One for the Lawyers (Mmm… Marginalia #8)

This one goes out to all the law students, lawyers, paralegals, and other assorted legal professionals who read this blog. I know that you come here for diversion because the reading you’re forced to do for work and school is ungodly amounts of boring. You should, however, consider yourselves lucky. Medieval law books are just as eyeball-numbingly tedious, and just think, many medieval law students had to copy their textbooks out by hand.

Take this passage from the Codex Iustinianus, for instance:**

4.27.1. Emperors Diocletian and Maximian to Marcellus.
It is undoubted law that, excepting possession, nothing can be acquired through a free person not subjected to another’s power.
1. If a procurator, therefore, entered into a pact, to which a stipulation was added, whereby it was agreed that not he, but the person whose business he managed, should have the right to have the property restored to him, no obligation accrued in favor of the master.

Eyeballs numb yet? Tsk, tsk. We haven’t even gotten to the commentary!

So what could an enterprising scribe do to liven this up? A few marginal monkeys playing at procurator and slave, perhaps? Well, whoever commissioned the Bodleian’s MS Canon. Misc. 495, a copy of Justinian with the marginal gloss by Accursius, had other ideas, as you can see below:


That is exactly what it looks like: the initial I** of Imperator decorated with a woman holding a giant erect amicus curiae. And while there’s something fitting about illustrating the laws of possession in such a manner, the scribe didn’t limit himself to just the one onus probandi. Witness these, as well, from various places in the MS:


If anything, that first obiter dictum is the least weird member of the set, eh?

*Translation taken from the University of Wyoming’s excellent resource.
**And so really this is an Mmm… Initial Capitals rather than a true Mmm… Marginalia, but don’t be too pedantic, because the interesting part of the capital is still out in the margin.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Lady D.

    Excellent!! After spending a day in the *very serious* room at the National Archives, I can well appreciate a scribe with a sense of humour!

  • Karl Steel

    Can we begin to guess why? There’s scribal boredom, I suppose (thinking of S. Justice’s 1994 piece on just this boredom in the context of interrogations of Lollards). Or maybe the scribe’s moonlighting as a designer for pilgrim badges? A friggin mystery.

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