el-Rahman Jami - Yusuf & Zuleikha (15th CE)

Zelicah wife of Potiphar

Scott Alexander Gabriel Reiss

Heaven has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turned,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorned.
William Congreve - The Mourning Bride (1697)

Euripides - Hippolytus

Lucius Seneca - Phaedra

Anonymous - The Book of Jasher

William Shakespeare - The Winter’s Tale

Jean Racine - Phèdre

J. Madison, G. Morris, et al. - US Constitution

Walt Whitman - Song of the Open Road

Thomas Mann - Joseph und seine Brüder

Cour Européenne des Droits de l’Homme - Brusco vs France

Genesis 39:7-20 - Commentary

Presumably a Hebrew translation

And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.

But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what [is] with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;

[There is] none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou [art] his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, [or] to be with her.

And it came to pass about this time, that [Joseph] went into the house to do his business; and [there was] none of the men of the house there within.

And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.

And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth,

That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice:

And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out.

And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home.

And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me:

And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.

And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled. *

And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners [were] bound: and he was there in the prison. 


Euripides - Hippolytus (428 BCE)


ἐσωφρόνησε δ᾽ οὐκ ἔχουσα σωφρονεῖν,
ἡμεῖς δ᾽ ἔχοντες οὐ καλῶς ἐχρώμεθα.


Elle a été avisée, ne pouvant être chaste : mais moi qui ai la chasteté, j’ai manqué de prudence. ‡

‡ Le même mot σωφρονεῖν est ici pris dans un double sens : être chaste, et être prudent. Ce jeu de mots ne peut se reproduire en français.


With her discretion took the place of chastity, while I, though chaste, was not discreet in using this virtue. [E.P. Coleridge]

So vain was she for want of chastity,
So chaste am I because of vanity. [SAGReiss]

                - Hippolytus, 1034-5 note

The keywords of the tragedy are the adjective σώφρων (occurring 9 times at a rate of 10.588 per 10,000 words) & its cognate verb σωφρονεῖν (8 times at a rate of 9.412). It is one of the poet’s favorite lexemes, occurring at a rate of 11.772 in Andromache, 6.255 in The Bacchae (σώφρων), and 7.507 in The Bacchae, 6.164 in The Heracleidae (σωφρονεῖν). (For the sake of comparison, neither word exceeds a rate of 5.000 in any of Sophocles’ works.) The more common, antonymous adjective σεμνός (“lofty, respected, proud, haughty”) occurs a whopping 24 times across a wide range of meliorative & pejorative connotations. By contrast, σώφρων encompasses the semantic field: “of sound mind, modest, prudent, chaste”. In this paradoxical epigram Euripides uses the figure of speech zeugma (The word σωφρονεῖν is understood in the second clause without being reiterated.) to draw an antithesis between Phaedra & Hippolytus, at least in the latter’s mind. Professor of classics Joe Farrell, the elder brother of a childhood friend, notes that the tense & aspect of the verbs suggest shifting shades of meaning. Σεμνά Phaedra acted once (aorist) in accordance with σωφρονεῖν, despite her ardent nature; σεμνός Hippolytus could never (imperfect) show his σωφρονεῖν to good advantage, but it’s not at all clear whether his σεμνός & σωφρονεῖν and hers are intended to be synonymous, nor by whom, playwright or character. Phaedra felt lust and chastised herself, seeking a final measure of revenge in order to save her reputation and teach her reluctant lover a lesson in σωφρονεῖν (her last words); Hippolytus felt chaste and was chastised (unjustly) for his zeal or hubris (démesure, excess, or pride). Invoking σεμνὸν Zeus, Theseus conjures (885-90) his father Poseidon to kill his bastard son before hearing the latter’s defense (1055-6), an infanticidal lapse of σωφρονεῖν (sagacity).

Lucius Seneca - Phaedra (c. 50 CE)


Deprensa culpa est. anime, quid segnis stupes?
regeramus ipsi crimen atque ultro impiam
Venerem arguamus: scelere velandum est scelus:
tutissimum est inferre, cum timeas, gradum.
ausae priores simus an passae nefas,
secreta cum sit culpa, quis testis sciet? [719-24]

La Nourrice

Le crime est évident. Pourquoi hésiter ? Rejetons-le sur lui, accusons-le lui-même d’une flamme incestueuse. Couvrons une accusation par une autre. Le plus sûr, quand on craint, c’est d’attaquer. Tout s’est passé dans le secret : nul témoin ne dira si nous sommes les auteurs ou les victimes de cet attentat.


