Monday, May 5, 2008

The Law Relating to Fleas

Thanks to an invitation to participate in a Golieb Seminar at NYU, I was able to spend a few afternoons browsing through used bookstores in NYC. I spent nearly a full day on the third floor of the Strand, well-known to most book fanatics, looking through their enormous stock of antiquarian works. Among these, I found one quite delightful text. It is a catalogue issued by Maggs Bros., the great London book seller, in 1931, titled: "Curiouser and Curiouser" [a line, of course, from Lewis Carroll's marvelous Alice]. The catalogue is a collection of unusual titles, including several on the law. No. 25 is a copy of Tractatus Procuratoris, editus sub nomine diaboli (Rome ca. 1491-1500). This esoteric work is a school book "in which the Devil (called Ascaron) pleads for justice at God's Tribunal aginst Man, who is defended by the Virgin Mary."

No. 173 is a book by George Whither, The Great Assizes holden in Parnassus by Apollo and his Assessours, in which William Shakespeare appears as a juror.

My favorite legal work contained in this catalogue, however, is No. 259, Otto P. Zaunschliffer's Dissertatio juridica de eo quod justum ext circa spiritus familiares foeminarum ( Marburg, 1688), a legal treatise on the rules relating to fleas. Among the topics considered are:

"Are fleas subject to the Civil Law?

Can a commoner's flea contract matrimony with a

Senator's flea?

May a flea be killed if it is pregnant when caught?

If I bequeath my clothes to you, am I expected to

include the fleas in my legacy?

Interestingly, I have a German translation of this work attributed to Goethe,published in Berlin by Alexander Duncker in 1839. It is, perhaps, one of the oddest legal works ever printed. I wonder if there are any modern legal books or articles on the flea?

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