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Eagle

(in royal banners). It was the ensign of the ancient kings of Babylon and Persia, of the Ptolemies and Seleucides. The Romans adopted it in conjunction with other devices, but Marius made it the ensign of the legion, and confined the other devices to the cohorts. The French under the Empire assumed the same device.

Eagle

(in Christian art) is emblematic of St. John the Evangelist, because, like the eagle, he looked on “the sun of glory”; the eagle was one of the four figures which made up the cherub (Ezek. i. 10).

Eagle

(in funerals). The Romans used to let an eagle fly from the funeral pile of a deceased emperor. Dryden alludes to this custom in his stanzas on Oliver Cromwell after his funeral, when he says, “Officious haste did let too soon the sacred eagle fly.”

Eagle

(in heraldry) signifies fortitude.

Eagle

(for lecterns in churches). The eagle is the natural enemy of the serpent. The two Testaments are the two outspread wings of the eagle.

Pliny in his Natural History (book x. chap. 3) enumerates six kinds of eagles: (1) Melænactos, (2) Pygargus, (3) Morphnos, which Homer (Iliad, xxiv. 316) calls perknos, (4) Percnopterus, (5) Gnesios, the royal eagle, and (6) Haliæetos, the osprey.

Eagle

(in phrases).

Thy youth is renewed like the eagle's
(Ps. ciii. 5). This refers to the superstition feigned by poets that every ten years the eagle soars into the “fiery region,” and plunges thence into the sea, where, moulting its feathers, it acquires new life.

She saw where he upstarted brave
Out of the well. ...
As eagle fresh out of the ocean wave,
Where he hath lefte his plumes all hory gray,
And decks himself with fethers youthly gay.

Spenser: Faërie Queene, i. ll, 34.

Eagle

a public-house sign, is in honour of Queen Mary, whose badge it was. She put it on the dexter side of the shield, and the sun on the sinister—a conjugal compliment which gave great offence to her subjects.

The Golden Eagle
and the Spread Eagle are commemorative of the crusades; they were the devices of the emperors of the East.

Eagle

The spread eagle. A device of the old Roman or Eastern Empire, brought over by the crusaders.

Eagle of the doctors of France.
Pierre d'Ailly, a French cardinal and great astrologer, who calculated the horoscope of our Lord, and maintained that the stars foretold the great deluge. (1350-1425.)

Eagle of Brittany.
Bertrand Duguesclin, Constable of France. (1320-1380.) Eagle of Meaux [mo]. Jacques Bénigne Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux, the grandest and most sublime of the pulpit orators of France. (1627-1704.)

Eagle

The two-headed eagle. Austria, Prussia (representing Germany), and Russia have two-headed eagles, one facing to the right and the other to the left. The one facing to the west indicates direct succession from Charlemagne, crowned the sixty-ninth emperor of the Romans from Augustus. In Russia it was Ivan Basilovitz who first assumed the two-headed eagle, when, in 1472, he married Sophia, daughter of Thomas Palæologus, and niece of Constantine XIV., the last Emperor of Byzantium. The two heads symbolise the Eastern or Byzantine Empire and the Western or Roman Empire.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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