Condello, Menzinger & Gialdroni on Law & Literature

Dear all,

the next three classes will be devoted to the field of “Law and Literature”. As you can see, the topics will be very heterogeneous!

Dante Illuminating Florence with his Poemk, by Domenico di Michelino

25  March: 
Dr. Angela Condello on  Law & Exemplarity

26 March: Prof. Sara Menzinger (RomaTre University) on Law & Dante: “Dante, the Bible and the Law: a theological-juridical contribution to the Political Debate of 14th century”

27 March: Dr. Stefania Gialdroni on Law & Shakespeare: “Shakespeare in Law:The Merchant of Venice as a Mirror of Legal Issues”



Menzinger, Sara, Dante and the law,  (Forthcoming In Dante in Context, edited by Lino Pertile and Zygmund Baranski, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press);

TEXTS used during the lesson available HERE: Dante and the Law class Texts

Kornstein, D.J.,  Fie Upon your Law!, in “Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature”, 5.1 (1993): A Symposium Issue on “The Merchant of Venice”, pp. 35-56.


These readings will NOT be sent via email:

– Steinberg, Justin, Dante and the Limits of the Law, Chicago 2013 (book);

– Quaglioni, Diego, “Arte di bene e d’equitade”.Ancora sul senso del diritto in Dante (Monarchia, II v 1), in “Studi Danteschi”, 76 (2011), pp. 27-46;Monarchia, ed. by D. Quaglioni, in Dante Alighieri, Opere, ed. M. Santagata, vol. II, Milano, Mondadori («I Meridiani»), 2014;
– Tierney, Brian, Religion, Law and the Growth of Constitutional Thought. 1150-1650, Cambridge 1982 (book). 
This reading has been sent via email:
– Gialdroni, Stefania, La clausola penale tra finzione e realtà. Il caso limite di Shylock alla prova del diritto veneziano, del diritto comune e del common law, in La pena convenzionale nella prospettiva storico-comparatistica (Collana del centro di eccellenza in diritto europeo – G. Pugliese), Napoli: Jovene, 2013.
Prof. Menzinger’s CV available HERE

17 thoughts on “Condello, Menzinger & Gialdroni on Law & Literature

  1. Sarah Penge says:

    I am so excited to attend these classes about law and literature, especially for Law & Shakespeare’s one! In one of the first exercises you gave us I wrote a comment about The Merchant of Venice! I cannot wait!


  2. Jakob Zarari says:

    A comment on the question that Prof. Conte posed on the end of the lesson:
    I really believe that narratives can help to understand what is morally right or wrong and so I think narratives often have a normative element. A good example for this are fairy tales: In the end, every fairy tale has a “message”, a moral lesson that wants to motivate the reader to behave in a certain way in real life. Of course, one could just give the message “without” the story around, but we, human beings, need this story to understand the message. Because when we hear / read a story we slowly start to identify with the (main) character and we can better comprehend the idea of the fairy tale. The example of a person, who faced similar problems or challenges like ours, can help to understand a rule of life or society.
    I am convinced that is one of the reasons, why reading (not just fairy tales, but romans and novels in general) is useful.


  3. Gabriella Bizzocchi says:

    Today it was given us the opportunity to think of how our society is shaped by its legal system but also about the importance of the actual society in modeling its normative system. Indeed rules and norms often rise from concrete circumstances that create the need of a certain regulation. The need is perceived by the community but it takes shape and it is satisfied when a real fact is brought to the attention of a court or of the legislator. It is such connection between a concrete case and the norm that comes from it that explain how society develops its structure from reality. In some legal system this link between these two elements is clear and expressed like it happens in common law system while in civil law system the connection is more veiled and sometimes we can just have an idea of the historical context but not of the single case. For this reasons it emerges the importance of exemplarity to a better understanding of concepts and norms. In law exemplarity illustrates the link between facts and norms in order to elucidate the process of its creation and it allows a better application of it, while in literature the exemplarity is the narrative itself which explains througha series of events a certain message or attitude or moral value. In this way of expounding a concept or a norm by its origin and its root in practical events, I see another connection between language and law. In fact the single words of a language are often explained in dictionary by a definition and some examples, and sometimes it is fundamental in order to have a deep understanding of a word to look at its etymology, and how it develops throughout history but also how it changes its meaning when translated from a languge to another, like it occurs when a norm is created from an individual event and becomes an abstract concept. Once cut the link between them it still maintains something of the original meaning and ”ratio” but its applications will be in some way a lot different.


