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Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.

NUMBER: 1867
AUTHOR: Virgil (70–19 B.C.)
QUOTATION: It manus in gyrum; paullatim singula vires
Deperdunt proprias; color est E pluribus unus.

Spins round the stirring hand; lose by degrees
Their separate powers the parts, and comes at last
From many several colors one that rules.
ATTRIBUTION: VIRGIL, “Moretum,” lines 103–4, The Works of Virgil, trans. into English verse by John Augustine Wilstach, vol. 1, p. 123 (1884).

Moretum literally means garden herbs. From Virgil’s minor poems, this is a tribute “to common things and plebian associations. The lines are laudatory of early habits and rustic poverty. They close with a description of the ingredients and mode of preparation of a salad composed of garlic, parsley, rue, and onions, seasoned with cheese, salt, coriander, and vinegar, and finally sprinkled with oil.

“The poem is a brief one, of uncertain, but probably early date. But, brief as it is, and insignificant as it seems to be, certain of its words formulate the talisman of our National Government.

“So that we may say, with probable truth, that, in describing an Italian salad, a frugal shepherd of the Roman Republic dictated that motto [E pluribus unum] which has served as the symbol of union for States in a hemisphere then unknown, for a Republic which uses, with enthusiasm, even the language of that illustrious government to which it is indebted, under so many forms, for safe precedents and wise examples” (p. 124).