Bryn Mawr Classical Review 02.06.21

Walsh, P.G., ed. and trans., Livy Book XXXVI (191 B.C.). Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1990. ISBN 0-85668-523-2 (hb); 0-85668-524-0 (pb).

Reviewed by Christina S. Kraus, New York University.

P.G. W[alsh]'s school edition of Livy 36 in the Aris & Phillips series of classical texts with translation and commentary is accessible to readers with and without a knowledge of Latin. Given the space constraints of the series, this dual focus means that discussion of both historical and literary matters is curtailed, though historical issues receive considerably more attention. Despite these limitations, W's reputation and the need for good school texts of non-standard books of Livy will doubtless ensure that this volume, like W's school edition of Livy 21 (London 1973), will be widely used. Those problems which remain in the conservative and sensible text, newly edited by W for this volume, are discussed briefly; an apparatus is appended. There are indices nominum and locorum in addition to well-trimmed, up-to-date bibliographies.

W warns his reader early on against any "artificial" separation of Livy the historian from Livy the literary artist (9). The series format, however, tends to make such a separation inevitable. Notes on the translation are typographically distinguished from those on the Latin text: the majority of historical comments fall into the former category, those on literary and linguistic/textual matters into the latter. In the Introduction and in the Commentary W gives concise and useful information on the background to and history of the war against Antiochus the Great, the first year of which is Livy's subject in Book 36. W follows the line most recently taken by R. M. Errington in CAH2 VII (1989), that Rome was not interested in territorial expansion in Asia (as opposed to its objectives in Italy and Gaul) but was forced into war with Antiochus to maintain its buffer zone of Balkan allies bound by gratia. The prosopographical, geographical, and military details that fill the Commentary will be particularly welcome to students with little sense of the players or game board of Rome's operations overseas in the early second century B.C.E.

In historiographical matters I find W less satisfactory. It is true that if one does not separate the historian from the literary artist one can become immersed in an apparently endless -- and at times epistemologically frightening -- theoretical discussion about the nature and aims of history in general and of narrative history in particular. Yet, without overstepping the limitations even of a short school text, one can argue -- as several historiographers have recently done (e.g., H. White and L.O. Mink) -- that the way one tells a story is the story, that one can't say, "just the facts, ma'am" to an ancient (or to any) narrative historian. Modern historians construct a model of events using as a skeleton the factual bones obtained by filtering out the most obvious biases/interpretative emphases of the sources (thereby themselves, of course, bringing their own interpretative emphases to bear on the facts). But it is the business of historiographers to elucidate how their subject tells the story, with all its colores. That is precisely what W did in his ground-breaking and still fundamental study of Livy (Livy, his Historical Aims and Methods, 1961, 2nd. unrev. ed. 1989), though there, as in his other early work on Livy, W has investigated what he considers Livy's failings as a historian, despite his acknowledgment that ancient and modern criteria for writing history differ. Recently, however, ways of reading historia have been developed that avoid the old approach that blamed or patronized the ancient authors.1 It is disappointing, therefore, to find W repeatedly doing both those things.

I will give three examples of areas in which I feel that W's treatment of his subject -- which, I should add, has been virtually universal since long before the turn of the century -- works both to Livy's and the reader's disadvantage. First, W's attitude toward Polybius, Livy's main source for the history of the period. He is "the reassuring authority" that "guarantees" that Livy's version is "in general trustworthy" (8); the loss of Hannibal's speech in chapter 7 "as recorded by Polybius" is regrettable since "comparison with the original would have demonstrated [Livy's] rhetorical techniques" (82); loss of the Polybian account of the siege of Heraclea (22-24) is regretted because without it "the extent of Livy's dramatic elaboration cannot be measured in detail" (101). Taken together, these references to the Greek historian seem to allow the inference that Polybius is not just Livy's source text, but in some way a truth that Livy then elaborates. But Polybius was as much an interpreter as Livy, and it is dangerously misleading to imply that if we had his narrative we would have either the historical actors' ipsissima uerba or the "true facts" of any given incident (cf. Astin in CAH2 VII 3-6; K. Sacks, Polybius on the Writing of History, Berkeley 1981). Neither his near-contemporaneity with the events he describes nor his political experience guarantees that his historia was any less "rhetorical" (to use an all-purpose condemnation) than, say, Tacitus'. One example will suffice. The account of Antiochus' marriage which Livy uses to illustrate the moral decline of the king and his troops is an example of Livy's moralizing interpretation of history (11.1-5). But W downplays the similarities between it and the Polybian version (preserved as a paraphrase in Athenaeus, cf. Briscoe ad 11.1-4); in particular, Livy's in conuiuiis et uinum sequentibus uoluptatibus (11.2) is not far from Polybius' OI)NOPO/THS W)\N KAI\ ME/QAIS XAI/RWN (Pol. 20.8.2); cf. also 20.8.1 with 11.2 quantas ... liberandam. The Greek DIE/TRIYE TO\N XEIMW=NA and OU)D' H)NTIOU=N POIOU/MENOS PRO/NOIAN (20.8.4) imply a moralistic judgment that one may infer was present in the original: the context of the discussion in Athenaeus is the bad effects of over-indulgence in wine, and he chooses many passages that illustrate this theme because they stress it themselves). In this connection one might also note that W accepts the existence of the annales maximi as primary and trustworthy sources without debate (7, 9; but cf. B. Frier, Libri Annales Pontificum Maximorum, Rome 1979); this is hazardous, and made more so by his (reiterated) assumption that Livy and his annalistic sources "reproduced" the content of those annales, whatever they were.

