Way back in our very first column we promised that, at some future date, we would explore the obscure origins of our commonwealth’s dominatrix-themed flag (which features, as we so amusingly put it, “a half-naked virgin stomping on a chain-wielding dead guy”). Three years and three months later, it looks like that time has finally come.
Virginia’s tenth attorney general designed the Virginia seal in 1776; the current AG simply made it a bit more modest.
As with so many things these days, the impetus for this Odd history lesson is yet another absurd incident involving Virginia’s hyperactive attorney general Ken “Energizer Bunny” Cuccinelli. But before we delve into the Cooch’s latest headline-grabbing antics, let’s review what we know about the Old Dominion’s beloved, if perplexing, banner.
It all started in 1776, when Virginia attorney general* (and primary signatory to the Declaration of Independence) George Wythe was tasked with creating a seal for the burgeoning colony. Inspired by Roman mythology (and perhaps one too many pints of Sam Adams’ delicious brew), Wythe’s committee eventually settled on a two-sided design. The rarely seen reverse features the goddesses of individual liberties, agriculture and immortality, along with the hopeful motto “Perservando” (“Persevering”).
The now-familiar front shows Virtus, the Roman goddess of bravery and strength, standing triumphantly over a vanquished foe, whose limp chain, useless scourge and dislodged crown show just how emphatically his ass has been kicked. In case the image proved too subtle, Brutus’ killing words to Julius Caesar, “Sic semper tyrannis” (“Thus always to tyrants”) are helpfully inscribed across the bottom.
What many people don’t realize is that this seal didn’t actually grace an official flag for another 85 years. It wasn’t until 1861, when Virginia seceded from the Union, that an ordinance was finally passed designating a bona fide “Flag of the Commonwealth.” During the Civil War, however, a few small changes were made to the iconic seal. Most notably, the Virtus emblazoned on the official battle flag is wearing a breastplate, thereby covering up her hitherto exposed left booby, and the tyrant beneath her feet is creepily still alive, twisting his head to look up at the (surprisingly butch) goddess’ bent knee.
So what does all of this have to do with Ken Cuccinelli? Well, our illustrious AG recently made headlines for distributing pins to his staff featuring a fully clothed version of Virginia’s normally half-naked warrior nymph. Many jokes ensued involving Cuccinelli’s apparent prudery (prompting him to issue a press release defending the “more modest” version of the seal). But the real issue with Cuccinelli’s keepsake is not the nudity, but the provenance. Viewed side-by-side, there can be little doubt that the image on the pins is the exact one used by Virginia’s Confederate troops during the Civil War.
Sure, it’s just one little thing, but come on! You’d think that after his boss’ recent “Confederate History Month” missteps, the last thing Cuccinelli would want is to get caught passing out Virginia’s version of the Confederate flag to his taxpayer-supported staff.
Then again, this is the Cooch we’re talking about. Considering his ongoing harassment campaigns against state universities, climate scientists, and every federal agency he can find, we really shouldn’t be surprised. Next thing you know, he’ll be driving a replica of the General Lee through the streets of Richmond, throwing handfuls of subpoenas out the window and shouting “The South will rise again!” at the top of his lungs. Sic semper tyrannis, indeed.
*Wythe was previously identified as the first Attorney General of Virginia. In fact, he was the tenth—Peter Jenings was the colony’s first AG, appointed by King Charles I.