Anonymi Oeconomica?

A copy of Paley’s Greek wit: a collection of smart sayings and anecdotes (second series) has reached me.  Most of the sayings are from Diogenes Laertius Lives of the Philosophers, with a leavening of Plutarch’s Lives.  But on pp.64-66 are three anecdotes from a work listed as Anonymi Oeconomica.  These are all about money.

So what is this work?  I don’t really know my way around the works of Aristotle, yet a google search reveals remarkably little.  The work seems to have been falsely attributed to Aristotle in transmission.  A Tuebner edition of the text from 1887 is here.  Perhaps it is better known under some other title.  Hmm…. what could it be?  Perhaps Economics?

I find here a Bohn translation of Aristotle’s Politics and Economics.  The Economics is p.289f.  There are two books.  The work is not extant in Greek throughout; in parts only a Latin translation of the Middle Ages has survived.

I find this account in 1832:

Of the two books composing the Œconomics attributed to Aristotle, the second had by universal consent, and on the most convincing evidence been rejected as spurious, and considered as the production of a writer, later in date and very inferior in capacity to that great philosopher. ‘But there was no internal evidence to discredit the genuineness of the first book of these Œconomics : which, though somewhat meagre and unsatisfactory, might pass for a fragment or summary of a genuine Aristotelian treatise. The late publication of a treatise of Philodemus from a Herculanean manuscript has however thrown the onus probandi on those who maintain this treatise to be the work of Aristotle: as Philodemus criticizes in detail the first part of this very treatise, in the precise form in which we now have it; but ascribes it constantly to Theophrastus.

Then this work (1839) tells us:

Of Aristotle’s work bearing this name Diogenes Laertius only mentions one book ; and of these it seems quite evident that both are not by the same author. Erasmus held the first to be Aristotle’s but to be only a fragment, but Niebuhr considers that lately discovered authorities incontestably prove it to be by Theophrastus.

If the second book is Aristotle’s, it is probably a collection made by him when collecting materials for his historical and philosophical writings on government. It is chiefly a string of instances of oppression exercised by one people upon another, or by tyrants upon their subjects.

A 1902 encyclopedia tells us there are THREE books.  I find in this source, a festschrift for Paul Oskar Kristeller, p.129,  rather better information from Josef Soudek.  This tells us of an anonymous Latin translation made about 1280 of “all three books”.  A revision of two books (I and III) was made in 1295.  In the renaissance these were replaced by Leonardo Bruni’s translation (1420-1), which was extant in at least 223 manuscripts.  The article talks of a further 8 copies.

It is remarkable, tho, how difficult it is to find hard information about this work, attributed to one of the greatest minds of western civilisation.  Am I making the wrong searches?  Or is the information just not there?


8 thoughts on “Anonymi Oeconomica?

  1. I remember reading a BMCR review of 2008 I believe on the economics of the Hellenistic kingdoms where it said that it used as a source a pseudo-Aristotelian treatise on economics to illuminate the subject. Could it have been speaking about the book in question here?

  2. mostly paraphrasing:

    p.17: Xenophon’s “Oikonomikos” is a guide for the gentleman landowner. A 1742 chapter on “Oeconomics” is about household relational issues and the same author accounted for “property, succession, contracts, the value of good and of coin” in a chapter called “Elements of the Law of Nature”.

    p.21: No author used the term ‘Economics’ in the modern sense until about 1750. The term (not to mention labor, production, captial, investment, etc) cannot be translated into Greek or Latin. In short, the ancients lacked the concept of an “economy”. They bought and sold, of course, & etc, but they did not conceptualize such activities into a unit. Thus, Aristotle wrote no work on ‘Economics’.

    M.I. Finley, 1973,1985,1999

  3. Sure thing. Looking again, I see now that Finley attached an endnote after his p.21 remarks about Aristotle, citing a previous article of his own: “Aristotle and Economic Analysis”, Past & Present, no.47 (1970) 3-25, reprinted in Finley, Studies chap.2

    The full citation of the reprint is M.I. Finley, ed., Studies in Ancient Society (London 1974)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *