`the fates ordained the founding of this great city and the beginning of the world's mightiest empire, second only to the power of the gods'Romulus and Remus, the rape of Lucretia, Horatius at the bridge, the saga of Coriolanus, Cincinnatus called from his farm to save the state - these and many more are stories which, immortalised by Livy in his history of early Rome, have become part of our cultural heritage.The historian's huge work, written between 20 BC and AD 17, ran to 12 books, beginning with Rome's founding in 753 BC and coming down to Livy's own lifetime (9 BC). Books 1-5 cover the period from Rome's beginnings to her first great foreign conquest, the capture of the Etruscan city of Veii and,a few years later, to her first major defeat, the sack of the city by the Gauls in 390 BC.
at the bridge, the rape of Lucretia etc. They may not be true, but
they are important background for the culture.
It's true that he's not perfect, but I like him...
I think that the philosophy of history he sets out at the beginning, in the preface, is very solid and useful, and, although it would have been possible to elaborate further on it, it is not really necessary to...
Also, I have always been impressed with Livy's status as a literary historian, and his ability to write a narrative is quite developed. And that's not to say that the style and the flow of the narrative isn't flawed, now and again...most commonly, perhaps, by offering parallel passages--one account says this, another, says that--and also, he sometimes, on the one hand, allows himself to wax a little too wordy, and other times, on the other hand, lets himself lean a little too heavily on the annalists and the chronological outline or perspective...but, if we forget to laugh at the Romans and their short books--this book of ours, for example, has five Roman books in it-- and actually learn to take it one book at a time, then the flaws, such as they are, become easier to navigate, just like it's easier to avoid collisions on the road, when you obey the speed limit.
And, in fact, with a little sympathy to the Roman point of view, in this, their own history, written by their own hand, it is easy to see this as a high-class offering...
And in fact, I find it refreshing to see a historian who is, although willing to set the story straight when a man or woman's honor is at stake, is yet still reluctant, and not eager, to fight and claw over meaningless minutiae, like these marvelous moderns, so pocked and marked with cynicism, and so settled and locked into their assumptions and their grudges and their permanent complaints...Livy is a breath of fresh air, of fresh mountain air, compared to all that. And, if he is a moral historian--and, among his countrymen, he was a popular one too--he is not 'moralizing' in the Puritan sense of the word, rather, he is moral in that he is possessed of broad sympathies, and he is as sensitive to the feelings as to the military, political, and social topics.
That doesn't make him a Puritan: far from it. And when you come to that, his work is as good, in my opinion, as any of the biblical books of the kings.
I don't think it's worth less because Livy doesn't conform to anybody's current or 19th or 20th century outlooks on history or what it should be, or because--horror of horrors!--he doesn't satiate the suspicious by quoting from sources every other line, using foot-notes & end-notes--babble-notes & non-sense notes!--or say, Polybius said, Plutarch said, Polycratus said...Dionysios of Pomegranate-Land, said....
In case you haven't been able to piece two and two together: if he had acted like that, nobody would have read it, and nobody would have cared, and nobody would have copied it...and no-one would have it now.
That's right--some lacuna (the small ones) are random, but others (the big ones) got more-or-less intentionally lacuna-ed by the Senate & People of Rome...or their heirs and copy-editors, as chance might have it...
But whatever favors fortune granted Livy--and popularity is no small favor--it just doesn't make sense to hate him just because he didn't act like someone who went to Harvard or Oxford...because he never did! (Although, in a way, he is similar to a certain popular amateur, who went to Harrow, instead of Oxford.)
I don't think that his work is invalidated because of what he doesn't conform to: I think that his own unique style and way of working is what makes his work well worth reading!
Yes, it's well worth it--once.