The Roman historian Suetonius, who left us the biographies of the first twelve Roman emperors, said about the emperor Augustus (27 BCE- 14 CE) that he always preferred caution to haste, and deplored rashness, especially in the battlefield. this motto of festina lente – or ‘make haste slowly’ – found representation on many of Augustus’ coins, for example in showing the crab next to the butterfly.
The three coins before us (courtesy of the National Maritime Museum) belong to two of the Flavian emperors, Titus (79-81 CE) and Domitian (81-96 CE), and the representation on their reverse of a dolphin and anchor has been read differently by scholars, suggesting, for example, that it was meant as praise for the God of the sea, Neptune, perhaps in order to appease him after the eruption of the Vesuvius in 79 CE.
Antique sources supply no link between the motto of festina lente and the dolphin and anchor combination. Only during the Renaissance, when imitation of the classical age often involved creative improvement upon it, the learned humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) suggested to join the text and the image. In his Adagia he tells us about the famous scholar and printer of Venice, Aldo Manuzio (Manutius), who had received the Flavian coin from one of his patrons and adopted it as his printer’s device. The title page displayed here (courtesy of the National Library, Jerusalem) one of the many classical texts which came off the Aldine press, is Pliny the Elder’s Natural History (1535). This particular edition was printed by Aldus’s heirs. Other printers (and families and institutions) had followed Aldus and also used the Dolphin and Anchor as their mark. The Haifa Center for Mediterranean History chose it too, both for its maritime imagery and for the historical arc it delineates between Mediterranean cultures.
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