Symbol of Lady Justice: Where did the lady with the blindfold, sword, and scales come from?

This post is a bit off topic for this blog, but I thought you might find something a bit out of the ordinary refreshing.

The lady with the balance scales, sword, and blindfold comes from ancient history. This symbol is used in American jurisprudence as a representation of judicial justice.

She was known as Maat in ancient Egypt – the goddess of harmony and order. She is depicted in the Book of the Dead as weighing a human heart against a feather to determine a soul’s fate in the afterlife.

She evolved in ancient Grecian lore to become Themis, sister, wife and counselor to Zeus.

Roman mythology rolled Themis and her sister Dike together to form Justitia, the only one of the cardinal virtues to have a signature look in ancient art, reports Randy Kennedy in the New York Times, Thursday, December 16, 2010 edition.

Mr. Kennedy cites a recent book/treatise by Yale Law School professors Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis. Resnik and Curtis recite that Lady Justice’s familiar blindfold did not become her fashion accessory until late in the 17th century (the 1600s).

Resnik and Curtis recite that medieval and Renaissance people did not view blindfolds favorably. Up into the 1600s sight was considered a virtue, and thus a blindfold carried a very negative connotation. Resnik/Curtis recite that a medieval/Renaissance term for a blindfold was a “hoodwink” – a noun – which today means to trick or deceive someone with an accompanying very negative connotation.

One interesting thing is that the image of Lady Justice seems to be something almost approaching universal although the exact look varies from culture to region. The Lady Justice figure can be found in courts from a statue at the Supreme Cout of Canada in Ottawa to one presideing over a constitutional court in Azerbaijan. The image can be found in courts of Zambia, Iraq, Brazil and Japan, according to Resnik/Curtis as reported by Randy Kennedy.

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