What does House Greyjoy's motto, "We Do Not Sow", mean?
What does the motto of House Greyjoy, "We Do Not Sow", in the TV series Game of Thrones mean? It seems to be missing a noun, to me. Is it something like, we do not sow discord? Or we do not sow, we reap the whirlwind?
The Greyjoys (and all Ironmen) ONLY reap.
Like many of the house mottoes in the series it can carry multiple meanings. One more literal meaning could refer to the fact that the Iron Islands, the area ruled by House Greyjoy, are sparse and rocky, and the thin soil makes it hard to plow and grow any crops. Another literal interpretation could refer to the fact that the majority of the ironborn are seafarers and survive by raiding and pillaging. They "do not sow" - they only reap.
Ok, forget the biblical quote, for someone to reap, someone must sow but it doesn't have to be the same someone.
The Words of house Grejoy aren't in fact missing a noun. The Greyjoys, and all of the Iron Islands, are seafarers who've traditionally survived by plundering all along the shores of Westeros. They take joy and pride in their strength and ruthlessness, which is why they only wear jewelry they've won in battle (they don't buy such things).
The words, "We do not sow" are at once a very literal reminder to all who hear them that the Greyjoys are not farmers (like the rest of Westeros. Keep in mind most of Westeros' population are agriculturalists or traders) whom they disdain and they show contempt for those farmers.
Obviously the phrase could be changed to "we do not sow crops" without really changing the meaning too much, although it would change the tone. The word "sow" itself when used alone generally implies sowing some sort of crop so it's not really necessarily.
Probably the only thing that the Greyjoys have ever sown is discord, and as I said, I'm pretty sure that wasn't the kind of sowing they were talking about.
Another interpretation here: If you look back into history and our own middle ages, to sow had connotations of servitude, as those who would sow were the lowliest peasants, locked into servitude to every other social class. In this regard, "We Do Not Sow" is a satement of defiance meaning "we bow to no man". It's the words that make the Greyjoy sigil my favourite in the whole world of 'Ice and Fire' even though the family themselves are less than likeable.
I personally believe that the House motto literally means that "they do not sow", sowing commonly referred to as the task of planting seeds in a field, this most often being a job for a slave or a commoner acting under the whim of their lord.
This being said it implies that House Greyjoy will never succumb to such arduous tasks, and were in fact born to rule and not to serve under someone else. In essence it means that they will not serve as a commoner and will risk their very lives to rule and not serve.
The problem with this interpretation is that it also applies to all other noble houses of Westeros; it's not unique to House Greyjoy. No nobleman "sows"; all "reap" from their slaves or commoners. Contrast this with the accepted answer's meaning: that Ironmen do not produce anything valuable, but instead take by force what others produce.
The sermon on the mount - "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" Matthew 6:26, may be relevant.
Ok, but how does this relate to House Greyjoy?
@Gilles, it illustrates that sowing usually goes with reaping. If you only reap, you're necessarily reaping what someone else has sown.
@Iceman: I don't get the connection between your commend and obscuredavid's answer. You don't need a biblical quote to show how sowing and reaping are related. What I'm asking is what this has to do with the question at hand, namely the meaning of House Greyjoy's motto.
@Gilles, I agree that it's tangential to the question, but if it's obvious to everyone without any other references that sowing and reaping are closely related, I don't think this question would have been asked in the first place.