Monday, July 24, 2006

Inter arma enim silent leges

Cicero at about age 60, from an ancient marble bustNormally I wouldn't post two in a row, but I really need to get the taste of flustrated out of my mouth. Since this is a rare case of me posting two of these in an hour, I'm going to have some fun with
this one. Just as flustrated is a bit unusual for this list (in the sense that it's fairly commonly known), this entry is a bit unusual in the sense that it's a complete phrase rather than just a word or two.


Inter arma enim silent leges is a phrase which means "In times of war, the law falls silent" (or, more literally, "In the face of arms, the law falls mute"). The quote originally comes from Cicero, who had a lot to say around the time Julius Caesar was killed. Cicero said while defending friend his Milo, who was on trial for murder, saying that this was excusable in self defense. While this speech, known as the Pro Milone, didn't result in Milo's acquittal (he was exiled to France), Cicero later got Marcus Saufeius off on the same charge.


Bashir speaksCicero originally phrased this a bit differently, saying "Silent enim leges inter arma". How did the wording change over? As far as I can tell, it started with an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, appropriately named "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges". And where did they get it? We find the answer in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion by Terry J. Erdman, where former DS9 producer Ronald D. Moore says:


I got the title at a book store. I was browsing through the new stuff, and there was a copy of William Rehnquist's new
book
. It was about habeas corpus in American law and how Abraham Lincoln had suspended that writ during the Civil War, along with some other civil liberties. On the book jacket, there was a blurb that said Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus was a classic case of the old Roman dictum Inter arma silent leges― 'In times of war, the laws fall silent.' And I looked at it and said, 'Hey!' because I was working on this episode and it was all about Section 31 and this espionage thing and how the law was going
to fall silent because of the war. It was perfect! […] The word order provided [by the show's research
consultant] was different from the original quote, but she told me that word order doesn't matter in Latin so I could arrange the words however they looked best, so I arranged them in a way that looked and read best to me.


Incidentally, the pronunciation of the phrase as described in the show's script was "EN-ter ARM-ah EYE-nim SEE-lent LEH-ges". Just remember that all of the I's are pronounced like E's and vice versa (except for "Inter") and you'll have it about right.


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