illustration of Fortunato standing in motley behind a mostly completed brick wall with a skull superimposed on the wall where his face should be

The Cask of Amontillado

by Edgar Allan Poe

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What does the Montresor family's coat of arms symbolize in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

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In "The Cask of Amontillado", the Montresor family's coat of arms is described as a golden human foot crushing a serpent, with the motto "Nemo me impune lacessit" - "No one provokes me with impunity." This may be an invented lie by Montresor, serving to emphasize his thirst for revenge. The coat of arms and motto may also reflect the Montresor family's arrogance and perceived godhood, viewing any insult as an attack against their divine authority, warranting severe punishment.

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In "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe, the narrator lies to Fortunato repeatedly from the time he encounters him on the street until the time he shackles him to the wall. There is no reason to believe that he is telling the truth when Fortunato asks about his coat of arms and he describes it as

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

The coat of arms seems too appropriate. It also seems terribly bizarre. Montresor is feeling jubilant now that he has succeeded in solving his greatest problem, which was to lure Fortunato down into his vaults without being recognized by anyone. Montresor has a rapier concealed under his roquelaire, while his victim is unarmed and grossly inebriated. Montresor can kill him any time he wants to, so he is acting in a zany fashion, partly induced by the wine he has consumed. He claims to be a Mason and shows Fortunato the trowel with which he intends to wall him up.

It may be that Montresor doesn't even have a coat of arms. Fortunato may be adding another injury to the thousand he has already inflicted when he says:

"I forget your arms."

If they have supposedly been friends for a long time, Fortunato ought to know more about Montresor's family. (This strongly suggests that they are both business associates but not really personal friends. Both deal in luxury goods such as oil paintings, antiques, gemmary, and old gourmet wines. Venice is a decaying city where aristocratic families are sometimes forced to sell off possessions in order to survive.) This is the very first time Fortunato has been to Montresor's palazzo, which is significant. Montresor may never have been invited to Fortunato's palazzo, or may have only been there on one or two occasions. Fortunato looks down on Montresor, a Frenchman, a relative johnny-come-lately to Italy. When he inquires about a coat of arms he may be thinking of forcing Montresor to confess that his family is bourgeois and never possessed one.

When Montresor describes his flamboyant and probably imaginary coat of arms, Fortunato, still hoping to catch him in a falsehood, asks:

"And the motto?"

Montresor may be inventing a motto to fit his imaginary coat of arms when he replies:

"Nemo me impune lacessit."

There is a good possibility that Fortunato does not even understand Latin and an equally good possibility that Montresor knows he doesn't. Fortunato merely says, "Good!" This is especially ironic, since Montresor is warning him he is in grave danger.

Whenever this famous story appears in an anthology, the editor usually takes pains to offer an English translation of the motto; but Poe (characteristically) does the reader the courtesy of assuming he or she can understand the Latin without help. We all know that "nemo" means "nobody" and that "me" must mean "me." The Latin "impune" is obviously close to the English "impunity," and "lacessit" suggests English words like "lacerate." So it isn't hard even for a non-Latinist to figure out that the motto is saying something like "Nobody injures me and gets away with it."

Fortunato's questions about the coat of arms and family motto suggest that he is in the habit of injuring Montresor by reminding him in various subtle ways of the differences in their family backgrounds, social status, and material possessions; while Montresor's deliberate lies suggest that he is looking forward to his final revenge.

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The coat of arms is described as depicting a ”huge human foot d’or, in a field of azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel," an image underscored with the inscription of the family motto, "nemo me impune lacessit," which means no one provokes me with impunity. This depiction is obviously a biblical allusion to Genesis 3:15: “he will crush your head and you will strike his heel,” wherein the "he" refers to Christ, and the "you" refers to the serpent, which is a symbol for Satan.

In light of this allusion, the fact that the family depicts itself as the foot crushing the head of the serpent means more than the written inscription of the motto. Not only will the Montessors punish anyone whom they feel harms them, they administer that punishment with a sense of authority. In their eyes, they are equated with Christ (the foot), or GOD, and anyone who dares to strike against them is the serpent, and is therefore evil and worthy of nothing more than total anihilation. They are justly crushed underfoot. It is this arrogance that leads Montressor to murder, which seems to the reader an extreme punishment for an insult. Montressor sees the insult as more than mere words. He sees it as an attack against God, since he feels that his family is equal to God. The proof of this godhood is held in his family crest.