Her guilty secret’s out. Think quickly, mind—
t be so dense and slow. It is our job
to reconstrue this outrage so it will
appear as his incestuous passion, not
as hers. A wrongful act must cover up
a wrongful act. When an attack is feared,
the safest course is to strike first oneself.
Her guilt was secretly avowed. No one
can testify this vile initiative
was ours. We could be victims of a crime. [Frederick Ahl]

Eduardo Barrón - Nerón y Séneca (1904)

Seneca the Younger, known for his stoic philosophical bent & a taste for bloodshed, exerted a heavy influence on early modern European theater, especially that of Shakespeare & Racine. Evil permeates his tragic world, as perhaps befits a counselor to Nero, eventually ordered to commit suicide, which he struggled to achieve by means of poison & slit wrists, finally drowning or suffocating in his steambath, at least according to Tacitus. His insights into psychology, moreover, delve deep, and he makes explicit the thoughts of the calumniatrix, bringing us into the heart of the crime of sexual perjury, the myth of the wife of Potiphar. The beauty, and verisimilitude, of the false accusation derive from the fact that it is the mirror image of a real transgression either in thought or in deed. Spiteful guilt (culpa) is its wellspring. The sexual jealousy that Iago feeds to Othello convinces because the ensign really is envious of his captain, racially, socially, & sexually.

The clever Nurse grasps this shrewd tactic, the law of commutation or reciprocity, formulating it in the cynical phrase: scelere velandum est scelus. The affect remains genuine, as the subject & object of desire switch roles. A telltale artifact, Joseph’s garment, Phaedra’s suicide note, Hippolytus’ sword, Desdemona’s handkerchief, serves as proof of the lie. All of the Zelicah/Phaedra characters suffer symptoms of unrequited love sickness, depression, insomnia, anorexia, hallucinations. Euripides’ Phaedra (βουλεύσομαι, 723) & the Mishna’s Zelicah (cunning, 44:55) show signs of premeditation. Seneca & Racine outsource the machinations of mendacity to the servant, who then takes the fall for her mistress. The Nurse is a clear-headed liar, her mistress pathological. Indeed the most persuasive dissembler believes herself. Sincerity is the gift of the mythomaniac. In a false accusation of incest, the mother implants a false memory in her daughter and manipulates the child into doing the dirty work of accusing her father of confabulated crimes that have never taken place, except in the lurid fantasy of the mother.

Anonymous - The Book of Jasher (high to late middle ages)

Bloody Lemons

And she gave them knives to peel the citrons to eat them, and she commanded that they should dress Joseph in costly garments, and that he should appear before them, and Joseph came before their eyes and all the women looked on Joseph, and could not take their eyes from off him, and they all cut their hands with the knives that they had in their hands, and all the citrons that were in their hands were filled with blood. [44:29]

And Zelicah wept on account of the desire of her heart toward him, and she supplicated him with weeping, and her tears flowed down her cheeks, and she spoke unto him in a voice of supplication and in bitterness of soul, saying.

Hast thou ever heard, seen or known of so beautiful a woman as I am, or better than myself, who speak daily unto thee, fall into a decline through love for thee, confer all this honor upon thee, and still thou wilt not hearken to my voice. [44:41-2]

And she rose up and ascended to her temple in the house, and dressed herself in princely garments, and she placed upon her head precious stones of onyx stones, inlaid with silver and gold, and she beautified her face and skin with all sorts of women’s purifying liquids, and she perfumed the temple and the house with cassia and frankincense, and she spread myrrh and aloes, and she afterward sat in the entrance of the temple, in the passage of the house, through which Joseph passed to do his work, and behold Joseph came from the field, and entered the house to do his master’s work. [44:49]

And she hastened and caught hold of Joseph and his garments, and she said unto him, As the king liveth if thou wilt not perform my request thou shalt die this day, and she hastened and stretched forth her other hand and drew a sword from beneath her garments, and she placed it upon Joseph’s neck, and she said, Rise and perform my request, and if not thou diest this day.

And Joseph was afraid of her at her doing this thing, and he rose up to flee from her, and she seized the front of his garments, and in the terror of his flight the garment which Zelicah seized was torn, and Joseph left the garment in the hand of Zelicah, and he fled and got out, for he was in fear.

