Not Scripture, but Ovidian Verse

Most commonly abolitionist medals resort to scripture for their legends.  This Swedish Abolitionist is honored here with a line from one of Angelo Sabino‘s poems written in the persona of Ovid’s colleague, Aulus Sabinus.  It is line 40 of his letter from Demophoon to Phyllis.  His three letters circulated in renaissance editions of Ovid’s Heroides and were widely believed to be genuine into the eighteenth century and beyond.  Wadström was a devotee of Emanuel Swedenborg and his religious (mystical) arguments for abolition.

The use of pseudo classical verse instead of a biblical quotation is interesting to me for how it flags the strong classical influence on this visual media.

Reverse of RIC II, Part 1 (second edition) Vespasian 1268. 1954.203.168
Reverse of RIC II, Part 1 (second edition) Vespasian 1268. ANS 1954.203.168

The legend of the medallion, LIBERTAS MERITIS EST MIHI FACTA TUIS, translates: ‘My freedom is the result of your services.’

Frankly I find it creepy that a line of love poetry is used in this context.  Wadström is known for his personal relationship with the young Peter Panah whose freedom he bought, but who continued to live in Wadström’s household until his death two years later.

How free was Panah? Not very. His baptism, education, and place of residence were all controlled by his ‘benefactor’.  What we know largely comes from his benefactor’s own account.  The relationship was idealized by contemporary abolitionists:

[Update 3/26/15: On this painting see the good discussion by Colman 2005: 93].

Carl Frederik von Breda's illustration (1792) showing Wadström teaching the freed slave Peter Panah the virtues of Swedenborg's tract The Wisdom of Angels
Carl Frederik von Breda’s illustration (1792) showing Wadström teaching the freed slave Peter Panah the virtues of Swedenborg’s tract The Wisdom of Angels

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