  4. Mattia Palatta says:

    Narrative is, of course, part of both law and literature. But I think it’s necessary to make the rules exercise their effects. I mean, in my opinion every human being learns what is right or wrong not simply remembering what law says, but through imitation. Since we are just a child, we have learned by imitation of our parents, friends, teacher or whoever we may think is relevant or important for us. The whole learning process is focused basically on imitation and, in my opinion, this is valid especially for law, which cannot remain just an abstract concept but has to be realized in something teachable and imitable. This is the reason for the success of the Greek tragedy not only in ancient time but also in modernity: it was aimed to make “mimesis” possible for the citizens throughout powerful and emotional stories, which were basically founded not on personal emotions, but primarily on collective and shared values; in every tragedy of the classical age (mainly in Aeschylus and Sophocles) the heroes were asked to face the contrast between their emotions and feelings and the perspective of the community they were part of and, punctually, the last one prevailed: the aim of that was to teach, by powerful examples given by the tragedies themselves, the sense of community and the need to respect the law to preserve the polis from destruction and disintegration. This is, according to me, the reason for the link between law and literature: without the literary means, law couldn’t be taught and couldn’t be learned and respected, and it would remain an useful text.


  5. Charles says:

    Really, there is a lot to say about yesterday. I think that law, as an artifice, man shaped, man crafted is not so different from other kind of other artificies as litterature, or all other kinds a arts. But law, opposed to unspoken sources of normativity such as customs, litterature, commercials, moeurs, is a command and are made to be obeyed ultimately because they are the expression and because they are sustain by the threat of punitive and sovereign power (A State: God). Let’s say thaht other kinds of normativity have a more soft approach. Fiction for exemple, has the power to be unsuspected, being also, a carrier of a set of rules: a fiction willl often look innocent. One thing thaht i wanted to stress out yesterday may be initiated by a quotation from one of Aristotle’s master work, his Poetics. At a moment i compare both roles and essences of poetry and history (Chapter IX), underlining the fact, according to him, that, as history is just the tale of real happened events, entirely attached to the reign of contingency, poetry as it explores the kingdom of the might be and the likely, is somethng much more philosophical and by the way much more effective in its normative features. Indeed it is able to spawn universal rules whereas history, or reality can not.

    This condition of fiction as a rhetorical tool can also be seen elsewhere. It’s Jean de la Fontaine, who, i think, embodied in one of his famous verse, this fundamental power of the fiction:

    “Fables are not what they at first appear,
    The simplest animals are teachers here.
    The naked moral soon the reader tires :
    Fiction the happy precept best inspires.
    Such tales should please and wisdom thus convey;
    To tell for telling’s sake is childish play.
    Many great writers, therefore, of this kind,
    At once improve and animate the mind” (The Shepherd and Lion, VI, I)

    So i think that reality is not the only architect in the shaping of our world, our perceptions, and what we determine as fair or unfair as we are continually casting our own conceptions, and fictions upon reality. A reality which is only gaining value in respect to how much, and which kind of value and quality we are ready to give it. (See also COVER Robert M, “The Supreme Court, 1982 Term – Foreword: Nomos and Narrative” (1983). Faculty Scholarship Series. Paper 2705.

    Thus, concerning both exemplarity and exempla utilisation in the fields of law and litterature, may be they are more related than it seems.

    As i worked last year on Cicero’s works to justify a good treament of Republican Rome’s subject, allies and foederati, it appears to main that there was two main tools to achieve this goal. One which was belonging to law and the other to litterature and narrative. And that they could not be separated.

    To tell it briefly, before 149 B.C there was no explicit law or any kind of regulation to condemned roman governors who abused of their unregulated powers to commit act of corruption or depravation against the ally, and the subjects of roman power.

    In the De Officiis/ On Duties, Ciceron tell us about the beautifull and honorable days when the roman governors and magistrates (pro-consuls, pro-praetor) were full of virtue and ethics, following the way of the ancestors ( mos maiorum) and therefore ruling with probity and equity. But starting to loose their ways Roman of the 2nd century BC, started to act badly. And so he opposes in this works, in a serie and accumulation of exempla, to enlight and turn into a fiction the behaviors of the proeminent either “good or bad” of Rome. Building a clear line between the lawfull and the unlawfull behavior, which is also strongly linked to morality and narrative of te roman ethos. (See also about the utilisation of exempla in Cicero’s work : Paul M. Martin “la manipulation rhétorique de l’histoire dans les Philippique de Cicéron”, in Dialogues d’histoire ancienne, 2013, Supplément 8 S 8, P. 109 – 142.).

