History. Nonfiction. HTML: This edition includes a modern introduction and a list of suggested further reading. Livy's Early History of Rome tells of a small monarchical state's struggle to survive. It tells the story of the overthrow of the kings and the development of the Roman Republic. It depicts the qualities that allowed the early Romans to overcome internal disputes and foreign enemies and to recover after the nearly total destruction of their city in 390 BC. Livy writes with fairness, humanity, and an irresistible enthusiasm for the courage, honesty, and self-sacrifice that exemplified what it was to be Roman..
The early years of Roman history include the myth of Aeneas and the historic rule by Numa Pompilius whose life was also chronicled by Plutarch. There are battles like that of Lake Regillus and rulers both good and bad, the latter best represented by Canuleius the demagogue. My favorite was Cincinnatus who was the epitome of the farmer-soldier- ruler and who assumed the consulship only to return to the farm when his moment in the limelight had ended.
The many battles and usual successes highlight a barbarity that provides a foundation for that which is evident in the later empire (see Tacitus for that history). There are also the political battles between the Patricians and Plebes for control of the republic. In some ways they reminded me of more recent political contretemps in our own republic. It may come as a surprise that after many difficulties and resultant growth in the power of Rome, near the end of this part of Roman history the city itself is sacked by the Gauls. It must be the memory of that which explains some of the ruthlessness of the Romans under Caesar in the last days of the Republic (see Caesar's Gallic Wars for that story).
Ultimately Livy's history is readable both because of his engaging prose style and his ability to enliven most of the more critical events of early Roman history. With interpolated speeches from primary leaders the book reminded me of Thucydides masterpiece on the Peloponnesian Wars.
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...
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.
And those internal matters are, essentially, what people who haven't read Marx think Marx is: the patricians will come up with any excuse to maintain their privileges (inter alia, patriotism, security, religion, dignity, tradition...), and the plebeians will fold sometimes, but always come back and demand better treatment. The early history of Rome, as told by Livy, is class warfare. This is fascinating stuff, if a little repetitive (tribunes introduce a law to give the plebes more land; the senate rejects it; scuffles; appeals to the Greatness of Our State by the senate; plebes let it lie for a while so they can beat up on the Aequii or whomever; the law gets passed; the patricians find a new way to screw over the plebes; repeat from the top). But the repetition is made bearable by some great stories, and the overall pace. We move pretty quickly from year to year.
I was also surprized by Livy's ability to think critically about his sources. Everyone says Livy just reports miracles and tall tales as if they were true; in my experience, he's pretty good about highlighting when that's going on. On the other hand, he has no interest in making his story cohere, which is a bit sad. On the other hand, that lack of coherence means the reader can judge for herself why things happened as they did, and Livy's occasional moralizing never seems to heavy handed, or to influence his actual presentation. Looking forward to the second set of five.
Oh, one thing: the translation is kind of funny. Luce delights in using uncommon words when there's no real need for it; no doubt it's meant to represent archaisms in Livy himself, but it might annoy you.