Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.02.22

S. P. Oakley, A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X. Volume IV: Book X.   Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 2005.  Pp. 672.  ISBN 10: 0-19-927256-5.  ISBN 13: 978-0-19-927256-3.  $225.00.  

Reviewed by Jane D. Chaplin, Middlebury College (
Word count: 1724 words

This, the final volume of Stephen Oakley's commentary on Livy 6-10, provides a fittingly superb culmination to the project. O.'s monumental accomplishment does an immeasurable service to anyone, present and future, who seeks to understand Livy and Roman republican history. Taken together, these volumes represent a staggering amount of learning. They are a triumph of scholarship. Vol. IV is arguably the most important of all, containing not just the commentary on Book 10 (along with a historical introduction to Rome's political structures and main opponents in the period of the Third Samnite War, three appendices [one textual, one on annalistic evidence for the operation of the Senate, and one on the legislation of curule magistrates between 366 and 287], and bibliography and indices for the volume) but also over a hundred pages of Addenda and Corrigenda to the first three volumes.

O.'s approach is, in a word, comprehensive. He seems at home in a sea of textual, historical, and hermeneutic contingencies, and his command of the material results in a treasure trove for the reader. No detail is too small: in a footnote to a discussion of dust in Mediterranean warfare, he notes, "Statius, employing a type of metonymy regular in post-Virgilian epic, actually makes puluis stand for fighting (Theb. x. 484)" (p. 422 n. 1). Historical problems treated range from third-century Roman knowledge of Oscan (pp. 228-9) to uniuirae (p. 254-5), to an article-length discussion of republican legislation dealing with provocatio (pp. 120-34). There are useful discussions of the annalist Tubero (his precise identity, the textual problems involved in establishing his praenomen from the mss of L., and the content and method of his history, pp. 145-9), the dress of the triumphator (pp. 100-4), the lustrum (pp. 458-60), the Ogulnian plebiscite (pp. 83-7), the formation of the Samnites' Linen Legion (and L.'s presentation of it as profoundly un-Roman, pp. 392-8), and the relative meanings of custodiae, uigiliae, and stationes in L. (pp. 570-1).

O.'s control of technical material is impressive. He consistently offers expositions of difficulties in the mss and indicates the reasoning behind his preferences. This reviewer cannot do justice to the paleographical aspects of the volume. For each historical problem O. assembles the evidence and provides charts, illustrations, and stemmata where appropriate. Catalogues of evidence are frequent: sometimes they consist of parallels (e.g. for language used to describe triumphs, as at 10.46.10); sometimes, of the information available, such as the Samnites' seizing of Capua (p. 402). The fold-out map at the end will delight military historians who wish to traverse mentally the terrain of the Third Samnite War. O. displays also his knowledge of central Italy in topographical problems such as the location of Aquilonia and Cominium (pp. 383-93). He identifies words found only once in Livy (e.g. ast 10.19.17; hortamen 10.29.5; and, at 10.36.7, profuse, which, since its apparent meaning also is unparalleled throughout Latin literature, has sparked attempts to emend, which are accordingly laid out by O.). Probably reviewers alone read commentaries straight through, but O.'s expertise and the richness and variety of the material he handles would unquestionably make it worthwhile for anyone to do so.

Even without the logistical constraints that led to a fourth volume, Book 10 would stand well on its own. L. structured his narrative around the main generals, especially Q. Fabius Rullianus, P. Decius Mus, and L. Papirius. The book begins slowly, with oddities such as the Umbrians who campaigned from a cave and Cleonymus, the Spartan general, whose voyage to the northern Adriatic takes the narrative to L.'s home territory. Domestic matters then dominate. Most important, L. uses a debate between Ap. Claudius Crassus and P. Decius Mus to animate the passing of the plebiscite that opened the pontificate and augurate to plebeians. L. shifts the emphasis to external affairs once Rome's enemies begin to mass. Eventually the coalition formed by the Umbrians, Etruscans, Gauls, and Samnites leads to the fateful battle at Sentinum, which features Fabius' victory over the alliance and Decius' devotio. The final third of Book 10 is centered around the Roman victory at Aquilonia. And then, in typical fashion, L. ends by pointing forward: a plague in 293 will bring the cult of Aesculapius to Rome.

