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Commentary on Emblem 1

The Pellaean king is Alexander the Great (Pella is a city in Macedonia). Alexander's mother was Olympias: " a serpent was once seen lying stretched out by [her] side ... as she slept, and ... this ... dulled the ardour of Philip's attentions to his wife, so that he no longer came often to sleep by her side" (Plutarch "Alexander" 2 in Lives), the suggestion being that Alexander was sired by the god. Ammon is a periphrasis for Jupiter, the name from the temple in his honour in Egypt. Alexander once travelled on his conquests to Ammon; the priest greeted him as the son of the god (though Plutarch ibid 27 explains that the priest may have mispronounced o paidion [o my son] as o paidios [o son of god]). Certain snakes are said by Pliny to produce their young from the mouth (ex ore). Pallas (Athena) sprang full-grown from the head of Jupiter (Ovid and elsewhere). So the shield, which is mysterious, is explained in riddles, and the answers to the riddles manifest political power (Alexander), natural mystery (the snakes), and possibly even divine power (Athena). All add up to a very satisfying compliment to the patron, Massimiliano, and a piece of flattery quite typical for the time.

This emblem first appeared in the unauthorized edition of 1531. We give the illustration which first appeared on sig A2r. In the first authorized edition of 1534 the illustration appeared on page 5r.

There is a French translation of this emblem by Lefevre, conventionally numbered 1 in the unpaged edition of Paris: Wechel, 1536 at the Glasgow University emblem site. You may compare the Latin and French in frames.

Last modified 11 February 1998