Lady Justice

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blindfolded lady with sword in right hand held vertically down to floor, and a set of balance scales in her left hand held neck high
Justitia blindfolded and holding balance scales and a sword. Court of Final Appeal, Hong Kong

Lady Justice is an allegorical personification of the moral force in judicial systems.[1][2] Her attributes are a blindfold, a balance, and a sword. She often appears as a pair with Prudentia, who holds a mirror and a snake.

Lady Justice originates from the personification of Justice in Ancient Roman art known as Iustitia or Justitia after Latin: Iustitia,[3] who is equivalent to the Greek goddesses Themis and Dike.

The Goddess Iustitia[edit]

The origin of Lady Justice was Iustitia, the goddess of Justice within Roman mythology. Iustitia was introduced by emperor Augustus, and was thus not a very old deity in the Roman pantheon.

Iustice was one of the virtues celebrated by emperor Augustus in his clipeus virtutis, and a Temple of Iustitia was established in Rome 8 January 13 CE by emperor Tiberius.[3] Iustitia became a symbol for the virtue of justice that every emperor wished to associate his regime with; emperor Vespasian minted coins with the image of the goddess seated on a throne called Iustitia Augusta, and many emperors after him used the image of the goddess to proclaim themselves protectors of justice.[3]

Though formally called a goddess with her own temple and cult shrine in Rome, it appears that she was from the onset viewed more as an artistic symbolic personification rather than as an actual deity with religious significance.

Depiction[edit]

The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead depicts a scene in which a scribe's heart is weighed against the feather of truth.

The personification of justice balancing the scales dates back to the Goddess Maat, and later Isis, of ancient Egypt. The Hellenic deities Themis and Dike were later goddesses of justice. Themis was the embodiment of divine order, law, and custom, in her aspect as the personification of the divine rightness of law.

There are three distinctive features of Lady Justice: a set of scales, a blindfold, and a sword.

Scales[edit]

Lady Justice is most often depicted with a set of scales typically suspended from her left hand, upon which she measures the strengths of a case's support and opposition. The depiction dates back to ancient Egypt, where the God Anubis was frequently depicted with a set of scales on which he weighed a deceased's heart against the Feather of Truth.[4]

The Greek goddess Dike is also holding a set of scales.

Bacchylides, Fragment 5 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.):

If some god had been holding level the balance of Dike (Justice).

The scales represent the weighing of evidence and are balanced to portray that the evidence should stand on its own.

Blindfold[edit]

18th-century Lady Justice at the Castellania

Since the 16th century, Lady Justice has often been depicted wearing a blindfold. The blindfold represents impartiality, the ideal that justice should be applied without regard to wealth, power, or other status. The earliest Roman coins depicted Justitia with the sword in one hand and the scale in the other, but with her eyes uncovered.[5] Justitia was only commonly represented as "blind" since about the end of the 15th century. The first known representation of blind Justice is Hans Gieng's 1543 statue on the Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen (Fountain of Justice) in Berne.[6]

Instead of using the Janus approach, many sculptures simply leave out the blindfold altogether. For example, atop the Old Bailey courthouse in London, a statue of Lady Justice stands without a blindfold;[7] the courthouse brochures explain that this is because Lady Justice was originally not blindfolded, and because her "maidenly form" is supposed to guarantee her impartiality which renders the blindfold redundant.[8] Another variation is to depict a blindfolded Lady Justice as a human scale, weighing competing claims in each hand. An example of this can be seen at the Shelby County Courthouse in Memphis, Tennessee.[9]

The cover of a 2006 issue of Rolling Stone proclaimed TIME TO GO!, focusing on the perceived corruption that dominated Congress. The drawing showed a bunch of figures evoking reactionary politics emerging from the Capitol. One of the figures was Lady Justice lifting her blindfold, implying that the then-composition of Congress had politicized the criminal justice system.

It represents never favoring the strong nor the weak, the rich nor the poor, the righteous nor the wicked.

Sword[edit]

The last distinctive feature of Lady Justice is her sword. The sword represented authority in ancient times, and conveys the idea that justice can be swift and final.[4]

Toga[edit]

The Greco-Roman garment symbolizes the status of the philosophical attitude that embodies justice.[4][unreliable source?]

Lady Justice in art[edit]

Lady Justice and her symbols are used in heraldry, especially in the arms of legal government agencies.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hamilton, Marci. God vs. the Gavel, page 296 (Cambridge University Press 2005): "The symbol of the judicial system, seen in courtrooms throughout the United States, is blindfolded Lady Justice."
  2. ^ Fabri, The challenge of change for judicial systems, page 137 (IOS Press 2000): "the judicial system is intended to be apolitical, its symbol being that of a blindfolded Lady Justice holding balanced scales."
  3. ^ a b c "IUSTITIA". treccani.it. 
  4. ^ a b c Brent T. Edwards. "Symbolism of Lady Justice". Retrieved 24 February 2017. 
  5. ^ See "The Scales of Justice as Represented in Engravings, Emblems, Reliefs and Sculptures of Early Modern Europe" in G. Lamoine, ed., Images et representations de la justice du XVie au XIXe siecle (Toulouse: University of Toulose-Le Mirail, 1983)" at page 8.
  6. ^ Image of Lady Justice in Berne.
  7. ^ Image of Lady Justice in London.
  8. ^ Colomb, Gregory. Designs on Truth, p. 50 (Penn State Press, 1992).
  9. ^ Image of Lady Justice in Memphis.

External links[edit]