Medieval Satirists’ Take on Lawyers

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To begin with, a 12th century satirist’s distich, translated from Latin:

If you are looking for wealth, be a doctor or a lawyer
Grammarians and logicians stay poor and needy.

Next, a common comparison of the lawyer and the harlot:

Many study the law these days, not for justice,
But because avarice wishes to acquire more goods.
I beg Christ to confound the jurists;
They are no psalmists, but the harpists of Satan.
The lawyer, the doctor, and the whore are always alert;
If anyone offers them a higher fee, they slip away and follow him.

Examples of the oft-used motifs of the venal tongue and the simonist.

Nowadays no one is worth anything unless he knows how to litigate,
Unless he knows how to cavil carefully in courtrooms,
Unless he knows how to beguile the innocent with frauds,
Unless he knows how to collect heaps of money.

Advice to the new lawyer: “Let him not prostitute his tongue, not expose his speech for sale, not sell the gift of God, not set for hire the free favor of the Lord. Let him not lay out for sale what he has received solely as the gift of grace.” — Alain de Lille

What shall I say of the lawyers?
I will not lie about them for fear:
They have more disgrace among them
Than has a shameful, foolish woman.
Each of them trades on his instruments:
The woman rents her cul for pennies,
And the advocate sells his tongue.
The tongue is a more precious member
Than is the cul; of that I’m sure;
And the sale is thus the more shameful
As the tongue is the more precious.

–Lamentations, Matheolus, 13 cen. French satirist

Via the ABA Journal, March 1960.

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