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The coat of arms is "A huge human foot d'or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel."

It symbolizes how totally the family will revenge itself on those it sees as lower, as having injured or betrayed it, or those who are evil. In Fortunato's case, all of these apply (at least in the eyes of Montresor).

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what is the significance of Montresor's family coat of arms and motto?

Montresor has not been telling Fortunato the truth since he encountered him on the streets and told him he had just bought a cask of Amontillado at a bargain price. Why should the reader believe that the coat of arms Montresor describes to Fortunato is genuine? Why should the reader believe that the motto Montresor describes is genuine? Montresor may enjoy deceiving Fortunato and at the same time hinting that he is going to murder him in revenge for past injuries. Montresor quotes the motto in Latin. Fortunato probably does not even understand Latin. Evidently they have known each other for a long time. The fact that Fortunato inquires about Montresor's coat of arms at this late date suggests that he either holds him in low esteem or else that he knows Montresor has no coat of arms and that in either case this is a subtle insult, a social snub. A comparable insult might be for an Englishman to ask an acquaintance, "Did you go to Eton or to Harrow?" when he knows full well the acquaintance went to some obscure school in a poor part of London.

The reader should not take it for granted that Montresor is seeking revenge in part because he comes from a proud and noble family. He may be filled with hatred just because he does not come from a proud and noble family. The fact that he has a palazzo means nothing. Venice is in decline and few people want the expense of maintaining the crumbling palazzi. Montresor could be renting the place just for show. The bones in the catacombs below the mansion may belong to someone else's ancestors, and he may be prevented from removing them by terms of his lease or by local laws or for some other reason.

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what is the significance of Montresor's family coat of arms and motto?

The coat of arms gives us a reason to understand why Montressor is so unforgiving in getting revenge from Fortunato. The picture on the coat of arms is one of a golden foot crushing a snake which has its fangs imbedded in the heal of the foot. The motto of the Montressors is "“Nemo me impune lacessit.”. In English this means no one punishes me and gets away with it. Fortunato had evidently insulted Montresor's name at some point. Just as his family coat of arms says, no one will punish or insult him and get away with it. The picture reinforces that image. A human foot is crushing a snake that has just bitten the foot. Evidentally, Montresor considers Fortunato to be the snake, and Montresor is the foot that is soon to crush and kill him.

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What message is the author sending the audience through the imagery of Montresor's coat of arms in "The Cask of Amontillado"? What does it symbolize?

The Montresor coat of arms has a golden human foot on a sky blue background; the foot is stepping on a serpent rampant which is turning and biting into the heel of the foot even while the snake is being crushed by it. Montresor explains that his motto is "'Nemo me impune lacessit,'" which is Latin for No one harms me with impunity; the word impunity means without punishment. This motto makes sense with the arms image itself because the image shows a snake being stepped on while it simultaneously turns back to bite the foot that is trampling it. The snake does not allow the foot to injure the snake with impunity; the snake punishes the foot (and the person attached to it) for harming it by biting the foot.

This seems to indicate that the Montresors are a proud family, and one cannot injure a Montresor without expecting some kind of terrible retribution, some inevitable payback or revenge. If we weren't already sure, this is one way that Poe lets us know that Montresor means to do irreparable harm to his enemy Fortunato. The arms symbolizes his proud need to repay Fortunato for the supposed injuries and insults Fortunato has offered him. This could also be why the Montresor family was, in the past tense, "a great and numerous family." Perhaps they have made too many enemies!

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Discuss the Montresor coat of arms and its symbolic meaning in "The Cask of Amontillado."

In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” Montresor discusses his family’s coat of arms. He describes the family crest as a large, human foot stepping on a snake against the backdrop of a blue field. The snake’s fangs are stuck in the heel of the foot.

Snakes have long been considered a symbol of betrayal, due largely to the role of the deceptive serpent in the book of Genesis. Montresor believes that Fortunato has wronged him, so we can assume that the snake represents Fortunato in Montresor’s view.

