Bryn Mawr Classical Review 96.12.13


P.G. Walsh (ed. and trans.), Livy Book XL. Warminster, Aris & Phillips, 1996. Pp. viii + 196. $49.95=£35 (hb), $24.95=£14.95 (pb). ISBN 0-85668-672-7 (hb), 0-85668-673-5 (pb).


Reviewed by Jason P. Davies, History, University College London, ucrajpd@ucl.ac.uk.

There are particular ironies involved in book reviews: the idea that the result of years of research and investigation into a topic or text can be summarily dealt with by someone who has not explored the subject in the same depth or along the same path is one such paradox, but the greater irony is that the clearer and more consistent a book, the easier it is to discuss the methodology and details with a critical scrutiny that must be eschewed in the case of a less well defined and executed work. There are times, then, when the most far-reaching questions in a review are a response to the most careful exposition and that without this initial care on the part of the author, such criticism is impossible. If we add the caveat that criticism makes for lengthier reading than praise, then we have constructed the sort of position that is taken here. Perhaps the reviewer should always bear in mind the anecdote about the visitor to the art gallery who complained at length to a companion about the work on display and was silenced by the reply 'it is not the picture that is on trial.'

This is the fifth and last edition by W.[alsh] in the Aris & Phillips series (for previous reviews, with general comments pertinent also to this edition, see BMCR 2.6.21 (1991), Classical Review NS 43.2 (1993), BMCR 95.5.9 (1995), and 95.8.10 (1995)) and it is of the highly detailed standard that we have come to expect. It comprises introduction, text and translation, and commentary with textual apparatus appended. The book is presumably intended for A-level or undergraduate audiences, and this is reflected in the abundance of factual detail in the introduction. In the first section, W. strips Livy's narrative down to its empirical detail and sets the book's contents within a broad historical background. W. is careful to distinguish factual events from their historiographical framework and the tone of the account, and is also at pains to clarify Livy's agenda (construed as both dramatic ('entertainment') and historiographical ('factual'). The advantages of such a distinction, even in such a simplistic presentation, are obvious for those unfamiliar with the material and the sources, but perhaps W. does not exploit it in his second section, 'Livy as Historian in Book 40', where the annalistic format is assessed for 'strengths and weaknesses'. The discussion is initially driven by W.'s desire to account for Polybius' (and therefore Livy's) 'distortion' of the intrigues of the Macedonian household. New students of Livy do need some indications of how to read the material but this account of the annalistic style is limited to indicating that we cannot read Livy at face value; it fails to indicate other more 'literary' ways of reading Livy that are often preferred in the present scholarly climate. W. is certainly entitled to prefer one view over others, and to declare the preference, but some discussion of the literary pretensions and agenda would amplify his discussion and equip his readers with a more representative approach. W.'s assessment of 'strengths and weaknesses' almost inevitably leads him to judge Livy by criteria that suit a modern historian rather better (W.'s own comparison is with the Cambridge Ancient History which is at least unfair, and to my mind irresponsible). So often we are told what Livy was not, with a cursory note of what he was, as in the following example: "None of this detail stands examination as historical fact; Livy has worked over his annalistic source to provide an imaginative account of Flaccus' heroic victory over adversity and the Celtiberians" (p.16). Of course, I am doing the same thing in criticising what W.'s edition is not, so I am back in the art gallery myself, but if this edition is to lead its reader into the world of Livy, then I think W. has a responsibility to note other possible readings of the kind that might follow, for instance, from extending Woodman's arguments about veracity in Rhetoric in Classical Historiography. Such notes might have filled out the third section on 'Literary aspects', which is centred, as it stands, on the question of Polybius' dramatisation of the Macedonian succession and on more general observations on brevity/detail, foreign/domestic events that amount to an analysis that is typically geared to identifying empirical events of history from Livy's account, but little more. Some minor criticisms might also be made from within W.'s framework: few others, it seems to me, would nowadays choose to echo Mommsen's assessment of Polybius as being 'the sun that shines on the field of Roman history' (on which see e.g. the review of W.'s book 39 by Christina S. Kraus (BMCR 2.6.21; also for further references) and W. seems to have polarised Livy and Polybius as historians rather more than perhaps other scholars would have done: we might also note Dr Kraus' comments questioning W.'s line on the use of the annales maximi, pertinent here also.

