Mediate Like a Roman

Canoe - 2What does a mediator do? In helping to understand what a mediator is & what a mediator does I have gone to Latin sources. I refer the reader to the Latin word interpres (which came to me on my phone today as my Latin Word of the Day). This word means a middleman, “an agent between two parties, mediator, broker, factor, negotiator” in English. In looking at various Latin sources an interpres includes “messenger of the gods” and “goddess of marriage”, a “soothsayer”, “a translator” and of course the obvious meaning of interpres “an interpreter”.

I suggest that the Latin word interpres accurately describes what a mediator is and does. It’s trite that many disputes have their roots in lack of communication or misunderstandings. The mediator’s role is to ensure that each party not only hears the other but understands the other. By being empathetic and objective a mediator is much more likely to accurately hear what a party is really saying. The mediator, unlike a party to a dispute, comes to the table with a lack of “involvement” or “history” & unlike a party to a dispute is more likely to accurately filter out background noise & hear what is really being said. As an interpres the mediator’s role is to act as a translator to the other party by ensuring the latter has accurately heard the former through the mechanism of reframing.

The interpres by acting as “the messenger of the gods” has the job of helping the parties recognize their interests in the particular dispute. By acting as an interpreter the mediator is there to assist the parties to arrive at their own solution to the dispute in such a way that both parties interests are met.

Some mediators, like the writer, are more directive and not only help the parties recognize their interests but suggests a solution that meet those interests. Whatever style a mediator adopts the mediator is acting as an interpres which leads me to believe that mediation is a very old profession known to the Romans which is not surprising when one considers that most Western legal systems have their roots in Roman Law.


Joel Skapinker, B.A., LL.B., LL.M. Barrister & Solicitor, Accr. Family Mediator

About Joel Skapinker

Joel Skapinker has many years of experience practicing family law, currently with Skapinker & Shapiro.