And when Zelicah saw that Joseph's garment was torn, and that he had left it in her hand, and had fled, she was afraid of her life, lest the report should spread concerning her, and she rose up and acted with cunning, and put off the garments in which she was dressed, and she put on her other garments. [44:53-5]

And Potiphar came home enraged, and his wife cried out to him, saying, What is this thing that thou hast done unto me in bringing a Hebrew servant into my house, for he came unto me this day to sport with me; thus did he do unto me this day.

And Potiphar heard the words of his wife, and he ordered Joseph to be punished with severe stripes, and they did so to him.

And whilst they were smiting him, Joseph called out with a loud voice, and he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and he said, O Lord God, thou knowest that I am innocent of all these things, and why shall I die this day through falsehood, by the hand of these uncircumcised wicked men, whom thou knowest?

And whilst Potiphar’s men were beating Joseph, he continued to cry out and weep, and there was a child there eleven months old, and the Lord opened the mouth of the child, and he spake these words before Potiphar’s men, who were smiting Joseph, saying,

What do you want of this man, and why do you do this evil unto him? my mother speaketh falsely and uttereth lies; thus was the transaction. [44:61-5] *

And the priests said unto Potiphar, Send, we pray thee, and let them bring before us Joseph’s torn garment, and let us see the tear in it, and if it shall be that the tear is in front of the garment, then his face must have been opposite to her and she must have caught hold of him, to come to her, and with deceit did thy wife do all that she has spoken.

And they brought Joseph’s garment before the priests who were judges, and they saw and behold the tear was in front of Joseph, and all the judging priests knew that she had pressed him, and they said, The judgment of death is not due to this slave for he has done nothing, but his judgment is, that he be placed in the prison house on account of the report, which through him has gone forth against thy wife.

And Potiphar heard their words, and he placed him in the prison house, the place where the king’s prisoners are confined, and Joseph was in the house of confinement twelve years.

And notwithstanding this, his master’s wife did not turn from him, and she did not cease from speaking to him day after day to hearken to her, and at the end of three months Zelicah continued going to Joseph to the house of confinement day by day, and she enticed him to hearken to her, and Zelicah said unto Joseph, How long wilt thou remain in this house? but hearken now to my voice, and I will bring thee out of this house.

And Joseph answered her, saying, It is better for me to remain in this house than to hearken to thy words, to sin against God; and she said unto him, If thou wilt not perform my wish, I will pluck out thine eyes, add fetters to thy feet, and will deliver thee into the hands of them whom thou didst not know before.

And Joseph answered her and said, Behold the God of the whole earth is able to deliver me from all that thou canst do unto me, for he openeth the eyes of the blind, and looseth those that are bound, and preserveth all strangers who are unacquainted with the land. [44:74-9] 

Marc Chagall
                  - Joseph (1962)

Marc Chagall - The Wife of Potiphar

The Bible is not a closed book. As it was being written, during and after its canonization, innumerable other texts based on or derived from biblical subjects circulated widely among the sages. Folktales, liturgy, commentary, legal opinion, embellished translations into Aramaic, all eventually coalesced into the Jerusalem & Babylonian Talmudim (c. 200-500 CE), learned compilations of encyclopedic sprawl, the Jews’ ongoing dialogue with their holy book, that provide the foundation of modern, rabbinical Judaism. Chapter 44 of the medieval Hebrew homiletic Midrash Sefer HaYashar retells the tale of Joseph & the wife of Potiphar, who is given a name not mentioned in the Bible (although it appears in the Coran). The beauty & psychopathology of Zelicah (Princess of Mauritania according to some sources), the splendor of the princely dwelling, an odd episode involving the handmaidens’ cutting themselves while trying to peel lemons (cf. the Coran 12:31, oranges & pomegranates also attested), blinded by the sight of Joseph in regalia, all fill out the biblical story, increasing the word count more than fivefold. An African Phèdre, the furious woman scorned draws a sword on our hero. The chronology is defined & drawn out, making the depiction more realistic & suspenseful, but less shockingly spare. The biblical author simply coordinates everything into a few short sentences by means of the ubiquitous prefixed conjunction and, which begins every verse of chapter 39 but 9 & 23. Seven of the fourteen verses quoted begin with ויהי (“and there was”) generally translated: “And it came to pass”.

