The Cask of Amontillado Questions and Answers
by Edgar Allan Poe

The Cask of Amontillado book cover
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Discuss Montresor's family coat-of-arms and motto in The Cask of Amontillado.

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It seems likely that Montresor doesn't even have a coat of arms or a family motto--and that Fortunato knows it! This may be an example of the thousand injuries Montresor has suffered at Fortunato's hands. Fortunato is being disingenuous. Montresor reacts by inventing just the kind of coat of arms and motto he would like to have. The coat of arms is bizarre. Fortunato should understand that, if he were not drunk. He probably doesn't understand the motto either, because it is in Latin and Montresor knows Fortunato is not well educated.

Fortunato asks his questions in the cunning expectation of hurting Montresor's feelings by forcing him to admit that he doesn't have a coat of arms or a family motto because he is not upper class but a commoner and a johnny-come-lately to Italy. Montresor describes his coat of arms as:

“A huge human foot d'or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel.”

“And the motto?”

“Nemo me impune lacessit.”

“Good!” he said.

Both the coat of arms and the family motto are all too appropriate. The idea of a "huge human foot in gold" on a shield is comical, like something that might have been created by Pablo Picasso or Salvador Dali. Fortunato thinks he is kidding Montresor. But he is too drunk to understand that Montresor is kidding him. He probably doesn't understand the implicit threat in the motto because he doesn't know Latin, but he pretends to understand when he says "Good!" and quickly drops the subject. 

This discussion of the coat of arms and family motto is a good illustration of the relationship between these two men. Fortunato is socially superior and treats Montresor with veiled discourtesy. Montresor puts up with Fortunato's little "digs" and snubs because he benefits financially from their "friendship." Fortunato is rich and Montresor is poor. Montresor is retaliating on Fortunato in this underground scene because he is through with the man and knows he is as good as dead.

Poe invents all this conversation because the men have to talk about something, and he doesn't want them talking about the Amontillado. Fortunato knows a great deal more about Amontillado than Montresor, and he could easily become suspicious and alarmed. The only reason that Fortunato doesn't ask a lot of questions about the wine is that he doesn't want to show a great interest in Montresor's "bargain." But he intends to trick Montresor. He would certainly tell him it was only ordinary sherry--then go to find the ship that brought it in and buy up the whole cargo for himself. That is, assuming the wine really existed and were really genuine Amontillado. Montresor has learned from some of his previous "thousand injuries" that Fortunato is not to be trusted.

 

 

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