A recent Kerala high court order, refusing to stay the vigilance court’s direction for further probe into the alleged bribery scam against the Finance minister has resulted not only in the resignation of the minister, but has also raised a lot of curiosity on the observation of the Judge that Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion.
I am sure that anyone who had studied law would have surely heard of this oft quoted legal principle that justice should not only be done but also seen to be done. It is not for the first time that Indian courts are taking the aid of Caesar’s wife in the dispensation of justice. In 2012, the Supreme Court while upholding the Madhya Pradesh government’s decision to compulsorily retire a district and sessions judge for unsatisfactory performance observed that like Caesar’s wife, a judge must be above suspicion. In that case, a bench of Justice RM Lodha and Anil R Dave also deplored Judge RC Chandel’s conduct of seeking erstwhile Member of Parliament RK Malaviya’s help for getting expunged some adverse remarks made by the high court against him in his annual confidential reports.
The popular explanation of this principle states that Pompeii was the second wife of Julius Caesar, who married Pompeia in 67 BC, after he had served as quaestor in Hispania, his first wife Cornelia having died the previous year in giving birth to her son who was stillborn.
In 62 BC Pompeii hosted the festival of the Bona Dea (“good goddess”), which no man was permitted to attend, in the house. However, a young patrician named Publius Clodius Pulcher managed to gain admittance disguised as a woman, apparently for the purpose of seducing Pompeii. He was caught and prosecuted for sacrilege. Caesar gave no evidence against Clodius at his trial, and he was acquitted. Nevertheless, Caesar divorced Pompeia, saying that “my wife ought not even to be under suspicion.” This gave rise to a proverb, sometimes expressed: “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.”
In The Life of Julius Caesar, written by Plutarch, the Greek and roman historian, gave a slightly different version stating that Julius Caesar divorced his wife (Pompeia) because of rumours of opprobrious behaviour. At trial, Caesar said he knew nothing about his wife’s rumoured adultery, but asserted that he divorced her because his wife “ought not even be under suspicion” (The Life of Julius Caesar, 9-10). In a sense, what Caesar was asserting was that he would not allow his wife’s suspected behaviours to sully his status, reputation, and prestige. At the time, Caesar was a powerful and ambitious political player (Pontifex Maximus), and he did not want his career thwarted by rumours of his mate’s debaucherous behaviour.