Although O. conscientiously does not impose false unity on this wide-ranging material, he nonetheless brings out one vital characteristic: Book 10 differs qualitatively from the other books of the first decade because of the improvement in available sources. For example, L. begins to report the activities of aediles, in particular the public works they funded with money acquired from the successful prosecution of malefactors. O. draws attention also to similarities between Book 10 and Books 21-45: reports of triumphs, for example, start to contain elements that will become standard (10.45.2-5). O. consistently notes too the increased and increasing frequency with which L. includes numerical data: figures for captives taken are recorded from Chapter 14 on; the legions are given their numbers for the first time (p. 213); booty begins to be enumerated (p. 445). Yet, despite what he sees as the greater reliability of the material, O. maintains the position he staked out in the first volume of the commentary: while the Roman historical tradition must revolve around a core of factual material, annalistic invention should always be taken into account and individual pieces of information can always be subjected to scrutiny and scepticism. As O. puts it in Vol. I, ultimately we can do nothing but assess probability (p. 38). This approach results in statements such as "Since there are numerous embellishments in the tale of Aquilonia and Cominium, the role played here by Sp. Papirius may have been invented by L. or his annalistic sources; but there is no strong reason for believing that the very existence of this man is an invention" (10.40.9).

To put it another way, even a commentator as inclusive as O. must make choices. The one I regret is the preference for an L. who more closely resembles the romantic literary artist of mid-twentieth-century British scholarship than the master narrator of late-twentieth-century American scholarship. Nevertheless, O.'s analyses deftly guide the reader to appreciate L.'s style. For example, in an overview of a Samnite assault on a Roman camp, O. points out both a technique that adds variety (L.'s decision to introduce fog as the most important factor in the fighting) and the use of the well-paralleled tendency to reveal the outcome in advance to permit "his readers to concentrate not on the result of the story but on the way in which it is told"; O. then details exactly how L. tells the story, making it swift and vivid with historical presents, short sentences, and the omission of esse after perfect passive verbs, and demarcating stages with primo, inde, and deinde (p. 350). That episode is compact and internally consistent, and while it is a pleasure to read O.'s careful delineation of L.'s stylistic techniques, the more complex passages are the ones that will make readers truly grateful to O. For example, in the sequence leading up to Sentinum, L. initially relates that Fabius and Decius quarreled over the distribution of provinces and that Fabius left with a popular mandate, took over command in Etruria, and then returned to Rome. L. knows and reports various contradictory reasons for the return, delves into them (and even into the possibility that there was no dispute between the consuls, who actually both went to Etruria right at the start), and then states that the sources begin to agree only when the consuls leave Rome together. The reader might want to sigh with relief, but after that single sentence of apparently clear exposition, L. produces different accounts of a battle fought by Fabius' lieutenant against the Senonian Gauls, or perhaps the Umbrians (10.24.1-26.13). O. walks the reader through this narrative thicket, making the difficulties clear but not overwhelming, and very possibly explicable in terms of what he sees as L.'s narrative aims.

In addition to the commentary on Book 10, Volume IV is invaluable for the section of Addenda and Corrigenda. O. has added a great deal of material, particularly for the first volume, and readers should always check for updates to the passages they are interested in, and may even find it valuable to skim the Addenda and Corrigenda for information that could not be signposted. In Volume II, for example, O. treats the famous digression on the origins of drama at Rome. The addendum in Vol. IV allows him to draw attention to and endorse a conjecture published by Watt in 2002. Since it bears materially on the development of drama (the separation of singing and dialogue), anyone using L.'s account should take the conjecture into consideration. Sometimes O. has revised his position substantially. For his note on 6.2.12 (on the distribution of booty), O. directs the reader to substitute three paragraphs in Vol. IV for the beginning of the original note. The route to relevant information is not always obvious. The discussion of custodiae, uigiliae, and stationes mentioned above is an addendum to 8.8.1. The only lemma at 8.8.1 (in Vol. II) is descensum in aciem est, and the note there reads, "see ix.14.7 n."; that note, in Vol. III, is about the phrase descendere in aciem. In an addendum to 7.12.3, however, where O. originally commented on stationes, he refers the reader to the addendum to 8.8.1. So ideally, the reader would start with the passage in Book 7, consult the Addenda in Vol. IV, and arrive at the discussion appended to the passage in Book 8. The path is not as smooth as one would wish, but I note the difficulty not as a criticism but as an exhortation to the reader to take full advantage of all four volumes.

My usual experience with commentaries is a sense of disappointment: the author rarely answers the question that the text seems to me to raise. With O., the exact opposite has been the case. Since 1997, whenever I am reading Livy, my greatest hope is that, via Packard's concordance, I will be able to work my way back to a passage in the second pentad, where O. almost invariably resolves my query. Were I exiled to a barren Mediterranean island and limited to a single work of classical scholarship, O.'s commentary would be my choice.

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