Loco Lawsuits: Satan in Court

As noted in the last installment of Loco Lawsuits, incorporeality makes it difficult to haul deities into court. But, as one aphorism maintains, “Where there’s a will there’s a lawsuit.”

Adrian Moon, a California prison inmate, is well known to the Central Division of Califonia’s U.S. District Court. He’s filed plenty of challenges to his incarceration. In a 2019 habeas corpus petition, “Satan the Devil” was one of the defendants. Moon’s petition asserted that “Satan the Devil” ordered his underlings to force Moon into slavery and bondage. He also claimed that “Satan the devil,” against the Ten Commandments, criminally violated his unalienable rights as a man. Finally, there was “Ineffective Assistance of Evil Satanic Counsel.”

While the judge called Moon’s allegations “largely unintelligible and delusional,” that isn’t why he dismissed the petition. Rather, he invoked the well-established rule that before a federal habeas corpus action can be brought, state courts must first be presented with and rule upon the claims. At least as of the time of the judge’s ruling, state courts had not addressed Satan’s role in Moon’s imprisonment.

The devil also was a defendant in a much earlier Pennsylvania federal court lawsuit. Gerald Mayo sued “Satan and His Staff” in 1971 for violating his civil rights. The lawsuit claimed that on numerous occasions Satan caused Mayo misery, placed deliberate obstacles in his path, and caused Mayo’s downfall. Satan’s unearthliness was a problem. “We question whether plaintiff may obtain personal jurisdiction over the defendant in this judicial district,” the court said in dismissing the action. “The complaint contains no allegation of residence in this district.”

Don’t you know there ain’t no Devil, that’s just God when he’s drunk

Tom Waits, Title track, Heartattack and Vine

The animal trials of the Middle Ages

In 1386, a large, diverse crowd gathered in the public square in Falaise, Normandy, France. They were there to witness the execution of a prisoner convicted of murder after mutilating the face and arms of a child. The prisoner wore a new suit of men’s clothes and even the hangman provided himself with a new rope and gloves. In its sentencing, the town tribunal ordered that the prisoner’s head and legs be mangled with a knife before the hanging. In other words, lex talionis, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But the criminal wasn’t human. It was a sow, one that unfortunately indulged in eating an infant on the street.

A sow on trial

In 1522, Bartholomew Chassenée was appointed to represent rats charged in Autun, France, with the crime of having eaten the barley crop. He argued that his clients hadn’t properly been served with process by the loudly spoken declaration that they stand trial because all rats, not just those in the village, had to be informed of the charges. An order was then issued that the summons be read from the pulpits of all the parishes in the Autun diocese. When the rats again failed to appear in court, Chassenée bought even more time. He argued that because the rats were widely dispersed, they needed time to prepare to and come to the court.

Chassenée was even more innovative when the rats didn’t appear a third time. This time he said that even though his clients wanted to appear, they would be putting their lives at risk if they tried to come to court. They feared attack by hostile cats — and since the cats belonged to the humans, he asked that cat owners be required to restrain their cats. Evidently weary of the delay and struggles, the plaintiffs didn’t resist the argument and judgment was entered in favor of the rats.

These were far from the only time animals were called to answer to medieval courts. As comical as it may seem today, records indicate animal trials occurred throughout Europe, the majority in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. One author cites over 200 cases between 824 and 1906, when a dog was sentenced to death in Switzerland for assisting in a murder and robbery.

Nor were these ramshackle affairs. The trials were conducted as if the accused were human. And distinction existed between animals that were in the service of man and those not subject to human control. The former, such as swine, cows, dogs, horses, and sheep, could be arrested, tried, convicted, and executed in secular courts. The latter, such as insects and rodents, fell within the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts, which were believed able to expel the defendants and had the power of anathema and excommunication. (Chassenée would even write A Treatise on the Excommunication of Insects.)

Articles about these trials and the theories behind them continue to appear in modern law reviews. So perhaps it can be said that these actions helped form today’s American judicial process.

The judicial prosecution of animals, resulting in their excommunication by the Church or their execution by the hangman, had its origin in the common superstition of the age, which has left such a tragical record of itself in the incredibly absurd and atrocious annals of witchcraft.

E.P. Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals

Weekend Edition: 2-20

Bulletin Board

  • New to this installment is QAnon Droppings (i.e., “Q drops”=feces), items related to the dangerous, delusional cultists

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubez

  • Rush Limbaugh Made America Worse (“[T]he qualities that these obituary writers know full well but have assiduously buffed into nothingness in their drafts: that Limbaugh’s politics were forged in a crucible of hatred and cruelty; that his racism and extraordinary misogyny are the only standout contributions he made to the world.”)

Blog Headline of the Week

Q Droppings

  • Meet WAnon, because W is even farther to the right than Q on the keyboard

Nonbookish Linkage

  • Hall of Fame hockey goaltender Ken Dryden looks at modern goalies and their impact on the game

Bookish Linkage

  • There’s no excuse for a librarian to burn library books, even if you think they’re untruthful

Man is unhappy because he doesn’t know he’s happy.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Possessed

The long and short of wars

Every high school and college student has heard of the Hundred Years’ War, even if very few of us recall the circumstances or combatants. Yet while long-lasting, it doesn’t compare to the length of other wars.

