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Adam Smith, the Wicked Knight, and the use of Anecdotes

  • Thomas W. Africa

Since Herodotus, historians have found anecdotes indispensable and notoriously unreliable. Although the historicity of an anecdote may be elusive, its use by posterity can be illuminating. Whether or not Canute commanded the incoming tide to halt cannot be proven, because the episode was not reported until a century later by a moralistic chronicler, Henry of Huntingdoa According to Henry, the king staged the scene to demonstrate to sycophantic courtiers his impotence before the forces of nature and their creator. However, later generations forgot his pious motive, and Canute survives in the popular imagination as an examplar of executive folly, like Xerxes who had the Hellspont scourged. Whatever the facts, posterity has its own uses for anecdotes.

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1. Sailer, Richard, G&R 27 (1980), 6983, provides an effective caveat lector.

2. Henry, of Huntingdon, Chron. 6.17 (1035).

3. Herodotus 7.35.

4. Syme, Ronald,Roman Papers (Oxford, 1979), II. pp. 518–29.

5. Sen, . Ben. 6.34.2, describes degrees of amici. See Millar, Fergus, The Emperor in the Roman World (London, 1977), pp. 111–16.

6. Syme, , op. cit, p. 527.

7. Tac, . Ann. 1.10; 12.60.

8. Griffin, Miriam T., Seneca, a Philosopher in Politics (Oxford, 1976), pp. 396, 398.

9. Sen, . Ira 3.40.2–3, trans. Basore, John W..

10. Sen, . Clem. 1.18.2.

11. Hardisty, M. W. and Potter, I. C., The Biology of Lampreys (New York, 1971), I. pp. 147–61.

12. Sen, . Clem. 1.18.2, trans Basore, ; cf. Ep.47.

13. Pliny, , N.H. 9.77.

14. Ibid., 7.147–50; quotation from 150.

15. Dio 55.14–22.1; 60.35.3–4; 61.10.2. See Millar, , A Study of Cassius Dio (Oxford, 1964), pp. 78–9; and J.W. Rich's commentary on Dio 53–55.4, Cassius Dio, the Augustan Settlement (Warminster, 1990), p. 8.

16. Dio 54.23.1–5, trans. Ernest Cary. The rest of the passage describes Pollio's bequests to Augustus, who later razed the villa with the infamous fish pond. The Porticus Liviae was built on the site (Ovid, , Fasti 6.639–44).

17. On whether Dio knew or ignored Vedius' service to the state, see Syme, , op. cit., p. 527, and Manuwald, Bernd, Cassius Dio und Augustus (Weisbaden, 1979), p. 129 n. 127.

18. Dio 66.9.4. Cf. Suet, . Dom. 3 and Plut, . Alex. 1.2.

19. Saller, , op. cit., pp. 75, 78–9.

20. Ancient Slavery and the Ideal of Man (Cambridge, 1975), p. 104.

21. Slaves and Masters in the Roman Empire (New York, 1987), pp. 121,126.

22. In Between Republic and Empire, Interpretations of Augustus and His Principate, edited by Kurt, Raaflaub, A. and Toher, Mark (Berkeley, 1990), p. 38.

23. P&P138 (1993), 8. Stevenson, G. H., CAH X. p. 189, also mislabels Vedius as a freedman.

24. Greek and Roman Slavery (Baltimore, 1981), p. 176.

25. Nep, . Eum. 11.3 and Cic, Caesar apud. Att. 9.7C, refer to prisoners of war.

26. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Oxford, 1976), II. p. 587.

27. Ibid., pp. 587–8.

28. Smith, Adam, Lectures on Jurisprudence (Oxford, 1978), p. 452.

29. Ibid., pp. 177–8.

30. Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith, LL.D.,edited by Ross, I. S., in Smith, Adam, Essays on Philosophical Subjects (Oxford, 1980), pp. 269–70.

31. Fairweather, J. A., Anc. Soc. 5 (1974), 231–75, warns against credulity, but Calder, William M. III, CW 73 (1980), 305–6, demonstrates that an apparent topos may be based on fact.

32. Scott, William Robert, Adam Smith as Student and Professor(Glasgow, 1937), p. 25. On the Gypsies, see pp. 23–5. Scott points out that the child was not recovered immediately; his uncle had to raise an informal posse and locate the Gypsy band.

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Greece & Rome
  • ISSN: 0017-3835
  • EISSN: 1477-4550
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