Re: Serious thoughts about.../+ law as once a social study

Wade Tarzia (tarzia@UCONNVM.UCONN.EDU)
Tue, 15 Oct 1996 12:50:47 -0400

>I seem to remember reading somewhere that the ancient field of "law" was
>the original "study of society." (Mike Cahill)

--- Just a detail to add: Henry Sumner Maine worked in this guise. I think
his book is still used in law schools (for what, I don't know).

Maine, Henry Sumner. (1986 rpt./1864). _Ancient Law._ Tucson, AZ:
University of Arizona Press.

Let me see if I have a word about it somewheres: [...working...] yes, some
scraps from my dissertation (with thanks to John Cole for having sent me in
that direction). -- wade tarzia

--[snip] --

In the late nineteenth century, scholars argued against any historical
basis to epics. However, Henry Maine, a legal scholar using a historical,
comparative approach to understand the basis of law (among the earliest of
approaches using history and ancient literature to study society) in his
book, Ancient Law (1986 rpt./1864), had what seems to me to be a remarkably
useful, even modern, conception of traditional literature and history:

"Not a few documentary records exist which profess to give us information
concerning the early phenomenon of law, but until philology has effected a
complete analysis of the Sanskrit literature, our best sources of knowledge
are undoubtedly the Greek Homeric poems, considered of course not as a
history of actual occurrences, but as a description, not wholly idealized,
of a state of society known to the writer. However the fancy of poets may
have exaggerated certain features of the heroic age, the prowess of
warriors and the potency of gods, there is no reason to believe that it has
tampered with moral or metaphysical conceptions which were not yet subjects
of conscious observation; and in this respect the Homeric literature is far
more trustworthy than those relatively later documents which pretend to
give an account of times similarly early, but which were compiled under
philosophical or theological influences." (1986, 2).

Maine admits that traditional literature may be poor history but may form a
description "not wholly idealized" of society known to the poet.

--[snip] --

... This work is a study of the history of law in which Maine emphasizes
the inter-relatedness of ideas and social institutions, and that
understanding of current legislation is impossible without knowledge of its
workings throughout history.

OK, that was the good old days when lawyers had truly great tasks at hand!

Having nothing to do with anything related to this topic, I must ask: does
anybody have a boss who comes over to your computer screen and *writes* on
the screen to edit something there? I just wiped ink from my VDT! If
this happened in a TV sitcom, you'd cry out, "Oh, that's stupid, who'd
really do that?" -- situated firmly in lore and life -- wade tarzia