The Hope and Anchor


The parents of two of our pupils keep, beautifully, a pub called this in one of the surrounding villages. Occasionally someone asks about the name—shared by other inns up and down the country. So what is the connection of hope and anchor?

Charm bracelets will usually include a tiny gold anchor, as a symbol of hope; and the first edition of Edmund Spenser’s The Faërie Queene has on its title page the printer’s device:anchora-spei-reducedThis inscription was in Spenser’s mind at the end of Januarye in The Shepheardes Calender, where he puns on the word áncora and gives as Colin’s emblem ancóra speme, which in Italian means ‘still hope’: ancóra (French encore) is supposed by philologists to derive from hanc horam.

Meanwhile it could be tempting to think that the anchor as a symbol of hope is one of those attractive conceits of Renaissance literature.

It is not. It seems to originate with St Paul, who talks about the hope that is offered to a Christian , ἣν ὣς ἄγκυραν ἔχομεν τῆς ψυχῆς, ἀσφαλῆ τε καὶ βεβαίαν… ‘which we have like an anchor of the soul, secure and firm…’ (Hebrews 6.19)

What mental picture did Paul have of an anchor? There are plenty of clues, not least in Virgil, for example at the beginning of Book Six:

Sic fatur lacrimans, classique immittit habenas
et tandem Euboicis Cumarum adlabitur oris.
obvertunt pelago proras; tum dente tenaci
ancora fundabat navis
et litora curvae
praetexunt puppes.                            VI.1-5

Even more conclusive are the first century inscriptions to be found in the catacombs, the first from the tomb of Priscilla, the second from the tomb of Atimetus.



But there are enough references in Greek literature and epigraphy to suggest that anchors had looked like this from prehistoric times. It is possible that any Phoenician contemporary of Homer, transported in time to a factory in Worcestershire which was making giant anchors in 1900 would have known instantly what they were, while marvelling at their size.

Next post: The inevitability of metaphor.


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