Legal issues are spelled out quite clearly in the Midrash. Joseph, a Hebrew slave with no inherent rights, is flogged directly upon accusation, the kind of rush to judgment, arbitrary garde à vue, pretrial detention, or preventive custody theoretically prohibited in civilized lands by the presumption of innocence & a writ of habeas corpus. He is granted a preliminary injunction by the voice of truth, Potiphar & Zelicah’s infant son (three months old in the fifteenth-century Persian poem of Abd el-Rahman Jami). Called out by his candid offspring, Potiphar elects to pursue the matter through the judicial system. The priests, or judges, take a pragmatic look at the case in search of hard evidence to inform their ruling. Since Joseph’s clothing was rent in the front, they conclude that he must have been fleeing Zelicah at the time of the altercation. (The Coran 12:26-8 reverses the garment, but draws the same conclusion.) Declared innocent, Joseph is happily spared the death penalty, but nevertheless given a twelve-year prison sentence for damage done to the lady’s reputation (“report”) by the very hint of adultery, caused by her own criminal lust & false accusation. Zelicah pursues her prey even in the belly of the beast, promising him freedom & threatening him with death. Joseph in the diaspora trusts in his God to look after a Jew in a foreign land. ברוך השם (“Blessed be the Name”).

William Shakespeare - The Winter’s Tale (c. 1610)


Since what I am to say must be but that
Which contradicts my accusation, and
The testimony on my part, no other
But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me
To say, “Not guilty”: mine integrity
Being counted falsehood, shall, as I express it,
Be so received. But thus, if powers divine
Behold our humane actions, as they do,
I doubt not then, but innocence shall make
False accusation blush, and tyranny
Tremble at patience. [III.ii]


Puisque je ne puis faire que rejeter
Ces chefs d’accusation ; et qu’en ma faveur
Je n’ai de témoignage que le mien,
A quoi me servirait de me dire innocente ? Ma probité,
Tenue pour perfidie, sera, si je l’exprime,
Accueillie comme telle... Et pourtant, écoutez :
Si les puissances du Ciel voient nos actions,
Et je n’en doute pas, alors il est certain
Que l’innocence un jour fera rougir
La fausse accusation, et devant la souffrance
Trembler la tyrannie... [Jules Bonnefoy]

Blind Justice

Leontes’ sexual jealousy of Hermione’s imaginary adultery with his friend Polixenes best fits Freud’s analysis of this psychopathology, as the result of a repressed homoerotic fantasy: “Delusional jealousy corresponds to dormant homosexuality […] I certainly do not love him, she loves him.” In the simple case of unfounded jealousy, only the subject of love mutates. In a false accusation of rape the subject & object permutate: “I don’t love him, he loves me.” In a false accusation of incest, a third interchangeable actor is introduced, the child: “I don’t love him, he loves her.” Hermione (like Joseph) puts her faith in another world, the oracle at Delphi, appears to die of grief, but only turns into a statue to be brought back to life by a deus ex machina in act V (after a sixteen-year hiatus) and reunited with her daughter. We should all be so lucky.

Ben Jonson made fun of Shakespeare’s desert & seashore geology of Bohemia (Western Czechoslovakia), but Hermione knows that Elizabethan England (much like twenty-first-century France) is not a good place to be accused of a crime. Christopher Marlowe, author of Tamburlaine I & II, The Jew of Malta, Doctor Faustus & Edward II, the greatest English poet & playwright prior to Shakespeare, was murdered in his prime by three government operatives in a public house in 1593. The coroner’s report concluded that the perpetrators had acted in self-defense after a row over the bar tab. The deceased’s fellow writer & occasional roommate Thomas Kyd, author of The Spanish Tragedy, had been arrested on trumped-up charges of heresy, tortured, and Marlowe’s name came up. Kyd would die the following year of his wounds. Shakespeare kept his nose clean, and Jonson pleaded benefit of clergy. When Elizabeth died in 1603, all hell broke loose, from Guy Fawkes to Jacobean drama.

Hermione understands that one cannot prove a negative proposition, whence the necessity of a strong presumption of innocence: “Ei incumbit probatio, qui dicit, non qui negat; cum per rerum naturam factum negantis probatio nulla sit.” In France today the mere exercise of the right to remain silent may be held against presumably innocent citizens. Counsel is not present during questioning. Indeed the suspect (already in custody for up to twenty-four or forty-eight hours) is not allowed to hold the keyboard, so his testimony is absurdly typed in the first person singular by an agent of the forces of violence, and the detainee is then asked to sign the resulting statement (acknowledging it as his own words, contrary to fact), despite whatever errors, omissions, inter- or extrapolations, misinterpretations, mistakes in spelling, grammar, & punctuation it may contain. Suffice to say that the system is ripe for abuse. Hermione opposes patience (passion or suffering, passive resistance) to tyranny. Where a plea of innocence is interpreted as evidence of guilt, or where (as in France) the presumption of innocence is so weak as to resemble a verdict of guilt, silence is the only answer.

