The Corona Impeachment – Judge Dee and Sisamnes

There are so many opinions legal and otherwise about the Impeachment Trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona. But it’s not as thrilling as listening to the antics and tactics of the opposing teams at the Impeachment Court. Add to this the colorful nature Impeachment Judges Enrile and Santiago chastise, condemn and care for the case before them it is a success in terms of attracting attention. And the use of the Tagalog, the lingua franca of Metro Manila and Filipino entertainment world only adds to its viral nature.

The on-going trial does bring two mind two stories about two judges in history and the arts. One depicted in a painting in Bruges while the other became a figure of fact and in fiction transcribed in more than one language.


According to the Ancient Historian Herodotus, There was in Persia during the reign of Cambyses II a judge named Sisamnes. Cambyses II was told that Judge Sisamnes had accepted a bribe and gave an unjust verdict. Herodotus said that Cambyses II had Judge Sisamnes arrested and it was noted that the judge was quite stoic even nonchalant when he was arrested.

If the Judge Sisamnes knew what was in store for him he would have probably and justifiably alarmed. Cambyses II sentenced Judge Sisamnes to death … by flaying or removal of the skin.

Cambyses II then had Judge Sisamnes’ skin turn as a seat cover for a chair that the replacement of Judge Sisames would literally sit in judgment. The replacement of Judge Sisamnes – his son.

A reminder from Cambyses II not to be corrupt.

The Story of the Corrupt Judge Sisamnes survived the centuries and was depicted in 1498 by Gerard David in two paintings – what some would call a diptych – “The Arrest of Sisamnes” and “Flaying of Sisamnes” commissioned by the city of Bruges and was hanged in the Alderman’s room.

A warning against corrupt judges.

The two paintings: the diptych can be seen at the end of this post. But, First the next judge.


I met the stories of Judge Di at a book store that no longer exists. It was a book written by Robert van Gulik, who discovered a second hand book about Judge Dee, written by Di Gong An, in Tokyo. Van Gulik translated the book and from there wrote more stories about the famous Judge Dee. The character of Judge Dee was based a popular official from the Tang Dynasty known for his efficiency and honesty, Di Renjie.

One story about Judge Dee was the case about the Strange Corpse. In the tale Judge Dee investigated, prosecuted and sentenced a woman accused of murdering her husband. And the problem Judge Dee faced in the case was that the woman accused refused to admit guilt and her crime was not easily proved. The Judge used every means he had to get to the truth and convict the woman but it was useless, until a twist in the story provided a solution as well – a bitter sweet solution. The woman was convicted and sentenced to death – by slicing.

Aside from the mystery waiting to be solved, the stories of Judge Dee were interesting because the judge was and for all intents and purposes investigated, prosecuted, judged and sentenced the accused. Plus, the judge was allowed to use torture to extract the truth.

Of course the judges ruling could be reversed and if the judge’s ruling and sentencing was found to be unjust – then he would be subjected to the same treatment that was given to the accused – eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

Here are the paintings of Sisamnes by Gerard David. Warning! The painting depicts flaying or skinning alive of an individual.

Arrest of Sisamnes by Gerard David

Flaying of Sisamnes

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