On the other extreme is the little-known Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896. Essentially, it was a dispute over who got to determine who would lead the British protectorate East African island sultanate of Zanzibar. When the pro-British sultan died on August 25, 1896, his nephew, Prince Khalid bin Barghash, immediately declared himself sultan and moved into the palace. By the end of the day, he’d Khalid had secured the palace with almost 3,000 soldiers and supporters.

Great Britain was having none of this. It demanded Khalid surrender the throne to a cousin British diplomats intended to become sultan. The British already had two warships anchored in the harbor and another arrived that night. Two more warships arrived on August 26 and the British demanded Khalid leave the palace by 9 a.m. the following day.

Sultan’s palace after the bombardment

An hour before the deadline, Khalid refused. At precisely 9 a.m., the British warships opened fire. Within two minutes, the palace was on fire. The British ceased fire within 40 minutes, leaving 500 of Khalid’s fighters wounded or dead. Khalid supposed fled the palace as soon as the shooting started. The shortest war in history meant that Britain’s choice was the new sultan.

While that short war produced casualties, the longest recorded war was bloodless.

This war had its inception in the Second English Civil War. The war was fought between the Parliamentarians, led by Oliver Cromwell, and Royalist forces loyal to the Stuart monarchy. Cromwell’s victories and advances meant that by 1651, what remained of the Royalist Navy took safe harbor in the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago 25 miles off the southwestern tip of Cornwall, England. Given the success the Parliamentarians were having, the Dutch decided to ally with them. That led the Royalists to start raiding Dutch shipping lanes and Dutch merchant ships in the English Channel.

New York Times, April 18, 1986

The Netherlands demanded reparations for the losses — by sending 12 warships to blockade the Isles. Admiral Maarten Tromp of the Dutch Navy landed to demand the reparations. The Royal Navy refused, so on March 30, 1651, he declared war on the Isles. Three months later, the Royalists on the Isles of Scilly surrendered to Cromwell. With the blockade unnecessary, the Dutch warships returned home.

One may question whether an admiral has the power to declare war. Likewise, can you truly call a conflict war if there’s no shooting, battles, or bloodshed? Many would say not. But not the Netherlands. On April 17, 1986, its Ambassador to England helicoptered to the Isles of Scilly and declared an end to the war — 335 years after it began.

We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.

Gen. Omar Bradley, Armistice Day Address, November 10, 1948

The pope who wrote a bestselling erotic novel

Throughout its history, the papacy has had its fair share of reprobates. At least Pope Pius II dallied from the straight and narrow before he was ordained, let alone pope. As a literati of his time, he even wrote a bestselling erotic novel.

Enea Silvio Piccolomini (“Aeneas Silvius” in the Latin used by the educated) was born in the Tuscany region of Italy in 1405. By age 25 he made a career of working for Catholic bishops and cardinals. Those positions, though, didn’t quell his lustier side. As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it, “That he freely indulged his passions is evidenced not only by the birth of two illegitimate children …, but by the frivolous manner in which he glories in his own disorders. The low moral standard of the epoch may partly explain, but cannot excuse his.” In fact, the encyclopedia notes, Aeneas avoided ordination until he was 41 “because of the obligation of [sexual] continence that it imposed.”

Illustration from Tale of Two Lovers

Aeneas’s intelligence and literary talents were such that Frederick III of Austria (1415–93) invited him to Vienna in 1442 as his private secretary and imperial poet laureate. He wrote some “mildly pornographic poetry” during that time, according to papal historian John Julius Norwich. Aeneas’s literary reputation led a fellow Tuscany native to ask him to write a story about two lovers. The result was 1444’s Tale of the Two Lovers, a suggestive tale about the secret love affair between Lucretia, a married woman of “barely twenty”, and Euryalus, a 32-year-old man in waiting for Frederick III.

Lucretia and Euryalus first see each other at a funeral in Siena, Italy. They were not introduced “but their eyes did everything.” It was love at first sight but both wondered if their love was unrequited. They end up exchanging a series of letters before and after consummating their love affair, leading some to suggest Tale of Two Lovers was the first epistolary novel or at least a significant step in its development.

Numerous manuscripts of the story circulated but it wasn’t published until after the pope died in 1464. That came between 1467 and 1470 at the hands of Cologne’s first printer, Ulrich Zell. The book became a bestseller. There were 67 printed editions by the end of the 15th century and about 40 more in the 16th century. Erotic images in some of the early editions may well have increased the book’s popularity.

In 1445, Aeneas left Vienna and he was ordained in March 1446. He was named a cardinal in December 1456 and installed as Pope Pius II on September 3, 1448. His literary activity continued while the pope and following his death the 13-volume Commentaries of Pius II was published, the only known autobiography of a pope. Recognizing his earlier conduct and literary efforts weren’t betting the Vicar of Christ, he distanced himself from Tale of Two Lovers as Pope Pius II. In an April 1463 papal bull some call the “Bull of Retraction,” the pope told the rector and students of the University of Cologne that he was ashamed, repented his early writings, and wished them to obscurity. “Follow what we now say: believe the old man rather than the youth,” he wrote, “reject Aeneas, accept Pius.”

The number and success of the printed editions of Tale of Two Lovers show his wish for obscurity wasn’t realized.

Gladly, Euryalus, would I yield to you, and, as you request, admit you to my love.

Enea Piccolomini, Tale of the Two Lovers