This actually doesn't work for Cannae, since the Romans, if anything, exaggerated the scale of their defeat. Not really the mark of the shamed, right? But it works a little better for the Gallic Sack. All of this is besides the point, of course, what's interesting isn't whether or not the argument works, it's what the argument is. You might recognize it, it's a version of the ineptly named criterion of embarrassment.
See, over on Vridar you'll often read that the criteria is some sort of modern NT Scholar exclusive. But it's not, and never has been. To be sure, they could no doubt find reasons the above instances are different. And they are different; different sources bring different problems that require modifications of the tools. Unless we all start studying the same thing, it seems unlikely that historians are going to have some sort of universal toolkit to deal with specific problems.
Of course, we could try that. Maybe all go back to the Annales School? Lots of charts and numbers and 500000 words on the longue duree even when it isn't relevant that nobody did more than skim through? I doubt anyone wants that, least of all the folks at Vridar, who share my wholly appropriate admiration for E H Carr.
So the specifics aren't important. What is important is that the form, intent, and reasoning behind the tool similar enough to be considered variants of the same tool. And why not? It makes such intuitive sense that it finds its way as far afield as the courtroom, where more credence is given to statements against interest. The general principle is sensible: People don't intentionally make problems for themselves.
Something struck me in the most recent post on this topic over there. Apparently they are unable to find the criteria of embarrassment in the study of the New Testament before 1980. I find this bizarre. They can't have looked very hard, because the argument has been in use almost since the genesis of Christianity. See, at first it looked like this:
"Crucifixion is shameful, therefore resurrection."
Now we've become more critical in our use. Instead we say this:
"Crucifixion is shameful, therefore crucifixion."
The cross is, in fact, almost the archetype of the criteria of embarrassment, and always has been, even before we called it the criteria of embarrassment. Perhaps they have confused the origin of the reasoning with the origin of the (admittedly bad) term?
Now, unfortunately I can't remember my reference above, which is fine. There's another one that escapes me regarding Livy and Patricians. I come across it a fair bit, and then forget where I saw it because it isn't in my primary interests. That's too bad. What isn't too bad is Neil's post a couple months ago, discussing historians of Islam.
Contrast Christian scholarship that has relied upon the criterion of embarrassment to find “historical authentication” on the basis of the most unlikely of witnesses.
See, this isn't too bad because now I don't have to remember my reference. Wikipedia already has it in their entry on the Satanic Verses
Since William Muir the historicity of this episode has been largely accepted by orientalists. William Montgomery Watt and Alfred Guillaume claim that stories of the event were true based upon the implausibility of Muslims fabricating a story so unflattering to their prophet: "Muhammad must have publicly recited the satanic verses as part of the Qur'ān; it is unthinkable that the story could have been invented by Muslims, or foisted upon them by non-Muslims." This argument resembles the criterion of embarrassment, an analytical tool used in assessing the historicity of Biblical accounts of Jesus, which holds that material that would seem to be "embarrassing" to scriptural figures such as Jesus but is nevertheless included in the canon is likely to be true.
Footnote 18. I've checked it, I encourage you to do the same.
This isn't just like the criteria of embarrassment, this is the criteria of embarrassment. In one of those scholars of Islam. Who don't engage in that sort of thing. Oh dear.
Now if you asked me whether or not it works, or whether there are particular difficulties in our material that make it less likely to work, my sentiments will be much closer to those at Vridar. But the suggestion that it is some invention of the late twentieth century New Testament scholar is simply not true.