Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1998.09.01

Mary Jaeger, Livy's Written Rome.   Ann Arbor:  The University of Michigan Press, 1997.  Pp. xii, 205.  ISBN 0-472-10789-5.  $39.50.  

Reviewed by D.S. Levene, University of Durham (
Word count: 2711 words

Mary Jaeger's book on Livy is a striking and powerful study. Its title implies an interest in Livy's presentation of the physical landscape of the city of Rome, and indeed that is a central topic with which the book is concerned: the role of actual monuments in Livy's work. But to say this suggests a far narrower focus than J. in fact adopts. For one thing, for her it is not so much the landscape itself that matters (which, after all, Livy often sketches in only very lightly and in a highly stylised fashion) as the way in which it intersects with the more general narrative, and, no less importantly, the way in which that narrative sets up its own spatial relationships either directly or through metaphor. A second concern is the manipulation of the past: the way in which characters in the history reinterpret past events. The term monumentum is the key that unites these topics: the physical monuments are shown as a major part of the way in which Romans within the history respond to the past, and how that past is in turn related to the Rome of Livy's readers. There are further dimensions still: for example, the role of audiences within the history, or the way in which the actual texture of Livy's history, with its authorial interventions and its apparently problematic denials of authority, reflects and enhances his picture of the Roman past.

All of these questions are central to much current Livian scholarship. The topic of memory and reinterpretation is at the heart of a forthcoming study of Livy's exempla by Jane D. Chaplin; that of audiences is treated more fully in Andrew M. Feldherr's just-published book; and the role of authorial interventions in the history plays a major part in recent work by Christina S. Kraus and Gary B. Miles. J. takes these disparate issues and weaves them together exceptionally well with her own particular focus. If I say that this means that the theme of her book is difficult to summarise in a sentence, or indeed in a paragraph, this should not be taken as a criticism but as a reflection of the sheer range that she covers and of her flexibility of approach. J. does not have one 'big idea' into which everything in Livy is slotted, but rather is prepared to emphasise different themes and different nuances as appropriate for her different passages.

It is of course inevitable that, with such a wide-ranging theoretical approach, J. has to be extremely selective about the parts of Livy that she discusses in detail. Rather than go through the whole work making brief and possibly superficial comments at relevant points, she prefers to concentrate on just a handful of passages which she analyses in considerable depth. Especially when taken in conjunction with her flexible approach, to which I referred, this carries with it the problem that it can be hard to relate the particular points that she is making in individual chapters to one another; her work sometimes comes across more as a related set of studies than a single argument. Once again, this is not a criticism: rather it is an inevitable by-product of the book's major virtues, and J. does often try to point the reader to parallel conclusions that her different chapters are leading up to.

The book consists of two broadly introductory chapters and four case-studies, followed by a conclusion. The Introduction proper sets out the central idea of the monumentum and its significance as a motif for the history; Chapter 1 ("The History as a Monument") examines this notion in more detail, particularly focusing on the double role of monumenta as looking both to the past that they commemorate and to the future audience whom they address, and the analogy that may be drawn between such monumenta and Livy's own role as an historian. Here I felt that there was a certain gap in J.'s argument: the fact that some monuments warn (monere) as well as recall (pp.15-17) (as Varro indicates) does not mean that all things that were called monumenta necessarily were seen as having an admonitory quality: we must bear in mind that Varro's description may be slanted to justify his strained etymology. Similarly there is a somewhat awkward slide on pp.20-22 between the orator's use of vivid mnemonic techniques and his employment of enargeia within his speech. J. treats them as if they were directly related, but the objects imagined by the orator for mnemonic purposes are not necessarily the same objects as he is seeking to represent vividly to his audience via enargeia. J., however, does not address this issue directly: she cites A. Vasaly, Representations (Berkeley, 1993), pp.100-2 (pp.127-8 are also relevant), but Vasaly presents such a connection as a tentative possibility, not a firm rule. This matters, because J. is using the connection as a parallel for the visualised monumenta in historiography serving the function both of memory and of vivid representation: but since her analogy breaks down at the key point, her argument is weakened.