    But Cicero was also the witness of the law, a law also fouded on what Romans thought their ethos was. The law was indeed created in the Second Century BC when cases of corruption and extortion were drasticaly increasing.

    Then the narrative of Roman virtue and mos maiorum were not anymore strong enough to norm the behavior of governors and magistrates, the mos maiorum as normative power had lost it’s dominance, and Romans needed an explicit law and rule, explaining the birth of such a law. A law which was still justified by this mos maiorum and the Roman’s sefl representation, and what they consider as their ethos, their narrative. Strange isn’t it? As a last point presenting the magistrat who created this law Cicero includes him as an other exemplum (Also Aristotle tells us something about thaht in the Rhetoric) of the lawfull and the nomos he intends to defend and preserve (See Againt Verres, IV).

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  6. Giulia D'Eusanio says:

    In the lesson about law and exemplarity we started trying to define it. Sometimes it’s a starting point needed to build up a better and more structured topic or argumentation, sometimes it’s a “compulsory” step of the argumentation itself in order to explain or to give a more logical meaning to its elements (facts, circumstances, behaviours…). But at the end of lesson another view about exemplarity arose: that one of an example to follow, a good example. In italian we also have a dual notion of “diritto” (as so many other words): diritto as law and diritto as right. These comparisons are relating to language, and narrative may be the way to choose the more pertinent meaning (depending on the context). Hereupon, we’ll have again narrative, used to tell something through examples choosing the best language in order to explain the argumentation. It could be considered a “fixed” (sometimes necessary) pattern which lumps again law and literature. Dante used the same pattern in order to explain his point of view, his thought about human life, happiness, sins and so on. In the same way, exemplarity could be considered as a translation to link narrative to author or lawyer’s thoughts and aims. This pattern seems to be as an equation and maybe it could be considered a way to clarify the obscure element in each case (narrative and examples to clarify language; language and examples to clarify narrative; narrative and language to clarify examples).


  7. Emanuele Ballabene says:

    We always are attracted by models that guide our style of life. In this century, with many new ways of comunication, our ideas go fast so is very easy share our thoughts. I think about a political party:it explains his ideas and we can decide if share or not his thought. If for us this opinion is important and shared,we start to consider this party an “example” for us.
    The same thing happens with law.
    A principle can be considered foundamental and included and written in the Costitution and repeated in many others norms. So the Legislator considers this principle an “example” and the citizen has to respect it to live in the community.
    “Verba volant, scripta manent” is a famous latin turn of phrase that offers us the importance of written norms, the “legal literature”.. We can forget a norm,but we are able to read and remember this in every moment.
    But a very important problem is the interpretation of the norm:here we can see the role of the judje, who offers his interpretation of the case, the “jurisprudential literature”.In Italy, we dont follow the “Stare Decisis” but i think that sometimes a previous decision can influence successives decisions:is that we in italian say “fa giurisprudenza”.
    So that we write today, it will be read and will influence others people’s choices tomorrow. Literature is human invention, but is the mirror of our life.



    I was really impressed by the myth of Uzzah used by Dante to discharge himself from the accusation of “Church enemy”. I mean,why he had to die? He just wanted to keep the Arch from falling,in a certain way he helped the whole humanity: no one would have read the Tables if they fell. Despite this God instantly killed Uzzah just because of his inferiority. He shouldn’t have corrected the Action of someone superior (and we can certainly say that in Christian’s opinion God is the Supreme One for excellence). During that time a man was reputated superior because of his moral values,even Plato said that the ones who should governate were those who were wiser than the others. They were wiser because they had “Golden souls” ,their souls were the ones which remained longer in the Iperuranio and thanks to this they gained abilities and moral values not accesible for everybody. As we can see in the myth of Uzzah the superiors are God,the priests and the clergymen in general and no one could interfere with their decisions. In some primitive cultures still now the Chief can kill whoever he wants just because he is superior and he has the power to do that. Suddenly it came to my mind a question: Nowadays what gives to a man more power that the others? Nor the moral values,nor the fact that they are wiser than the others,but money.



