence has favored our undertakings".
On the Great Seal
In 1782, Samuel Adams appointed a design artist, William Barton of Philadelphia, to bring a proposal for the national seal. For the reverse, Barton suggested a 13-layered pyramid underneath the Eye of Providence. The mottos which Barton chose to accompany the design were Deo Favente ("with God's favor", or more literally, "with God favoring") and Perennis ("Everlasting"). The pyramid and Perennis motto had come from a $50 Continental currency bill designed by Francis Hopkinson.[a]
Barton explained that the motto alluded to the Eye of Providence: "Deo favente which alludes to the Eye in the Arms, meant for the Eye of Providence." In western art, God is traditionally represented by the Eye of Providence, which principally symbolizes God's omniscience.
When designing the final version of the Great Seal, Charles Thomson (a former Latin teacher) kept the pyramid and eye for the reverse side but replaced the two mottos, using Annuit Cœptis instead of Deo Favente (and Novus ordo seclorum instead of Perennis). When he provided his official explanation of the meaning of this motto, he wrote:
The Eye over [the pyramid] and the motto Annuit Cœptis allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favor of the American cause.
Change from Deo Favente to Annuit Cœptis
Annuit Cœptis is translated by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Mint, and the U.S. Treasury as, "He [God] has favored our undertakings" (brackets in original). However, the original Latin does not explicitly state who (or what) is the subject of the sentence.
Classical source of the motto
According to Richard S. Patterson and Richardson Dougall, Annuit cœptis (meaning "He favours our undertakings") and the other motto on the reverse of the Great Seal, Novus ordo seclorum (meaning "new order of the ages"), can both be traced to lines by the Roman poet Virgil. Annuit cœptis comes from the Aeneid, book IX, line 625, which reads, Iuppiter omnipotens, audacibus adnue coeptis. It is a prayer by Ascanius, the son of the hero of the story, Aeneas, which translates to, "Jupiter Almighty, favour [my] bold undertakings", just before slaying an enemy warrior, Numanus.
The same language also occurred in an earlier poem of Virgil, the Georgics. In line I.40 of that work is the phrase "da facilem cursum atque audacibus annue cœptis". The line is addressed to Caesar Augustus and translates to "give [us] an easy path and nod at our audacious undertakings."
- ^ "Annuit Coeptis – Origin and Meaning of the Motto Above the Pyramid & Eye". greatseal.com.
- ^ MacArthur, John D. (2011). "Third Committee". Retrieved 11-25-2011.
- ^ "Third Committee's Design for the Great Seal – 1782". greatseal.com.
- ^ Papers of the Continental Congress, item 23, folios 137–139.
- ^ Journals of the Continental Congress, June 1782
- ^ "The Great Seal of the United States" (PDF). U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs. 2003. Retrieved November 25, 2011.
- ^ Bureau of Engraving, Currency Notes
- ^ U.S. Treasury (2010). "Portraits & Designs". Retrieved 11-25-2011.
- ^ In The Oxford Handbook of Church and State in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010]
- ^ Vergilius Maro, Publius (29–19 BC). Aeneid. Retrieved 11-25-2011.
- Patterson, Richard Sharpe; Dougall, Richardson (1978) [1976 i.e. 1978]. The Eagle and the Shield: A History of the Great Seal of the United States. Department and Foreign Service series ; 161 Department of State publication ; 8900. Washington : Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, Dept. of State : for sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off. LCCN 78602518. OCLC 4268298.
- Media related to Annuit coeptis at Wikimedia Commons