In prior posts, I’ve mentioned the Etruscans who were the northern neighbors of the Latins and the erstwhile kings of Rome. The last of these kings was Tarquinius Superbus, also known as Tarquin the Proud. According to the ancient sources, Tarquinius Superbus was induced, or tricked, into buying a set of books (actually scrolls) from the Sybil (prophetess) of Cumae. These books, written in Greek verse, were consulted by the Romans in times of trouble. Amazingly, the Romans preserved these books (or at least some portions) from the fifth century B.C.E. until they were destroyed in the Fifth Century C.E.
While not exactly on the level of the Sibylline Books, California’s Civil Code does include a number of oracular utterances that lawyers and even judges may profit from consulting in times of need. Like all good oracles, these statements are sufficiently obscure that they could fit most situations. Here’s a small sample:
- “That which does not appear to exist is to be regarded as if it did not exist.“ Cal. Civ. Code § 3530 (It’s really reassuring to know that if I just stay under the covers with my eyes shut, the monster under my bed doesn’t exist.)
- “Superfluity does not vitiate.“ Cal. Civ. Code § 3537 (This is good to know and even more fun to quote, but what exactly does it mean?)
- “The incident follows the principal, and not the principal the incident.” Cal. Civ. Code § 3540 (It’s nice to know that the legislature has seen fit to legislate that the cart actually must come after the horse. I suppose that but for this statute, some benighted neophyte would be putting the horse behind the cart.)
- “Things happen according to the ordinary course of nature and the ordinary habits of life.“ Cal. Civ. Code § 3546 (That has pretty much been my experience as well but I think Shakespeare said it much better in Macbeth: ”Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”)