Jean Racine - Phèdre (1677)

Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne - La Mort d'Hippolyte


Aux portes de Trézène, et parmi ces tombeaux,
Des princes de ma race antiques sépultures,
Est un temple sacré formidable aux parjures.
C’est là que les mortels n’osent jurer en vain :
Le perfide y reçoit un châtiment soudain ;
Et craignant d’y trouver la mort inévitable,
Le mensonge n’a point de frein plus redoutable. [1392-8]


At the gates of Troezen,
‘Mid ancient tombs where princes of my race
Lie buried, stands a temple, ne’er approach’d
By perjurers, where mortals dare not make
False oaths, for instant punishment befalls
The guilty. Falsehood knows no stronger check
Than what is present there—the fear of death
That cannot be avoided. [Robert Bruce Boswell]

Racine reorganizes the character & plot structure of his models. He either could not bear or did not dare to portray Hippolytus as a proud, misogynistic homosexual, so he devises a clandestine love story (forbidden for political reasons) between him & Aricia, the lone surviving orphan of the Pallantides whom Theseus has just slaughtered, but who is not mentioned by Euripides & Seneca. She has always borne the brunt of “critiques fort sévères” for her offputting mièvrerie. In her defense, she does take over the role of Artemis, the voice of reason in act V, as the gods do not appear on the neoclassical stage. The lovers, however, take a back seat to the eponymous heroine Phaedra, whose jealous hubris is taken about as far as French poetry has ever gone.

A comparison of the scene structure of Phèdre (1,654 lines) & Hippolytus (1,466 lines) shows how much more complex modern dramaturgy is than ancient, even in the example of Racine, a man by nature, Jansenist upbringing, & theatrical culture given to extreme economy of means. We’ll ignore act breaks and use the French convention that holds each entrance or exit of a character to indicate a scene break:

The verse structure of Greek tragedy allows us to find the dramatic structure of the play. Songs of the chorus (referred to as stasimon and conventionally written in the Doric dialect) divide the action into episodes, acts, or extended scenes (Details vary according to editor.):

Phèdre - 30 scenes
Hippolytus - 14 scenes
Sarah Bernhardt - Phèdre

Hippolyte, Théramène
Hippolyte, Œnone, Théramène
Phèdre, Œnone.
Phèdre, Œnone, Panope
Phèdre, Œnone
Aricie, Ismène
Hippolyte, Aricie, Ismène
Hippolyte, Aricie, Théramène, Ismène
Hippolyte, Théramène
Phèdre, Hippolyte, Œnone
Hippolyte, Théramène
Phèdre, Œnone
Phèdre, Œnone
Thésée, Hippolyte, Phèdre, Œnone, Théramène
Thésée, Hippolyte, Théramène
Hippolyte, Théramène
Thésée, Œnone
Thésée, Hippolyte
Phèdre, Thésée
Phèdre, Œnone
Hippolyte, Aricie
Thésée, Aricie, Ismène
Thésée, Aricie
Thésée, Panope
Thésée, Théramène
Thésée, Phèdre, Théramène, Panope

Phaedra, Nurse
Hippolytus, Nurse
Nurse, Phaedra
Theseus, Hippolytus
Messenger, Theseus
Theseus, Artemis
Theseus, Artemis, Hippolytus

Sarah Bernhardt
                  - Phèdre



Act I

Song I

Act II

Song II


Song III

Act IV

Song IV

Act V














Aphrodite, Hippolytus


Phaedra, Nurse


Phaedra, Hippolytus, Nurse


Theseus, Hippolytus


Theseus, Messenger


Artemis, Theseus, Hippolytus


One may quibble about the omnipresence of the chorus, divided into different sections, with the chorus leader on occasion standing apart to take a speaking role, but the stagecraft, as understood by characters entering, interacting, & exiting, is simplified by half in Hippolytus. Euripides’ masterpiece splits symmetrically into two parts: the first, governed by Aphrodite the goddess of love, featuring Hippolytus, Phaedra, & the Nurse, the second, governed by Artemis the goddess of chastity, featuring Theseus, Hippolytus, & a messenger. No stage management is wasted. Only Hippolytus makes four distinct appearances, alone, beset by Phaedra, damned by Theseus, dying; the rest of the characters appear but once.

