March 18, 2011
Discussion of the ANU Motto and its meaning
Part 1 - Essay
The Australian National University's (ANU) motto carries inherent profound roots and meaning. Since the institution's inception in 1946, the Latin phrase "Naturam Primum Cognoscere Rerum" has assumed a place within the university's crest. This phrase has fascinating origins, tracing back to ancient Roman times. Although the ANU has determined its translation to English to be "First to know the nature of things", an array of differing distinct interpretations, and indeed, meanings, exist.
The provenance of ANU's motto can be traced to the poem 'De Rerum Natura (III, 1072)' or 'On the Nature of Things', written by Lucretius, Roman poet, philosopher and scientist. This epic work was written to explain Epicurean philosophy to a Roman audience, consisting of six books; the phrase "Naturam Primum Cognoscere Rerum", translated by Cyril Bailey in 1946 to "First to know the nature of things", being taken from the third.
This book demonstrates that "the vital and intellectual principles, are as much a part of us as are our limbs and members, but like those limbs and members have no distinct and independent existence, and that hence soul and body live and perish together" (Ramsay, 1867, pp.829-30), effectively presenting the issues of the mind and body. At the university's beginnings it was an institution predominantly focussing on research, being the country's only full-time research university and founded around four initial research institutes, consisting of physics, medicine, social sciences and Pacific studies (Australian National University 2010). The phrase "First to know the nature of things" was likely chosen to represent the university to capture its spirit and purpose. Whilst this was the situation when the ANU was first formed,