Second, perhaps as a consequence of not fully accepting that ancient historiographical criteria were different from modern ones, W represents Livy's critical methods and faculties as being worse than they were. If the schematic description of Thermopylae (15.6-10), for example, is not fully accurate, neither is it quite fair to say that Livy had not seen the locations and probably did not have accurate maps of the area but then to blame him for not getting them right. W excuses Livy from not having done much personal geographical or documentary research on the grounds of lack of time or inclination (7), but Momigliano has shown that such research was at this point the proper province of antiquarians ("Ancient History and the Antiquarian," Contributo alla Storia degli Studi Classici 1955). What comes across as a diminished respect for his subject leads W at times, I believe, to ascribe motives to Livy that are misleading or that obscure more interesting approaches to his text. For instance, a chronological alteration is ascribed to a desire for neatness (see below); tali oratione at 7.1 is commented on only with "the phrase indicates Livy's rhetorical restructuring" with no mention of the historiographical topos, as old as Thucydides; at 7.13 Hannibal does not say he was present at the council of Antiochus, so Livy is not "adjust[ing] the truth"; the compendious comparison is perhaps better described as an idiom than "a solecism tolerated by Cicero and Caesar no less than by Livy" (87); in his description of the site of Thaumaci Livy does not quite "wax lyrical," and his calque on the name (ab eo miraculo Thaumaci appellati 32.4.5) indicates that he understands the Greek (something W seems loath to credit him with, cf. 8 "no obvious misunderstandings of Polybius' Greek"); finally, Livy may have altered Polybius for more than "patriotic and stylistic reasons" (105).

Thirdly, there is the matter of W's handling of Livy's style and language. W's well-considered grammatical explanations are clear and helpful, while his faithful translation elegantly eliminates the need for many such notes. (My one quibble is that by rendering iram regis as "the king in his anger" at 7.13 W loses the vivid force of Thoas' simile: the anger is like a wild beast.) He is particularly good on Livy's habits inside oratio obliqua. Largely missing, perhaps due to space constraints, are comments on rhetorical devices and diction (e.g., the almost incantatory homoioteleuton at 3.10-12; the hendiadys turba et agmen at 19.2; the expressions animum adicere 8.4, captus of sexual emotions 11.1, temperare irae 35.3). Here again, however, W's (apparent) tendency to distrust his author and to separate style and language from content lead to problems. In the Introduction, e.g., he remarks that "it is worth noting the techniques of composition by which Livy sought to interest the reader in his historical theme" (9). Yet, as Luce and others have shown, Livy's structure is a good deal of his interpretation: it is not the honey on the cup but the cup itself. When Livy (slightly) deforms chronology to combine two embassies (4-5) it is less for the sake of "tidy arrangement" (79) than to illustrate cooperation among former enemies and to contrast, by juxtaposition with the recitation of Antiochus' misdeeds (3), foreign willingness to break boundaries with Roman insistence on respecting them -- themes that are of central importance in Livy's presentation of Roman involvement in the East. In matters of language, W describes the annalistic section at 2.6-15 as "not making for exhilarating reading" (75); this may be true, yet it contains several characteristically Livian features of arrangement and expression that well demonstrate how he appropriates conventional annalistic language, as he does loci communes and other stock items in the historian's bag. No mention is made, either, of the structural function of such material, or of the neat use of election results simultaneously to close Book 36 and to bridge to Book 37, a technique frequently employed by Caesar as well. Finally, W tends to dwell on what he regards as "bad" sentences, as at 11.1-2, 17.13. An "elegant" period (13.1) is only labeled, not analyzed.

This is, then, a familiar Livy: slightly befuddled, honest and well-intentioned, aiming for the local or the broad literary effect at the expense of the truth. This is the Livy who planned to end his account of the history of Rome with the death of Cicero (5), though John Henderson has forcefully challenged this assumption (in History as Text, ed. A. Cameron, Chapel Hill 1989); the Livy who wrote philosophical dialogues "like Cicero" (4), though W does not discuss the tenuous evidence for this (two enigmatic notices in the younger Seneca); the Livy who seems to include speeches in his work because Cicero said they were important ("Cicero had described history-writing as the task for orators ... Speeches therefore play an important role in Livy's work ..." 11, emphasis mine). Yet from behind him peeps out another: the Livy who carefully planned his history, who was trained in the schools of declamation (11) and can turn a pithy phrase (5, shades of Tacitus?!?), and who -- for once -- is not explicitly characterized as hostile to the historical tradition as practiced by Sallust but who wrote in its language and with its aims (5). I for one wish that W had let this second Livy out a little more.


  • [1] Several of the most important are cited by W, viz., T.J. Luce, Livy: The Composition of His History (Princeton 1977), T.P. Wiseman, Clio's Cosmetics (Leicester 1979), A.J. Woodman, Rhetoric in Classical Historiography (Portland, Ore. 1988). Obviously, factual inaccuracy or inconsistencies in Livy should not be ignored -- Book 36 has the infamous Nobilior doublet, e.g. -- but W seems to expect and at times even to look for them.