Montresor tells us that he cannot allow Fortunato’s insults and injuries to go unanswered. He is a proud man and his family motto, which means “No one provokes me with impunity,” suggests that the Montresors are a proud family and do not take kindly to insults. We can conclude that the foot in the Montresor coat of arms represents Montresor. He sees his revenge against Fortunato as the foot crushing the serpent.

It is ironic that Montresor believes Fortunato to be the deceptive snake when it is he himself who is being sneaky and deceptive by luring an intoxicated Fortunato to his death.

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Montresor refers to a coat of arms. What is a coat of arms?  What is the significance of the coat of arms in the story "The Cask of Amontillado"?

The coat of arms that Montresor describes is so bizarre that it could be entirely imaginary. It is a huge golden human foot crushing a snake. It is also almost too appropriate for the occasion. The motto is also almost too appropriate. It may be that Montresor does not have a coat of arms or a motto at all. And it may be that Fortunato is being malicious when he says, "I forget your coat of arms." Fortunato may know perfectly well that Montresor does not descend from a noble line. Montresor is not committing this murder because of his ancestors or their motto. To suppose this is to negate the validity of the "thousand injuries" that Montresor mentions at the beginning of the tale. He may be describing a coat of arms and motto he would like to have. Poe gives many indications that Montresor is not Italian but French, meaning that he does not have deep roots in Italy like Fortunato. In the third paragraph of the story, where Montresor writes disparagingly of Italians, this is clear evidence that he is not Italian himself. This makes him seem like an outsider to older Italian families, and it is a social handicap as well as a handicap in his business dealings.

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Montresor refers to a coat of arms. What is a coat of arms?  What is the significance of the coat of arms in the story "The Cask of Amontillado"?

A coat of arms is a symbolic representation of the person's family lineage and heritage. It is a source of tremendous pride and respect for those who have a coat of arms. Usually, richer, more affluent classes boast a coat of arms. In the early days, a coat of arms was the insignia drawn on the sheilds of the knights as they marched into battle. Montressor says it is:

“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.”  

(No one insults me with impunity.)

Montressor's coat of arms is of a golden, impervious foot stamping on and crushing a serpent who is trying to sink its fangs into it. It is implying that yes, you may "sting me," but I will crush you.

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

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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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what do the images and motto on the Montresor coat of arms suggest?

The reader should not assume that the coat of arms Montresor describes is anything but Montresor's spontaneous invention. He hasn't been telling Fortunato the truth up to this point; why should he be telling him the truth now? Montresor has been acting in a zany fashion since he got his victim down the stairs. He has had a drink of wine and is vastly relieved that the worst part of his task is over. He pretends to be a Mason and shows Fortunato the trowel with which he intends to wall him up. Montresor may not even have a family coat of arms. Fortunato may suspect that and is just being disingenuous when he inquires. Most of the "thousand injuries" have probably been the spiteful jibes of a rich Italian insider reminding a poor French outsider of his inferior status. Montresor may be inventing the kind of coat of arms he would like to have--a huge foot crushing a snake. The Latin motto is probably an invention too, since it is so appropriate. Montresor probably knows that his intended victim is an ignoramus who doesn't even understand Latin and therefore can't sense that he is being subtly threatened with murder.

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what do the images and motto on the Montresor coat of arms suggest?

Poe's story, "The Cask of Amontillado" is full of foreshadowing and symbols.  The coat of arms of Montresor, the aggressor in the story, is no exception.

When he mentions the coat of arms, the description is that of a golden foot crushing a snake whose fangs are embedded in the foot's heel.  The motto, 'Nemo me impue lacessit' means "No one strikes me with impunity."

This motto and the images in the family's shield suggest that Fortunato is not going to be fortunate at all...rather, the opposite.  Obviously, from the speeches Montresor delivers, he feels as though Fortunato has struck him with impunity.  Fortunato, then, is the snake who has bitten Montresor's foot.  Montresor intends to crush the snake one and for all, and by the end of the story, the reader and Fortunato realize he has done just that.  By bricking him into a wall far away from where anyone will be able to hear his distress calls seals his fate (no pun intended) to become like the skeletons they encounter in the cellar. 

Gold--the color of the foot--has long suggested fortune, wealth, good luck.  Snakes have just as often symbolized an evil or forboding source...take the snake who beguiles Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, or the snakes in Harry Potter (symbol of the Slytherin House, the actual snake in one of the books), for that matter, as examples.

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