Chapter 2 examines in considerable detail the Battle in the Forum between the Romans and the Sabines (1.9-13), and is the most interesting and original account that I know of this much-studied episode. J. looks in particular at the role of space in the story: the Sabines based on the Capitol and the Romans on the Palatine, and the movements between them, marked by the two monuments whose aetiology is given in the course of the narrative (the Temple of Jupiter Stator and the Lacus Curtius); but her account incorporates also the role of the women and the varying perspectives from which the story is narrated, as well as its significance for later Roman history. However, I have one major reservation about her argument. She seems to be assuming that Livy presents the narrative in such a way that the readers are seeing the battle as if from the point of view of an audience on the sidelines, and that this audience ultimately proves to be identical with the Sabine women (pp. 47-8, 54-5). Neither part of this assertion seems especially plausible. The readers' perspective on the battle includes awareness of detailed actions and indeed words from both sides, which seems incompatible with viewing it as if from the sidelines. Nor is it clear that their perspective is identical to that of the women: when the women appear in the battle, it is unexpected precisely because their prior location is never presented, and there has previously been no clear internal audience through whom the readers' gaze is directed. J. wishes to suggest that "sharing the perspective of the Sabine women incites the reader to plunge into a critical situation just as they do" (55), but she never makes it clear how this analogy is meant to be working. Apart from this one point, the general argument of the chapter works extremely well.

Chapter 3 reworks J.'s 1993 article on Manlius Capitolinus in Book 6 (Latomus 52 (1993), 350-63), now incorporating into her discussion his rescue of the Capitol in Book 5. Once again, it is a profound and fascinating account. She looks at the fall of Rome to the Gauls in terms of the literal and metaphorical contraction of Roman civic space until it encompasses the Capitol alone, which is in turn protected by Manlius standing at the place which is literally and metaphorically the core of Roman identity. But Manlius overemphasises his own significance and the significance of the Capitol alone to Rome, and his self-defence is narrated by Livy in such a way as to highlight that aspect of him -- I was especially impressed by her discussion of the significance of Manlius' house (pp.72-3) and of her observation of the role of vertical movement in Manlius' (as opposed to Camillus') part in the story: Manlius is limited to hierarchical movement within one place, whereas Camillus' perspective is a fundamentally inclusive one.

In Chapter 4 she turns to the Third Decade, and in particular the story of L. Marcius at the end of Book 25, though also examining other episodes more briefly, notably the Roman reaction after Cannae. This is the part of the book where the focus on physical space and physical monuments is least marked, though she does conclude the chapter with a discussion of the Shield of Marcius on the Capitol and its interesting juxtaposition with the morally problematic spoils from Syracuse. The bulk of her account, however, concerns Marcius' attempt to rebuild Roman fortunes by reinterpreting the past defeats and Roman responses to those defeats in order to point a way forward - in effect himself acting as a creative historian. Perhaps because this type of approach to Livy is not unique to J., it comes across as the least revolutionary part of her book. But that is not to deny the considerable originality of her detailed study of an episode that has rather been ignored by scholars in the past: J.'s analysis will be the base from which any future scholarship on this part of Book 25 has to begin. The one significant point I missed in her account was the rather less positive picture of Marcius' role that emerges from the aftermath of the story at 26.2. J. brushes over this (p.127 n.50), but it deserves fuller consideration, since it partially undercuts the position that Marcius adopted in Book 25.

But to my mind the most powerful and memorable section of the book is Chapter 5. Here J. addresses the part of Livy that has always been the major stumbling-block for those who wish to revise the traditional scholarly notions of Livy as an incompetent bungler: the Trials of the Scipios at the end of Book 38. Previous studies of this episode (even those, like Luce, who have sought to take a sympathetic line), have been compelled to admit that Livy is not here entirely in control of his material.

J.'s approach is quite different. She looks at the episode in great detail, relating it especially to Livy's presentation of Scipio Africanus' career more generally, and his behaviour during the trial as it is presented by Livy. In accordance with the overall theme of the book, she looks at Africanus' manipulation of space, for example his triumphant procession around the temples of Rome, and the way that both his attackers and defenders interpret his actions. But she also shows how these aspects of Africanus in one version of the trial are contradicted by those in the other version, how the doubts that Livy expresses about the date and place of his death are reflected in his treatment of the double and contradictory monuments that are set up to him, and in general how this relates to the troubling and contradictory figure that Africanus regularly appears to be in Livy's narrative: Livy's self-contradictory way of handling of the end of Africanus' story is not, J. argues, a mark of incompetence, but Livy is employing the mechanics of historiographical writing to mirror the central theme of his narrative. The approach is not an unfamiliar one after Kraus and Miles, but it is to J.'s credit that she has faced directly up to what is undoubtedly the most difficult passage to treat in this way; it is doubly to her credit that she achieves such a compelling and persuasive conclusion. More conservative Livy scholars may be sceptical about such approaches in principle, but I would hope that even they would see her analysis as challenging and thought-provoking. I for one found it a revelation.

