BMCR 2007.01.37

A Commentary on Livy Books VI-X. Volume III. Book IX

, A Commentary on Livy Books VI-X. Volume III. Book IX. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005. xvi, 758. £137.00.

The third instalment of Oakley’s commentary on Livy’s second pentad has at last appeared, seven years after the second. (In fact of all Oakley’s volumes this has been the longest in preparation, based ultimately on his 1984 Cambridge Ph.D. thesis.) The delay is unfortunate but understandable in a work of such breadth and depth, a work that fully lives up to the standards established in the previous volumes and almost universally acknowledged in scholarly reviews.1

Livy’s ninth book is particularly rich, containing the Caudine Forks episode, the Alexander digression, the bulk of the Second Samnite War, and the earlier career of Appius Claudius Caecus. Oakley’s treatment is equally rich, encompassing the full range of philological and historical issues expected in a universal commentary, thus ensuring its indispensability as a work of scholarship, whether one is interested in the problems of the dictatorships of the later fourth century, textual criticism, or Livy’s place in the development of Latin prose. The scale of Oakley’s achievement is reflected in the fact that there are very few who could legitimately claim competence to judge all aspects of his work, the present reviewer emphatically not considering himself one of the few.

Oakley’s textual approach is moderately conservative. Frequently he will defend the paradosis against attempts at emendation, is prepared to accept a non liquet where appropriate, and commonly expresses diffidence and hesitation in choosing between alternatives. To the non-specialist this breeds confidence: if Oakley does in fact adopt a determined position on an issue, he should be taken seriously. He is assiduous in chasing the original author of conjectures, and one loses track of the many times a note includes ‘to the passages cited by abc add xyz‘, an index of the wider contribution of this commentary to Latin studies.

Only two textual problems in Book 9 seem to affect historical interpretation. The first is 9.16.1, where one must decide whether to read Fregellanis for Frentanis. Oakley shows how this would solve a number of historical problems, but cannot quite bring himself to adopt it in the lemma: ‘the corruption is not easy to explain, and one should be cautious about adopting conjectures which affect the interpretation of historical events’. The second is 9.21.2, where the choice is between Saticulam and Satricum. Here Oakley shows (against Salmon) that Saticulam is to be preferred on both textual and historical grounds.

The earlier part of the commentary is of course dominated by treatment of the disaster at the Caudine Forks, which receives both historical and literary analysis. Oakley’s appreciation of Livy’s narrative is nuanced but not over-subtle, charting a sensible course through the growing body of literature on this subject and employing a characteristic politeness when dealing with alternative approaches. The overall interpretation is rightly informed by the narrative voice: the Caudine disaster is the divinely ordained consequence of the rejection of the preceding Samnite attempt to make peace. Eventually, however, the Samnites lose the support of the gods as they fail to take the advice of the sage Herennius Pontius, a mistake further compounded by Roman scrupulousness in handing back the sponsores, and by Samnite cruelty and treachery. The actions and statements of characters within the narrative are of course open to multiple readings, but Oakley’s own contributions are generally convincing. In particular he offers eight good reasons why the consul Lentulus’ arguments in favour of surrender (9.4.7-16) are not intended to be understood as flawed. In the main Livy follows his sources and his ‘originality lies in his mastery of structure and graphic detail, and in his ability to write a narrative highly charged with emotional power’. But Oakley does allow that the inability of the Romans to engage the Samnites in battle might be Livy’s own contribution (Cic. off. 3.109 has a Roman defeat).

Oakley is equally secure on the Alexander digression, rightly hesitant to identify the levissimi ex Graecis who argued for the superiority of Alexander (he is especially reluctant to identify them with Timagenes), or to see the digression as a pro- or anti-Augustan tract. He argues that a similar digression appeared already somewhere in Livy’s source(s) and that Livy’s version was composed not in his youth but at the same time as the rest of Book 9.

Oakley’s approach to the historical value of Livy’s material, like his textual approach, is also generally conservative. But it is never naive. He can express occasional despair at our inability to reconcile Livy with competing versions, and is not afraid to reject material as outright invention. Notable in this respect is his dismissal of the internal political events of 314 and his preference for Livy’s description of Appius Claudius Caecus in Book 9 (mostly a radical populist) over the divergent picture given in Book 10 (conservative reactionary). The problems surrounding the Caudine peace are handled expertly: Oakley accepts that the sponsio between Romans and Samnites at Caudium is an annalistic fiction created in order to disguise the agreement of a foedus. He accepts (tentatively, given the finely balanced arguments) that the repudiation of a Romano-Samnite agreement was an early annalistic invention, but that accounts of the repudiation of the (invented) sponsio were written under the influence of the events of 137-136 BC (the repudiation of peace with the Numantines and the handing over of Mancinus).

