Poem 123 – A Conversation with Alberico Gentili

In the work of Alberico Gentili
A sovereign’s one who is truly free;
An unjust enemy’s one who makes war
When not their own master by natural law.

But surely a pirate, a most unjust foe,
Is free by nature, as Gentili must know,
This is why they’re a threat, they obey no man,
Except the leader who crafts their plans.

Gentili’s next tack says “they must have a state,
A senate, a treasury – not a first mate!”
Yet the pirates of Pmpey had all these too,
On Mediterranean islands, clear to view.

“Then they don’t obey the natural law,”
But neither do sovereigns, hence your law of war!
To keep their power a ruler maintains
Illegitimate methods to hold their gains.

But when at war, surely pirates do stray –
No they do not, Gentili doth say,
‘Even if they fight with regular combat,
They’re exiled from justice and that must be that.”

In book two at last they’re newly defined –
They don’t declare war, that’s toeing the line.
But why don’t they say, oh honoured Gentili?
“For they have no sovereign” – and so replies he.

So what is a pirate but an unrecognised king,
No different from a sovereign in the slightest thing.
No unjust enemy unless no sovereign rules,
Or pirates are despised also as barbaric fools.


Dear readers,

I am currently working for my exams, and discovered this poem about the little-known just war theorist Alberico Gentili. His work, De Iure Belli Libri Tres, is one of the foundational works of international law theory – even if it has many flaws, one of which is discussed here. The text is available in translation, and fairly enjoyable to read. Although a more simple, sung, summary of my arguments may be found here.

Kind regards,

The Hapless Neo-Romantic


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