For the third time, the members of the section of ECON0100 meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon found themselves sidetracked by a familiar debate: the availability of monkeys for sale in the ancient world.
Although the class usually sat in a stupor throughout TA Tamara Knowles GS’ explanation of the solutions to last week’s problem set, Claire Watkins ’15 stunned the TA with a sudden display of intellectual curiosity when she raised her hand and inquired about how a person in the ancient world, perhaps in Babylon or ancient Rome, might obtain a monkey.
“At first, I was thrilled,” said Knowles. “The students were raising their hands and asking questions. I had engaged them. They were talking to me!”
“Unfortunately,” Knowles added, “I did not know anything about the sale of monkeys in the ancient world.”
Knowles told Watkins that while ancient monkey markets were beyond the scope of her economics expertise, she would be more than willing to get back to Watkins on the matter, if they could just return to the topic of inflation now, please.
However, her drawing of a supply and demand curve on the board only led the class to wonder about the supply and demand of monkeys in the ancient world. Despite Knowles’ attempts to bring the class back to the current era, the class appeared to be interested only in discussing topics such as the native country of monkeys, the diet of monkeys and whether or an ancient Roman might keep a monkey as a pet.
Although a disheartened Knowles resolved to use the next section to bring the class back up to speed, the monkey debate had not yet been laid to rest. Upon encountering a word problem about the struggling business owner “Joe,” Watkins chose not to produce the requested graph of Joe’s projected income but suggested Joe invest in the ancient monkey market.
But how lucrative was the ancient monkey market? asked classmate Derik Pittman ’13, sparking another discussion on the monetary value of a monkey in the first century A.D.
Though Knowles managed to steer the conversation back to Economics for .03 seconds, the class found itself sidetracked for the third time when Watkins speculated that monkeys may have been used in Roman gladiatorial games, which would add to their value. Though Pittman refuted this point on the grounds that it was “dumb,” the class quickly took sides and shouted at each other furiously from opposite sides of the classroom.
Did monkey markets exist in the ancient world? Roman historian Professor Luisa Migliore says that sources are limited. “Oddly enough, ancient historians are silent about the presence of monkey markets, which has led to one of the hottest debates among scholars of antiquity. Why were the Romans silent about their monkey markets? Did these markets exist at all? Look for my upcoming article in Classical Quarterly: ‘Monkey Business: the Fundamental Dynamics of Animal Trade in Antiquity’.”