[Editorial note: The delay in publication of this review is the responsibility of BMCR, not the reviewer.]
Livy’s second pentad has not seen a new English translation since Betty Radice’s outstanding Penguin translation of 1982. However, Stephen Oakley’s magisterial commentary has so improved our understanding of these books and the remarkable output of the past three decades of such scholars as Cornell, Raaflaub, Forsythe, Smith, Mitchell, and others has done so much to advance our thinking on Rome in the years covered in them that a new translation with notes is overdue. The completion of the Oxford World’s Classics Livy collection is, therefore, most welcome. This team is ideally suited to the task. J. C. Yardley is a prolific translator, including Tacitus’ Annals and two other volumes of Livy for the same series, among others. The introduction and notes were authored by Dexter Hoyos, who has made many indispensable contributions to the study of Carthage and Mid-Republican Rome. Accordingly, one should expect these scholars to perform admirably the important task of helping a new generation of students to understand and appreciate a pivotal section of the work of Rome’s greatest historian.
Yardley’s translation is readable and accessible, though it occasionally suffers from minor errors which bear on either our understanding of Livy’s authorial intent or issues of historical interpretation. I discuss here two examples from book 6:
6.20: adprobantibus cunctis diem Manlio dicunt.
“This met with unanimous approval and the Senate arraigned Manlius.”
The subject of the sentence must be plural, and so cannot be “senate”. It is also unlikely that the subject is patres, since they are the implied subject of the ablative absolute. The understood subject is the plebeian tribunes whose speech Livy has just related. Interpretation of this passage is important for historical reasons. Even if one accepts the common view that the tribunes did not have that power this early, that is no reason to impute such a meaning to Livy, who was not bound by modern communes opiniones.
6.39: Licinius Sextiusque, cum tribunorum plebi creandorum indicta comitia essent, ita se gerere ut negando iam sibi uelle continuari honorem acerrime accenderent ad id quod dissimulando petebant plebem…
“When elections had been scheduled for choosing the plebeian tribunes, Licinius’ and Sextius’ conduct was such that, by declaring a wish to continue in office, they made the plebs very eager to grant them what they wanted but pretended not to want.”
The tribunes did not declare a desire to stay in office. They denied a desire to continue in office (negando...uelle continuari, and thereby caused the plebs to desire them more. This is only a minor error and one of the type which is entirely understandable in the translation of so much material.
In a volume such as this, the introduction and notes are perhaps just as important as the translation, since it will likely be a student’s first exposure to scholarly ideas about the author. Hoyos’ learning is well reflected in the notes and he provides excellent discussions of many historical issues. However, he is very critical of Livy’s “weaknesses and limitations”, sometimes giving a false impression of the authors aims, methods, and sympathies. Let me address a few of Hoyos’ criticisms.
Hoyos claims, as do many, that Livy did not bother to read the documents that should have served as his primary sources. Evidence for this practice is found in 4.23, where “though Macer and Tubero both claimed to have consulted the Linen Books for the consuls of 434, they gave different names” (xiv, with n. 15). But at 4.23.3 Livy says that Macer preferred to follow the Linen Books credulously, while Tubero doubted its reliability. We must, accordingly, read the first section as telling us that both annalists consulted and referenced the Linen Books, but that only Macer chose to follow them. Livy may or may not have consulted the Linen Books, but this passage provides no evidence either way.
Livy is likewise criticized for failing to discuss the terms of Rome’s early treaty with Carthage, “even though he could have made the effort to view it, as Polybius had done” (xiv). Polybius’ account of the treaties comes amidst his discussion of the origins of the wars between Rome and Carthage, and it is quite likely that Livy recounted Rome’s early relations with Carthage in the lost book 16 when he discussed the origins of Carthage and the beginnings of the 1st Punic War (cf. Per. 16). It would have been burdensome and bad story telling for Livy to stop to describe the contents of each treaty as it was struck, especially since war between Rome and Carthage was still decades away. By mentioning these treaties, Livy offers dramatic anticipation of the earth-shaking conflicts to come in the next century for an audience that was well aware of their scope and import. A description of the treaties’ contents at this point would only have diluted the effect.
Hoyos suggests (xvi-xx) that Livy imagines early Rome to be a time in which Romans were all virtuous: “His first ten books might be seen as a paean to early Rome’s simple and uncorrupted morality…” Yet many instances of improper conduct occur in “reputedly virtuous fourth-century Rome.” Livy was well aware that every generation viewed previous generations as superior to its contemporaries. Although Hoyos dismisses it (xxiii), Livy makes this clear by having Fabius Rullianus compare the morals of his own day unfavorably with those of the past (8.33).
Examples of extreme thoughtlessness are offered, too. These, I suggest, are extremely problematic in a text designed for non-specialists, since they predispose the reader to assume that any difficulty or confusion is caused by the author’s carelessness, rather than to try to work out Livy’s meaning. One example: Hoyos writes (xxvi), in a list of passages which are meant to show Livy’s ignorance of military matters, that “a detached unit, surrounded by Samnites and planning to steal away by night while they sleep, nevertheless sounds the standard trumpet-call for the second night-watch (7.35).” But is this really an inappropriate act in the circumstances? Certainly, the Samnites would have been made more suspicious if the horn had never sounded for the changing of the watch.
These criticisms are minor and reflect mostly isolated problems. They should in no way be read to suggest that this book is not worth reading. In addition to the facile translation, there are many features of this volume that will make it useful to teachers. For instance, Hoyos provides an interesting appendix on the manipular legion in Livy. The notes, besides being generally very useful on matters of history, are, refreshingly, arranged by book and chapter number, rather than by page number, which will prove a better introduction for students to the ways in which scholars interact with the text. A glossary provides helpful introductions to institutions, documents, and traditions mentioned, but unexplained, by Livy. This volume offers a good new translation of Livy’s second pentad, in addition to a wealth of good historical background for students. It should, however, be used with caution in the classroom, since it at times might have the tendency to prejudice students against one of Rome’s great literary talents.