4 Ways Antonin Scalia Related to the Ancient World

From Hunting to Hadrian, Here's the 411 on Scalia

Recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was a conservative mainstay on the judicial bench. He often did more harm than good, like when he voted against same-sex marriage and spewed racist comments, but Scalia did have a keen sense of the classics and the ancient world. Here are four ways that Scalia related to the ancients: the Romans in particular.

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His Name, Antonin, Was Derived from a Latin Moniker

Antoninus Pius, Scalia's distant namesake. Jebulon/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

The recently deceased Justice's first name, Antonin, comes from the Latin Antoninus, itself a derivation of Antonius. In fact, a famous Roman emperor was named Antoninus Pius. Dubbed one of the "five good emperors," AP was alleged to be religious (much like his namesake, Scalia, who was vocally against secularism) and even deified his adopted father, Hadrian.

Antoninus seems to have been a generous and kind man, and while Scalia openly defended torture, his imperial namesake suppressed rebellions "not by means of cruelty, but with moderation and dignity," according to the Historia Augusta.

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His Father Was Well-Versed in Classical Lore

Dante Alighieri, classics-inspired poet and subject of Scalia Sr.'s research. Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Scalia's stern dad, Salvatore, worked hard on his academic career. Eventually a professor of romance languages at Brooklyn College, Scalia Sr. focused his research on the medieval poet Dante, author of The Divine Comedy. Dante's work contained classical allusions galore, and Salvatore Scalia would have been intimately familiar with ancient history, as a result. Dante famously resided in the Italian city of Florence, where, incidentally, Antonin Scalia was conceived.

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Scalia Was an Avid Hunter

Scalia loved to hunt, but probably not like the Roman wild beast hunts in the amphitheater. Johnny Chicago at lb.wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons

In a 2013 interview with ​New York Magazine, Scalia stated that he loved hunting. He told the publication that that passion may have been genetic, recalling, "My grandfather—my namesake, his name is Antonino—he was an avid hunter. He used to disappear for a week—his family would be very upset—because he’d be off in the hills of Sicily, hunting." In fact, Scalia passed away after a quail hunting trip.

Animal rights hadn't become an important cause in the ancient world, and the Romans loved the hunt, whether they themselves were doing the hunting or not. Take the ​venatio, the wild beast hunt exhibited in the amphitheater; Suetonius claims that Augustus put on tons of games, but sometimes "he exhibited only the hunting of wild beasts."

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When He Went to the Opera, Scalia Chose the Ancient-Inspired Classics

A sleeping Ariadne. Saliko/Wikimedia Commons

Surprisingly, conservative Scalia was BFFs with liberal fellow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. No word on whether the Notorious RBG and Scalia ever did karaoke, but the twosome did attend the opera together.

In 2009, Scalia and Ginsburg saw the Washington National Opera's production of Ariadne auf Naxos. This show is a meta masterpiece that depicts two simultaneous entertainments at a dinner party: one great tragedy and one clowning performance. The tragedy, of course, was the tale of the Cretan princess Ariadne's abandonment by Theseus on the island of Naxos.