    Referring to today’s class the professor read us a quotation “Summum ius summa iniuria”. Cicero,the author,with this sentence wanted to say that in many cases the mere application of law is unfair. Even if I attend the first year last semester I followed the class of Canon law and during the lessons the professor said a lot of times that law in many cases has to be interpretated not just applied because it could not respect the principle of equity. In fact law should give not the same thing to everybody,but should give everybody what they need,even if their needs are differents. For example: everybody needs to be dressed,but if I give to all the people, without distinction, a cold jacket,for sure the ones who live in the hottest country would not wear it. I have to give them a shirt and a pair of short pants. In this case,giving a jacket to the ones who have cold and a shirt to the other, I have respected equity. In the other cases somone would soffer because of my decision to give all the same clothes. “In case of conflict equity had to prevail” said Bacon and surely is the right thing to do


  10. Elena Francis says:

    The lesson about “Law and Exemplarity” was very interesting. Dr. Angela Condello explained us the importance of exemplarity and, in particular, the use of examples in law and in other fields, like literature. Indeed, we can make a correct use of examples not only to reach knowledge of something, but also to build concrete concepts. This is the main difference, i think, between the use of exemplarity we can make in common systems and in civil systems. In our legal systems, and in those which are similar, the principal purpose of using examples is the description of something that already exist: we use examples to explain a situation, a rule or a particular and abstract process of events. In our legal books we can read very often explanations of rules where the author uses, as character of the situation, specific figure (Tizio, Caio, A or B etc.). It is a deductive method: we learn something from the knowledge of other things. From the legal disposition, which is general and abstract, we are able to rule the case. On the contrary, in common systems we can find the rule from the case. It is an inductive method. In this kind of system the precedent has a central importance. So we can say that the system is built on exemplarity. Dr. Condello underlined the use of exemplarity also in rethoric. Here exemplarity is useful to explain and to convince. Through examples we are able to proof a theory or an idea.
    An example is a model of a specific thing, and it links abstract to concret. During the lesson our collegue underlined that exemplarity is linked also with the lack of rules, with what is called in italian “lacuna”, so sometimes exemplarity in law fills the gap.
    Examples are given not only to explain something and to create an imaginary reconstruction of a situation, but also, and in particular in literature, to express the most important values of our society in the different historical periods. Sometimes literature describes behavioures that everybody should follow, directly or indirectly, and gives advices useful for life. In this context i think about the Esopo’s fables, that have always a moral aim. Tha author, indeed, wrote in the end of each fable the words “o muthos deloi oti” (in greek) which means “the story teach that”, and pointed out the moral teching. But exemplarity in literature is also something else.
    I imagine exemplarity in narrative as a ‘paintbox’ which contains the all shade of colours, from the brightest to the darkest. Every colour of the paintbox represents a different emotion and in this way the box contains not only the good values, like courage, love, mercy, wisdom, but also the worst values, like hate, revange, ruthlessness, meannes. In narrative positive and negative character are both showed and through these stories we are able to know more intimatley these types of emotions. For example, when we think about a person who is brave, it is not strange to think about Ettore, the trojan hero of Homer’s Iliade. For hate and revange comes to mind ( to my mind) Heatcliff, the mistreated foreigner of ‘Wuthering Heights’, who is consumed by passion and love for Cathrine. For love, obviously,comes to mind the unluky Romeo and his tragic story. For mercy i think about Antigone, who wants at all costs to bury her brother against the will of Creonte, king of Tebe. Of course, the reference to a literary character is subjective, but i belive that this is an uncounscious process which happen regularly to everybody. We uncounsciously link the general description of an emotion to a specific model of literature that we prefer or that is familiar to us. Finally, narrative is exemplarity, where we can find a lot of models.


  11. Chiara Casuccio says:

    I’ve been thinking about law IN literature, expecially after these classes about Dante and Shakespeare, and how we can understand so much about a political, social, histolical and above all juridical context of the stories from the stories themeselves. The usury, the jewish’s condition ect. are just examples of how we can analize an era starting from a literary text. Because of this, it becomes so important to know if the author had been educated to legal studies, just to know if the juridical institutes he mentions, adhere to reality or not.
    Starting from these reflections, I surfed on the web and found out a peculiar series of meetings held at the University of Strasbourg about “Tolkien and the law”. Different topics, such as constitutional regime in Tolkien’s books, human-elf’s marriage and many others, have been discussed in a critical approach as well as we did in these days.
    I just wanted to share with you this nice information, and if you are more interested here’s the link where I found it:


  12. pastor says:

    I have been so much impressed by the powerful intensity of dr Condello’s lesson. Listening to her talk and explanation I realized that exemple makes people following someone without obeying him or her. More exemples than norms? That’s the challange of our dienchanted ethics.


  13. pastor says:

    Hi, my name is Saul Napel, I’m the twin jewish brother of the catholic Paolo Napoli. Every clever things is written by me, every silly things is written by my brother.


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