By contrast, Phèdre seems to unfold in a palace hallway lined with revolving doors. Racine is constrained by Aristotle’s three unities (of time, of place, & of action), derived primarily from his reading of Sophocles’ Antigone, and Boileau’s bienséance. He had little choice but to situate his tragedy at a crossroads of sorts, where characters both high-born & low- might spontaneously meet. He does manage to create a subplot (Hippolytus & Aricia), but he weaves it into the main story so skillfully that one might not notice. English poets have never minded this esthetic theory, as Dr Johnson observes: “Whether Shakespeare knew the unities, and rejected them by design, or deviated from them by happy ignorance, it is, I think, impossible to decide, and useless to inquire.” Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy includes the aforementioned sixteen-year break between acts, settings in both Scicily & Bohemia, a live bear onstage, and a song about dildos. And the vulgarity of Desdemona’s handkechief gave Voltaire fits?

J. Madison, G. Morris, et al. - US Constitution (1787-91)

US Constitution (1787) Article 1, section 9: The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.

US Bill of Rights (1791) 4th amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

5th amendment: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

6th amendment: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

US Supreme Court, Watts vs Indiana (1949): Amid much that is irrelevant or trivial, one serious situation seems to me to stand out in these cases. The suspect neither had nor was advised of his right to get counsel. This presents a real dilemma in a free society. To subject one without counsel to questioning which may and is intended to convict him, is a real peril to individual freedom. To bring in a lawyer means a real peril to solution of the crime because, under our adversary system, he deems that his sole duty is to protect his client -- guilty or innocent -- and that, in such a capacity, he owes no duty whatever to help society solve its crime problem. Under this conception of criminal procedure, any lawyer worth his salt will tell the suspect in no uncertain terms to make no statement to police under any circumstances.

If the State may arrest on suspicion and interrogate without counsel, there is no denying the fact that it largely negates the benefits of the constitutional guaranty of the right to assistance of counsel. Any lawyer who has ever been called into a case after his client has "told all" and turned any evidence he has over to the Government knows how helpless he is to protect his client against the facts thus disclosed.

US Supreme Court, Miranda vs Arizona (1966) d: The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.

e: If the individual indicates, prior to or during questioning, that he wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease; if he states that he wants an attorney, the questioning must cease until an attorney is present.

After his release from prison Ernesto Miranda spent much of his time in shabby saloons while staying at cheap hotels in the rough neighborhoods of Phoenix, Arizona. On 31 January 1976 he was playing cards at La Amapola Bar when a violent fight broke out. Miranda received a lethal knife wound. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Good Samaritan Hospital. He was 34 years old. A suspect was arrested, but he chose to exercise the right to remain silent after being read the eponymous Miranda rights. The suspect, presumed innocent, was released. The murder investigation was closed without a perpetrator ever being apprehended.

Walt Whitman - Song of the Open Road (1856)

Allons! the road is before us!

It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well.

Allons! be not detained!

Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopened!

Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearned!

Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!

Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.

Mon enfant! I give you my hand!

I give you my love, more precious than money,

I give you myself, before preaching or law;

Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?

Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

Let’s go ! La route est devant nous !

Elle est sans danger—je l’essayée—mes propres pieds l’ont bien essayée.

Let’s go ! Ne sois pas détenue !

Laisse tomber le papier vierge sur le bureau, et le livre fermé sur l’étagère !

Laisse tomber les outils dans l’atelier ! laisse tomber l’argent à gagner !

Laisse tranquille l’école ! n’écoute pas l’appel de la maîtresse !

Laisse le pasteur prêcher à la paroisse ! laisse l’avocat plaider à la cour, et le juge exposer la loi.

My child ! je te donne la main !

Je te donne mon amour, plus précieux que l’argent,

Je te donne moi-même, avant le prêche ou la loi ;

Me donneras-tu toi-même ? viendras-tu voyager avec moi ?

