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A. Bill and paintbrush graphicYou have chosen Time Warp: ART! A. Bill has traveled back in time to explore the rich heritage of the symbols in the Capitol Complex. These symbols represent concepts like unity, authority, and protection -- concepts reflected in the United States and its laws.

Symbols in the House
cornucopia imageCornucopia – The cornucopia, or horn of plenty, originated in Greek mythology. Zeus, leader of the Greek gods and goddesses, was sent as a baby by his mother to the island of Crete to protect him from his father, who planned to eat him! On Crete, a divine goat named Amaltheia cared for Zeus. When Amaltheia broke a horn, Zeus filled it with the fruits of the harvest as an act of gratitude. The cornucopia thus became a symbol of abundance and the fulfillment of needs.

laurel weath imageLaurel Wreath - The ancient Greeks used laurel wreaths on special occasions and in important ceremonies. Later, wreaths were awarded to the winners of sporting events and symbolized military victory. Laurel was also a symbol associated with poetic talent and was eventually used to recognize achievement in the arts and literature. The ancient Romans used laurel to reward military service and heroism. In martial parades, victorious generals were crowned with a laurel wreath.

mace imageMace
- A mace is a long staff topped with an ornament that illustrates an institution's purpose. The House mace, which symbolizes the authority of the Sergeant at Arms, has a staff of ebony rods bound by a silver ribbon and is topped by an eagle on a globe. The Sergeant at Arms holds the mace up before unruly Members or carries it down the aisles of the House chamber to subdue disorderly conduct. In the Middle Ages, the mace was used as a weapon by kings' bodyguards. Now ceremonial, the mace is often used by governmental bodies and universities.

fasces imageFasces
– The fasces can be seen on both sides of the U.S. flag in the House chamber and in many other locations throughout the Capitol complex. The fasces were first used in ancient Rome, to symbolize the authority of the Roman people. The bundle of rods tied together represents the strength of a united republic; whereas one rod by itself is easily broken, many rods bound together are strong. The ax in the middle of the fasces symbolizes military might and the power to discipline lawbreakers.

eagle image Eagle
- Congress declared the bald eagle the national bird of the United States on June 20, 1782. Many applauded this decision, since the bald eagle is native to the United States and was said to symbolize grace, majesty, and power. Not everyone agreed, however. Benjamin Franklin viewed the bald eagle as an opportunistic bird of prey, noting that it feeds off carrion and steals fish from other birds. Unlike statesmen John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, Franklin thought the wild turkey “a much more respectable bird.” The bald eagle appears on many U.S. emblems, including the national and presidential seals. The seal of the United States originally depicted an eagle with outspread wings, its talons holding an olive branch and arrows. A scroll reads E pluribus unum, or “Out of many, one.” This insignia, changed only slightly, still appears on the U.S. seal and on U.S. currency and coins.

flag imageU.S. Flag
– In early American flags, thirteen stripes and thirteen stars represented the thirteen original colonies. Throughout the 1800s, the flag changed as America grew. Adding stripes for new states became impractical, so in 1818 Congress set the number of stripes at thirteen, and new stars were added for additional states. By 1912 there were forty-eight stars. The flag we know today, with thirteen stripes and fifty stars, was first raised on July 4, 1960, at Fort McHenry.

lawgivers imageLawgivers
– Mounted over the gallery doors in the House chamber are twenty-three bas-relief sculptures called the Lawgivers. These marble portraits depict historic figures influential in establishing the principles of American law. The eleven figures in the eastern half of the chamber face left, and the eleven figures in the western half of the chamber face right, so that all the figures face the full-face relief of Moses in the center of the north wall of the gallery. The figures include Hammurabi, who reigned from about 1792 to 1750 B.C. and wrote one of the earliest surviving legal codes; Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), a Dutch statesman who wrote the first treatise on international law; George Mason (1726-1792), who drafted Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, on which the Bill of Rights is based; and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who wrote the Declaration of Independence. Mason and Jefferson are the only Americans among the lawgivers.
Courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol

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