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Anecdotes and the Wonders (of Natural Sciences)

Subproject by Matthias Grandl

This project explores anecdotal transfer of knowledge in Latin paradoxographical and mirabilia writing (Valerius Maximus, Aulus Gellius). In order to gain a representative insight into the epistemology of the anecdote as a miniature narrative form, the results shall be compared with a range of genuinely epistemic writings, such as the natural histories of Seneca and Pliny the Elder. Treating so broad a corpus of texts does not only allow me to examine the constellations and taxonomies of “oikonomies” of knowledge, but also to detect negative transfers of knowledge: Do anecdotes substantially change through the dynamics of transfer or do they possess a persistent core?

Furthermore, the speed and temporal structures of anecdotal transfer of knowledge might be tracked by virtue of the plethora of chosen texts. Besides the anecdote’s tendency towards the past tense, the anecdote’s impact on the future shall be considered as well (especially in the context of miraculous tales, such as portents or prophecies). Also, the very position of anecdotes in texts will be investigated: Do anecdotes tend to appear rather at the beginning or at the end of a (con)text or even beyond it? Do anecdotes shed light on significant openings and endings of larger developments due to their punctuality and demarcate thus “momenta” of knowledge changes?