Recent work has moved away from considering Livy to be less than the sum of his sources to the extent that is implied by W.'s treatment. Similarly, the scope for 'literary aspects' does begin to reveal the breadth of the programme within Livy's finished product but often the 'literary' factors are considered by W. to get in the way of the history rather than being an integral part of ancient historiography. I would say that there needs to be more here on exemplification as a mode of historiography not only to do Livy justice but also to introduce new readers to the genre. Instead, one takes away the misleading impression that Livy's chief aim was to record an empirical record but that he was foolish or traditional enough to use the rather cumbersome annalistic format, an impression that is surely misleading and unfair. Notwithstanding these criticisms, W. has equipped his reader with a good deal of empirical analysis of the events covered in the book even if many possible avenues of interpretation remain unexplored; this somewhat restricted analysis is reflected in the somewhat brief bibliography at the end of each section which is largely restricted to empirical discussions.

As is the case with W.'s other Livy volumes, this one benefits greatly from the inclusion of a generous critical apparatus (pp. 181-192). It is my awkward duty to point out a typographical error in 1.3 (seripserat should read scripserat) but I could find no others; the apparatus testifies to the scrutiny required to produce the text we have and reduces the impact of the occasional difference of opinion since variants are faithfully recorded and available for those who wish to refer there. If the text can only merit brief acknowledgement by reason of its virtual freedom from error or dispute, the translation must however bear the brunt of a more critical, and therefore sustained, deliberation. Here, as in assessing the Introduction, the issue is ultimately one of taste but the feeling that the style of translation will alienate our expected young reader is unavoidable. W.'s translation is clearly better suited to the modern reader than the Loeb but it has not gone far enough: of a brief survey of my contemporary post-graduates and undergraduates, only those with English A-level knew without hesitation that 'beholden' meant 'obliged' (obligatam; 10.9). I would also prefer to do without 'haling them before you' for '[deprehensos] ad te deducerem' (9.15). Such old-fashioned terms have become the everyday currency of classicists and ancient historians; indeed in a generation brought up on Loebs (in which I include myself) this style does become almost invisible. But I feel that by using them, W. all too often places Livy beyond the easy reach of the new, uninitiated reader unnecessarily.

The archaisms (chiefly, but not exclusively found in speeches) compound a more general issue that crops up occasionally within a generally fluent and typically faultless translation: while the translation usually reflects a sequence of word order in Latin that should perhaps be observed by budding linguists (indeed might be admitted to helping the rather unavoidable process of detailed dependency on the English at times of difficulty with the Latin) it can unnecessarily complicate the translation of a text that is actually more fluent in its own idiom than the English that mimics it. I cannot help feeling that a liberal dose of licence, at least in the arrangement of clauses, would make our Livy a great deal more accessible to a generation that will be puzzled, or more likely alienated, by the combination of unnecessary archaisms with a latinising (or even grecising) style in such examples as 'slew', 'heinously covets' (for scelerate cupit; 11.7) and 'a fierce wind-laden storm' (atrox cum vento tempestas, 2.1). At times these moments can accumulate to be so stilted as to amount to being positively misleading 7.2-3, for instance reads thus: "On that festive day this genial invitation, and youthful gaiety, enticed both parties to wine-drinking, in the course of which they recalled the mock-battle, and indulged in badinage against their opponents, not leaving even the leaders unscathed." The tone is not reflected in the Latin. Perhaps our average 17-18 year old would be better served by abandoning the balance of the Latin (which after all was the accustomed style for the contemporary reader) and a series of short sentences with more current phrasing.

The commentary is witness to W.'s encyclopaedic knowledge of Livy and his referents. Taken at random, items such as prodigies are tersely defined -- perfect for the new reader -- as are haruspices; Polybius is brought in for comparison where W. can compare -- a boost to the understanding of one aspect of the composition of ancient history; and useful notes on linguistic norms are to be found throughout -- such as the notice that transtulit is the technical word for carrying spoils into the city (34.8). Appropriate references to the textual apparatus also bring to life the process of fixing a reliable text -- a nice touch. The commentary is undoubtedly a contribution to those new to Livian studies with a wealth of detailed information that can take the student a great deal of time to accumulate otherwise.

Some people are never satisfied, it seems. Just as the single typo will jump off the page leaving its orderly companions at ease, so too omissions and weaknesses will occur with more impact than strengths. There are few enough weeds in W.'s orderly garden that it is to his credit that they are so obvious. There is also the irony of putting the scholar on trial for putting his subject in the same position. But the need for a broader retinue of approaches does need to be stressed if we are responsibly to introduce the next wave of linguists and historians to an ancient text even if we agree to differ on the style of translation. But, to return to my metaphor, pointing out the empty bed in the corner should do nothing to detract from the rich array in the rest of the garden. With the publication of W.'s book 40, there can no longer be any excuse for ignorance of events 182-179 BC.