I only finished five of the lectures of “The Great Trials Of World History”, but already I feel that most of these trials are bad trials, not great trials. I think the author did this deliberately and “great” means “famous” rather than “good”. The trials of Socrates, Giordano Bruno, Thomas Moor are so bad that I couldn’t even finish the Giordano Bruno story in case it spoiled my good mood today. Also the three are very much martyr like, sacrificing their life for an ideal. I could understand martyrs, but I infinitely prefer Galileo Galilei’s strategy in preserving his own life.
The author laughs at the three medieval trials for their obvious ridiculousness. I joined in his laughter and found the stories more entertaining than any of those with sad martyrs who died for their beliefs. Then I thought probably medieval people are not as absurd as we would like to think of them. For example, we modern people put corpses on trials all the time. Of course we don’t dig the corpse up and dress it and put it in a courtroom–the trial of Pope Formosus really shows people’s taste for the extreme in the Middle Ages. We do our corpse trial in our mind, in the media, in movies, in classrooms. Often people of the past eras are put on modern trials and contemporary verdicts are handed out. We don’t think we are absurd since we believe we are just and we do this for a good moral cause. Also the trial by combat between Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris is not more unfair than many of the modern trials, which sometimes depend on societal prejudice, jury selection, the place the trial is held, the sway of public opinion, and most importantly money. While two men jousting for supremacy seems absurd to us as a form of serving justice, other methods seems to us to be fine if not ideal.