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09:55 Sep 1, 2000
Latin to English translations [Non-PRO] Art/Literary
Explanation: The two previous entries are indeed correct. The most common complete form of the motto is "Malo mori quam foedari" (I prefer to die rather than to be dishonoured; death before dishonour). The second verb, foedo means literally "to sully" or "to foul", but metaphorically it came to mean "to disgrace/ to dishonour" in Classical Latin. The motto also sometimes appears as "Potius mori quam foedari" (Better to die than to be dishonoured). Its origins, as far as I can tell, date to the Order of the Ermine, a chivalric order (Lyons Club for knights) founded in Brittany in the 14th century. The punning use of foedari refers to the idea that the ermine would sooner die than have its fine fur dirtied. Here is an article in English about the order from Wikipedia, as well as the French Wikipedia article, which explains the motto.
It can also be found on one of the most famous paintings by Vittore Carpaccio, a fifteenth-century Venetian. His portrait of an anonymous knight, housed at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, has a small cartellino at the bottom left with the motto, and, below it, a small ermine. You can see a detailed image of the painting here: