IC Reporter ISSUE 19 (23 JANUARY - 5 FEBRUARY 1996)
Staff Newspaper of Imperial College of Science, Technology
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
College motto translated
Brendan Molloy (IC Reporter, issue 18) is evidently well informed about heraldry but not about Latin. His two suggested translations of the College motto - 'Dominion over science is an honour and a protection' and 'Universal knowledge is beautiful and necessary' - are both impossible.
Scientia is in the nominative case, i.e. is the subject of the sentence, and imperii is in the genitive, meaning 'of the imperium'. The motto clearly means, 'Knowledge [particularly science] is the glory and the protection of the Empire' (or 'of the realm', but in the context of establishing Imperial College the intention was surely to refer to the Empire). The words decus et tutamen are placed at the end for rhetorical effect. While they stem originally from Virgil, as Brendan Molloy says, they were familiar as a motto of the Royal Arms, apparent nowadays to everyone on the rim of the English version of the pound coin.
Emeritus professor of philosophy
(c) Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, 1995
Last Revised: 20 January 1995