Our academic visitor is missing: Posidippus 89 (A-B) and “smart capital” for the thalassocrats

Paul McKechnie*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Naphtali Lewis called Ptolemaic Egypt ‘Eldorado on the Nile’. For its rulers, however, this was true but not sufficient as a description. Creating a powerful and sustainable settler society was a matter of investing, not only of finding treasure; and a vital element in the programme of investment was attracting human capital to the enterprise. Human capital in the modern world is equally pivotal. In 2012 in New Zealand, 242 years after Captain Cook anchored in Poverty Bay, Immigration New Zealand, a service of the Department of Labour, said that: New Zealand’s business migration categories are designed to contribute to economic growth, attracting ‘smart’ capital and business expertise to New Zealand, and enabling experienced business people to buy or establish businesses in New Zealand. In the context of policy in the Department of Labour, the goal of attracting ‘smart capital’ makes it important to define and measure human capital; and the method of calculation is described in Labour Market Outcomes for Immigrants and the New Zealand-born 1997-2009, where (to simplify) years in education plus years in the labour market add up to an individual’s human capital. Without recourse to these survey tools for policy analysis, the Ptolemies, too, were in the market for ‘smart capital’. Their success in attracting it in many fields is self-evident: Demetrius of Phalerum, Euclid, Herophilus, Callimachus — a list which could be expanded almost indefinitely. And yet it is notorious that philosophy was not pursued in Alexandria at the same level of endeavour which characterised the work of the smartest practitioners of other fields. So P. M. Fraser in Ptolemaic Alexandria wrote: After the great achievements of the Alexandrian scholars and scientists, Alexandrian philosophy in the Ptolemaic period cuts a poor figure, for it is a feature of intellectual life which only took root in the city at the very end of the Ptolemaic period, and then in an uncreative, though influential form.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Ptolemies, the Sea and the Nile: Studies in Waterborne Power
EditorsKostas Buraselis, Mary Stefanou, Dorothy J. Thompson
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press (CUP)
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781139519649
ISBN (Print)9781107033351
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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