Journal Mobile

IML Donaldson
Journal Issue: 
Volume 35: Issue 1: 2005




Questions are not infrequently asked about the meaning of the motto displayed  on  the  College  Arms  (see  Figure  1).  When  a  translation  is  offered  – usually along the lines of ‘It is forbidden to be cruel’ – there is often puzzlement about why a College of Physicians should have chosen such a phrase to embody its aims and aspirations.  In this essay I discuss the motto’s relation to the couplet of Latin verse from which it derives and offer a possible explanation of how the misquotation – for such it is – that forms the motto may have come about. Then I  say  a  little  about  the  circumstances  under  which, some  2000  years  ago, the Roman poet Ovid composed the poem which is its source.  Finally, I show how consideration  of  an  accurate  text  of  Ovid’s  whole  original  couplet  offers  an interpretation  of  the  motto  that  was  apposite  at  the  time  of  the  College’s foundation and is no less so more than three centuries later.