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Lady Justice

Justice Goddess Themis, Dike, Astraia, or the Roman Goddess Justitia

By

Justitia, by Raphael

Justitia, by Raphael

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The modern image of justice is based on Greco-Roman mythology, but it's not a clear one-to-one correspondence.

U.S. courts argue against the placement of any version of the 10 Commandments in courtrooms because it might be a violation of the establishment of a (single) state religion, but the establishment clause is not the only problem with putting up the 10 commandments in federal buildings. There are Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish versions of the 10 Commandments, each substantially different. [See 10 Commandments.] Variability is the same problem that is faced when answering the simple question of which ancient goddess the modern version of Lady Justice represents. There's also a question of whether or not putting up pagan-based images is a violation of the establishment clause, but that's not an issue for me to unravel.

In a forum thread about Themis and Justitia, goddesses of Justice, MISSMACKENZIE asks:

"I mean which did they intend to portray, a Greek or Roman goddess?"

And BIBACULUS answers:

"The modern image of Justice is a conflation of various images and iconography over a period of time: the sword and the blindfold being two of the images that would have been alien to antiquity."

Here is some information on the Greek and Roman goddesses and personifications of Justice.

Themis

Themis was one of the Titans, the children of Uranos (Sky) and Gaia (Earth). In Homer, Themis appears three times where her role, according to Timothy Gantz in Early Greek Myth, is that of "imposing some kind of order or control over gatherings...." Sometimes Themis is called the mother of the Moirai and the Horai (Dike [Justice], Eirene [Peace], and Eunomia [Lawful Government]). Themis was either first or second to deliver oracles at Delphi -- an office she gave over to Apollo. In this role, Themis prophesied that the son of the nymph Thetis would be greater than its father. Until the prophecy, Zeus and Poseidon had been trying to win Thetis, but afterwards, they left her to Peleus, who became the mortal father of the great Greek hero Achilles.

Dike and Astraia

Dike was the Greek goddess of justice. She was one of the Horai and the daughter of Themis and Zeus. Dike had a valued place in Greek literature. Passages from (www.theoi.com/Kronos/Dike.html) The Theoi Project describe her physically, holding a staff and balance:

"If some god had been holding level the balance of Dike (Justice)."
- Greek Lyric IV Bacchylides Frag 5

and

"[Depicted on the chest of Cypselus at Olympia] A beautiful woman is punishing an ugly one, choking her with one hand and with the other striking her with a staff. It is Dike (Justice) who thus treats Adikia (Injustice)."
- Pausanias 5.18.2

Dike is described as almost indistinguishable from Astraea (Astraia) who is depicted with a torch, wings, and Zeus' thunderbolts.

Justitia

Iustitia or Justitia was the Roman personification of justice. She was a virgin living among humans until the wrong-doings of mortals forced her to take flight and become the constellation Virgo, according to the Adkinses in "Dictionary of Roman Religion."

On a coin depicting Justitia from A.D. 22-23 (www.cstone.net/~jburns/gasvips.htm), she is a regal woman wearing a diadem. In another (/www.beastcoins.com/Deities/AncientDeities.htm), Justitia carries olive twig, patera, and scepter.

Lady Justice

The U.S. Supreme Court website explains some of the images of Lady Justice that adorn Washington D.C.:

Lady Justice is a blend of Themis and Iustitia. The blindfold with which Justice is now associated probably started in the 16th century. In some of the Washington D.C. statues, Justice holds scales, blindfolds, and swords. In one representation she is fighting evil with her gaze, although her sword is still sheathed.

Besides all the statues of Lady Justice, Themis, and Justitia in courthouses across the U.S. (and world), the much revered Statue of Liberty bears a close resemblance to the ancient goddesses of justice. Even in antiquity the personification of Justice goddesses changed to fit the times or the needs and beliefs of the writers. Is it possible to do the same with the Ten Commandments? Wouldn't it be possible to distill the essence of each commandment and arrive at an order by consensus of some ecumenical council? Or let the different versions exist side by side just as the statues of Justice do in Washington D.C.?

Images of Justice

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