Nous soutiendrons-nous toute la vie ? [SAGReiss]


Thomas Mann - Joseph und seine Brüder (1933-43)

Thomas Mann supports the acceptation “eunuch” of the word often translated as “officer” or “chamberlain” in describing Potiphar (Strong’s number 5631), which tends to make his wife’s character seem more sympathetic. The Bible admits of either interpretation, but the Midrash does not. Mann expands the episode into two hundred-page chapters, explicitly walking parallel to the footsteps of Freud, who published Moses and Monotheism in 1938, but conferring on Abraham the invention of God. The German in exile also renames his heroine Mut-em-enet:

So Muts nicht nur unwahre, sondern leider auch hetzerische * Rede. Und Potiphars Hofvolk stand verblüfft und ratlos, unklar im Kopf schon durchs Freibier der Tempel, aber durch das, was sie hörten, erst recht. Hatten sie’s denn nicht so gehört und alle gewußt, daß die Frau auf den schönen Vorsteher fliege, er aber sich ihrer weigere? Und nun stellte sich plötzlich heraus, daß er Hand an die Herrin gelegt und es gewaltsam mit ihr hatten treiben † wollen? Da drehte sich ihnen der Kopf, vom Bier und von dieser Geschichte, denn sie gab keinen Gedankenreim, und alle hatten sie für den Jungemeier von Herzen viel übrig. Allerdings, geschrieen ‡ hatte die Rechte; sie hatten es alle gehört, und alle kannten sie das Gesetz, daß es der Beweis sei für eines Weibes Unschuld, wenn sie laut ‡ rief ‡ während eines ehrwidrigen Angriffs. Zudem hielt sie des Meiers Oberkleid in der Hand, das wirklich ganz so aussah, als sei es ihr, als er ausriß, zum Pfande geblieben; er selbst aber stand, den Kopf auf die Brust geneigt, und sagte kein Wort. [III.vii]

Tel fut le discours de Mout, non seulement faux mais malheureusement provocateur aussi. Les gens de Putiphar demeuraient interdits, désemparés, l’esprit troublé par la bière absorbée à discrétion dans les temples, mais, surtout, par ce qu’ils entendaient. N’avaient-ils pas tous ouï-dire et su que cette femme courait après le bel intendant et qu’il se refusait ? Et voilà que tout à coup, on découvrait qu’il avait porté la main sur la maîtresse et voulu lui faire violence ? La tête leur tournait à cause de la bière, et aussi de cette histoire qui ne concordait pas très bien avec leurs idées et tous, par ailleurs, ayant un faible pour le jeune intendant. Certes, la Droite avait crié ; ils l’avaient entendue, ils connaissaient la loi, et savaient que c’était la preuve de l’innocence d’une femme, quand elle criait à voix haute pendant un attentat contre son honneur. En outre, elle tenait à la main le manteau du majordome, comme un gage qui lui serait resté au moment où il avait pris la fuite. Pour lui, debout, la tête inclinée sur sa poitrine, il se taisait.

This then was Mut’s speech—which was not only untrue, but, sad to say, demagogic as well. And Potiphar’s household stood there dumbstruck and hopeless, their heads already muddled by the temple’s free beer and now even more so by what they had just heard. Hadn’t they heard, didn’t they all know that the woman was infatuated with their beautiful steward, but that he had refused her? And now suddenly it turned out that he had laid hands upon her and tried to force himself upon her? Their heads were spinning, from beer and from this story, for it made no sense, and they all were very fond of the young steward. Nevertheless, the true wife had screamed; they had all heard it, and they all knew the law, which said a woman proved her innocence by screaming loudly during an attack on her honor. Besides which, she was holding the steward’s outer garment in her hand, which certainly looked as if he had forfeited it to her in trying to escape; he, however, stood there with his head sunk on his chest, and said not a word.

* hunting jargon, roughly akin to “predatory”. † Hebrew צחק “to mock, make sport of” cf. Midrash 44:61. ‡ echo Martin Luther's translation.

Faced with an obviously false accusation, the domestics struggle between holiday cheer & sober disbelief. Duty, of course, calls for them to lay hands on Joseph, for power in the house flows from the master through his wife. Then as now, a woman’s cry, a telltale artifact, & an unjustly accused man’s silence prove whatever one wishes to believe. The wife of Potiphar need only speak again to break the spell, and the Hebrew will return to the pit. Married to a Jewess, Mann’s survival of the First World War & the interbellum Wasteland, his writing in the shadow of the Third Reich, his conflicted sexuality, all contribute to the sad anticlimax of the tale. No judge examines the tear in Joseph’s garment, no deus ex machina intervenes, no infant cries out: “J’accuse !” The men of the house mirthlessly do their duty. Expedience (not even might) makes right. In the heartless bureaucracy of the modern nation state or Leviathan, bequeathed to us by Thomas Hobbes, faceless functionaries do evil with no malice aforethought. In the twenty-first century, however, every citizen is like E.B. White’s Charlotte the spider, free to fight back by weaving words on the World Wide Web.

Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme en Société (1789)

IX. Tout homme étant présumé innocent jusqu’à ce qu’il ait été déclaré coupable, s’il est jugé indispensable de l’arrêter, toute rigueur qui ne seroit pas nécessaire pour s’assurer de sa personne, doit être sévèrement réprimée par la Loi.

Cour Européenne des Droits de l’Homme - Brusco vs France (14 octobre 2010)

44. La Cour rappelle que le droit de ne pas contribuer à sa propre incrimination et le droit de garder le silence sont des normes internationales généralement reconnues qui sont au cœur de la notion de procès équitable. Ils ont notamment pour finalité de protéger l’accusé contre une coercition abusive de la part des autorités et, ainsi, d’éviter les erreurs judiciaires et d’atteindre les buts de l’article 6 de la Convention (voir, notamment, Bykov c. Russie [GC], no 4378/02, § 92, 10 mars 2009, et John Murray, précité, § 45). Le droit de ne pas s’incriminer soi-même concerne le respect de la détermination d’un accusé à garder le silence et présuppose que, dans une affaire pénale, l’accusation cherche à fonder son argumentation sans recourir à des éléments de preuve obtenus par la contrainte ou des pressions, au mépris de la volonté de l’accusé (voir, notamment, Saunders c. Royaume-Uni, 17 décembre 1996, §§ 68-69, Recueil 1996-VI, Allan c. Royaume-Uni, no 48539/99, § 44, CEDH 2002-IX, Jalloh c. Allemagne [GC], no 54810/00, §§ 94-117, CEDH 2006-IX, et O’Halloran et Francis c. Royaume-Uni [GC] nos 15809/02 et 25624/02, §§ 53-63, CEDH 2007-VIII).

45. La Cour rappelle également que la personne placée en garde à vue a le droit d’être assistée d’un avocat dès le début de cette mesure ainsi que pendant les interrogatoires, et ce a fortiori lorsqu’elle n’a pas été informée par les autorités de son droit de se taire (voir les principes dégagés notamment dans les affaires Salduz c. Turquie [GC], no 36391/02, §§ 50-62, 27 novembre 2008, Dayanan c. Turquie, no 7377/03, §§ 30-34, 13 octobre 2009, Boz c. Turquie, no 2039/04, §§ 33-36, 9 février 2010, et Adamkiewicz c. Pologne, no 54729/00 §§ 82-92, 2 mars 2010).

54. La Cour constate également qu’il ne ressort ni du dossier ni des procès-verbaux des dépositions que le requérant ait été informé au début de son interrogatoire du droit de se taire, de ne pas répondre aux questions posées, ou encore de ne répondre qu’aux questions qu’il souhaitait. Elle relève en outre que le requérant n’a pu être assisté d’un avocat que vingt heures après le début de la garde à vue, délai prévu à l’article 63-4 du code de procédure pénale (paragraphe 28 ci-dessus). L’avocat n’a donc été en mesure ni de l’informer sur son droit à garder le silence et de ne pas s’auto-incriminer avant son premier interrogatoire ni de l’assister lors de cette déposition et lors de celles qui suivirent, comme l’exige l’article 6 de la Convention.

55. Il s’ensuit que l’exception soulevée par le Gouvernement doit être rejetée et qu’il y a eu, en l’espèce, atteinte au droit du requérant de ne pas contribuer à sa propre incrimination et de garder le silence, tel que garanti par l’article 6 §§ 1 et 3 de la Convention.

                  Bruni - Eurotrash (1996)

The French authorities have told me that it is illegal to reproduce police or court documents (or even the logo of the Gendarmerie Nationale) online, as I may or may not have done, but they have thus far proven unable to show me any such law. Perhaps they just don’t care for the unwanted oversight of those whom they call internautes. Although I have come to a private understanding with one gendarme, and may be open to such an agreement with others, I contend that it is not illegal, and in a democracy cannot be so. The names of those accused of breaking the law and those sworn to uphold it, suspects, police, prosecutors, & judges, appear in the local newspaper every day. Their misfortune or vocation makes them public figures. Even if it existed, such a law would not pertain to this website, which is hosted in British Columbia under the far more benign common law of Anglo-American culture, as opposed to the rather draconian Napoleonic code based on Roman law. Nothing on this site falls within the purview or jurisdiction of French statutes: “Dieu et mon droit” & “Honi soit qui mal y pense”.

Egyptian Royalty

Royal Coat of Arms of the UK at King's Arms
                  Tavern in Williamsburg, Virginia, USA

Front National de la Jeunesse (FNJ)