On the World as a Stage: III. Participating in Justice

Plato writes that the beautiful things in this world are images of the absolute and everlasting Beauty that can be seen only with the eye of the mind. Things in this world change constantly and have no substance, but they are beautiful because they participate in Beauty.

In the same vein, justice is made manifest in this world by people participating in or enacting Justice. Sometimes it’s almost as if a play is written and performed live, and we, the actors, don’t know the plot nor the theme of the play until the final act is executed, and looking back at the play as a whole, we realize that the theme is Justice all along.

In Plutarch’s Life of Marcellus, there is a story which provides a good illustration of how man might participate in Justice.

[Marcellus] had a son named Marcus, of great beauty, in the flower of his age, and no less admired for the goodness of his character. This youth, Capitolinus, a bold and ill-mannered man, Marcellus’s colleague, sought to abuse. The boy at first himself repelled him; but when the other again persecuted him, told his father. Marcellus, highly indignant, accused the man in the senate, where he…by flat denial rejected the charge. As there was no witness of the fact, the senate thought fit to call the youth himself before them; on witnessing whose blushes and tears, and shame mixed with the highest indignation, seeking no further evidence of the crime, they condemned Capitolinus, and set a fine upon him; of the money of which, Marcellus caused silver vessels for libation to be made, which he dedicated to the gods.

Marcellus was an eminent Roman general, who fought and won many signal battles against the enemies of the Roman Republic. After each victory, he would offer sacrifices to the gods, as was the custom of the time. This battle in court, however, was not won by him but by his son who was a victim of abuse, still he dedicated gifts to the gods, perhaps because he saw that the gods had made him participate in Justice, just as they had made him participate in Victory at other times.


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