A Word about a Quotation in my Signature
by, 14th May 2010 at 06:40 AM (4297 Views)
The second quote in my signature says, "Let justice be done even if the sky should fall" (Fiat iustitia ruat caelum).
There are other versions of this saying:
Fiat justitia et ruant caeli, or Fiat justitia et caelum ruat, which mean very close to the same thing.
The version in my sig is the motto of the State Supreme Courts of Georgia and Tennessee. Also, it was cited by Lord Chief Justice William Murray, Earl of Manchester, in a legal precedent which abolished slavery in England in 1772.
The saying is variously attributed to different ancient figures.
The Roman Stoic philosopher and playwright Seneca, in De Ira (On Anger, Bk.I, Chap. XVIII), tells a cautionary tale about the Roman governor Gnaeus Piso, who in anger, had condemned a soldier to death because he had returned from a leave without his comrade, and cited this as proof that he had killed the comrade. As the execution was about to be carried out, the comrade appeared, and the centurion overseeing the death sentence stopped the execution and reported to the governor. Piso flew into a rage and ordered all three soldiers to be executed: the first because he had already been condemned; the centurion, for disobeying the order of execution; and the returning comrade, for causing the deaths of two men. Some sources have cited Fiat iustitia ruat caelum as appearing in this account, but it is not in the text.
Another attribution, to the consul Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, may be equally spurious, and may merely be the result of his having the name Piso in common with the governor in Seneca's account.
Another, related saying, Fiat justitia et pereat mundus, was the maxim of The Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1503—1564), and roughly translated is "Let justice be done though the world perish."
I like the original saying and included it in my sig for its meaning, and don't much care who first said it, as long as it wasn't in the context of Seneca's story. There it seems rather lugubrious and thoroughly unappealing. I prefer to read it as a defense of the underdog, rather in the way Lord Mansfield used it to strike down the institution of slavery.
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