With so much that is positive to say about this excellent book, I regret that I do have a substantial criticism of it also. Although J.'s general arguments are powerful and persuasive, their effect is sometimes undermined by what appears to be a certain carelessness over specific detail. This sometimes is just a matter of very minor error: it is irritating (but no more) that J.'s citation of Livy's text sometimes gives incorrect section numbers (e.g. p.61, read 5.42.4-5 for 5.42.4; p.62, read 5.42.7-8 for 5.42.8; p.67 read 5.47.7-11 for 5.47.7-8; p.85 read 6.20.9 for 6.20.9-11); likewise that, though she claims (p.185) to be using Ogilvie's OCT of Books 1-5, her citations from those books appear to come from the old Conway-Walters edition (cf. p.37 n.22, where Ogilvie's OCT does punctuate the text as she suggests it should; also p.64, 5.47.2 in adscensum - Ogilvie reads adscensu). In both her translation and discussion of 1.12.7 (pp.39-40) she is careless over resistere and restitere, printing the text correctly, but translating restitere as a present tense, then citing it as resistere, but claiming that restitere is repeated.

These are only minor points of pedantry. What is slightly more worrying is that J. sometimes puts her argument in a way that does not entirely do justice to Livy's text. For example, when she says that "the [Sabine] women offer themselves as alternate space where Roman and Sabine blood can intermingle" (p.48), that hardly reflects the force of their actual offer (1.13.3), which is that they be killed. The Romans' problem at 5.38.9 is not their failure to inform Rome of their whereabouts (p.60), but of their defeat (5.39.4 would have been more pertinent to cite). While the gift of food to Manlius at 5.47.8 may be problematic in the light of later events, as J. shows, it is hard to see that the passage presages his disaffection (p.70). Nor is it easy to see why the tribunes being "inspired" (not in the Latin) to block the people's view of the Capitol (6.20.10) counts as the gods answering Manlius' prayer at 6.20.9 in any sense (p.86). "The city grows calm" (p.103) seems a strange way to describe the period when human sacrifice was offered after Cannae (note 22.57.2: territi), and Flaminius' Gallic triumph has more connotations than simply a distinguished pedigree (cf. e.g. 21.63.2). Surrendering because of running out of water rather than food is hardly "trivializing" (p.104). At p.138 (discussing 21.46.7-9) J. says: "Livy reports the battle of the Ticinus with complete confidence and situates himself as an omniscient narrator outside the past he relates"; but Livy does narrate a variant, and a significant one, despite J.'s attempt to dismiss it in n.13, and the future tense "erit" at 21.46.8 implies that the narrator is more closely involved in the action than J. indicates. Nor is it clear why this episode shows Africanus' "extraordinary ability to unite people" (p.141): Livy makes no connection between Scipio's rescue of his father and the soldiers subsequently protecting him in unison. On p.142, J. seems not to have observed that in Book 39 Livy does show himself confident of when Scipio died and where he was buried, despite all the earlier confusions of the Trials of the Scipios in the previous book: 39.52.6 clearly dates the death to the first months of 184 B.C. (compare MRR I pp.374-6), while 39.52.9 straightforwardly asserts that he was not buried at Rome.

All of these points, and others like them, are minor: hardly ever should they cause one to question J.'s general argument. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that they crop up so regularly, because they may have the effect on some readers of undermining the persuasiveness of J.'s essential case. This is a first-rate book, and it would be unfortunate if people were encouraged to dismiss its arguments because of a plethora of minor quibbles which with a little more care could have been circumvented.

Nevertheless, let me finish by reiterating the general high quality of J.'s work. It is a book that deserves both to become a standard study of the particular episodes that she discusses, and to stand as a model of what a modern treatment of Livy can look like. And one final note of praise: it is a pleasure to find a work which treats a text with the sophistication of modern theory, but which presents its arguments clearly and without the jargon in which such sophistication is often couched. The result is a book that is not only profound but also readable, one from which not only Livy scholars but also undergraduates will be able to profit. Which is as it should be.

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