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The Lawyers Discover the Fall of Rome, 9 Law & Hist. Rev. 191 (1991)

Abstract

Petrarch detested lawyers. The story of his experience of law is familiar. In 1316 Petrarch, then twelve years old, was sent by his father to study law, first in Montpellier, then in Bologna, the oldest center of Roman law studies in Europe. Bologna entranced him in some ways: there were great law teachers there, he later wrote, who were like the ancients themselves returned to life. Nevertheless, if he looked up to some of his teachers, his studies in Bologna taught Petrarch to despise the general soullessness and avarice offourteenth-century lawyers. Lawyers, he later wrote, cared nothing for antiquity and everything for money: to them "everything is for sale:' It was not, he assured readers of his Epistle to Posterity, that he found the subject too difficult. On the contrary, "many asserted that I would have done very well if I had persisted in my course. Nevertheless I dropped that study entirely as soon as my parents' supervision was removed. Not because I disliked the power and authority of Roman law, which are undoubtedly very great, or its saturation with Roman antiquity, which I love; but because men, in their wickedness, pervert Roman law when they employ it." Appalled by what he had seen, he gave up law for more honorable pursuits.

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1991

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