Much of Oakley’s work is of course an analysis of Livy’s account of the Second Samnite War. This involves a close comparison with other sources (most notably Diodorus and the Fasti Triumphales), so it may be useful to summarize those areas of Livy’s narrative which Oakley rejects (I include only the most significant items). In 320 the Samnites captured Satricum in the Liris valley, not Satricum at Conca on the Latin plain, which is a misunderstanding by Livy or his source. Oakley accepts the consensus that Roman victories this year are to be rejected as fictitious attempts to compensate for the humiliation of the Caudine Forks, but he challenges the view that there was uniform peace between Samnites and Romans between 320 and 316/315: he accepts the recapture of Satricum and a campaign against the Frentani, both in 319. Fighting at Saticula and Plistica in 316, however, is rejected as a doublet of events in 315, and the consuls defeated at Lautulae in that year were in fact replaced by a dictator (Livy has the dictator appointed at the start of the year and presents Lautulae as an indecisive engagement). Fabius Rullianus’ victory at 9.23.7-17 is rejected as an obvious invention intended to compensate for the defeat at Lautulae. Luceria is captured in 315 and not in 314, the year in which Livy reports both its capture and colonisation. In 314 Capua tried to defect, a fact obscured by Livy, and the decisive Roman victory occurred at the end and not the beginning of the year. The capture of Bovianum and overwintering there in 314 and 311 are rejected as fictitious, the town in fact being captured in 310 by the suffect Fulvius, not the consul Minucius). And in 310 the year’s second Roman victory at Sutrium, the second at Vadimon, and the second capture of Perusia are all rejected as doublets.

Oakley seems happier with the general outline of events after 310, but there remain of course problems with regard to details. In general the approach is sound, taking account of strategic considerations, the common indiscretions of Livy’s sources, and some general principles, viz. that victories were more likely to be invented than defeats; that it was more difficult to remove a triumph from the historical record than to add one; and that it was more likely that an unusual dictatorship (e.g. claui figendi causa) might be mistaken for a regular one than vice versa. O. is less cavalier than many of his predecessors in his rewriting of Livy — he rightly demands substantial evidence rather than suspicion — but we are still presented with a significant revision for the ten years post-Caudium.

Oakley’s is a bulky commentary, owing to its wide compass and extreme thoroughness. Parallel narratives to be compared with Livy are quoted in full, which makes the volume an extremely useful research tool; indeed for many purposes it presents all the material one might require. Less fundamental texts, where other commentators would normally provide merely a reference and perhaps a paraphrase, Oakley very often also cites verbatim. This practice has the advantage of convenience for the reader with competence in ancient languages, but perhaps might deter those without Latin and Greek, and certainly contributes to the size (and cost) of the volume. One can only wonder at its scale had Oakley not (reluctantly) adopted the Harvard system of reference. On a more positive note, and especially given current declining standards in proofreading, it should be said that there are very few blemishes in production. Indeed, I have noticed only 15 in 680 pages of text, and five of these the unfortunate ‘to-day’ for ‘today’.

It is obvious that Oakley’s work on Livy has set a standard for modern scholarship, and it is to be hoped that it will influence the approach of younger Livian scholars. It is unlikely, however, that any similar enterprise will be able to be carried through successfully without a fundamental change in the direction of classical scholarship. It is fortunate for us therefore that Oakley has completed his commentaries (volume 4 on Book 10 also appeared in 2005) soon enough to allow subsequent revisions, and that, if the Addenda and Corrigenda to volume 4 are anything to go by, Oakley is the sort of scholar to continue refining and updating his views.


1. See e.g. G. Forsythe on Oakley’s first two volumes in BMCR 1999.09.12. An exception is J. Davidson in TLS 6 March 1998: we should be grateful to T.P. Wiseman for his justifiably coruscating response to Davidson’s ‘dismissive irony’: CR 50 (2000) 81. All dates in the present review are BC.