Justice as a Sign of the Law: Alciati’'s Emblemata

Michael Widener

Alciati, Andrea. Opera omnia (4 vols.; Basel: Thomas Guarinus, 1582), vol. 4. Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Where might Ripa have gotten the blindfold? One possible source is Andrea Alciati, a professor of law. His friend Erasmus called Alciati a “shining light of Learning, not only the Law.” Alciati’s 1531 treatise, Emblemata, an anthology of moralizing epigrams to which his publisher added illustrations, was reproduced in some 150 editions. One of the “emblems” (a term he coined) is titled “The good Prince in his Council.” The central figure is wearing a bandage obscuring part or all of his eyes, and his colleagues lack hands. The accompanying epigram reads:

These men without hands who are seated are those by whom justice is administered. They should have well-balanced sense; nothing is received from them in response to a bribe. Their prince, deprived of his sight, cannot see anybody, and he judges by due sentence according to what is said in his ear.

Both Ripa and Alciati likely knew the “Egyptian” allegory “transmitted by Plutarch and Diodorus Sicilus in which the chief justice was shown eyeless in order to illustrate his impartiality, while his colleagues had no hands with which to take bribes.”

“The Remarkable Run of a Political Icon: Justice as a Sign of the Law” is curated by Judith Resnik, Dennis Curtis, Allison Tait, and Mike Widener, and is on display Sept. 19-Dec. 16, 2011, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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