BMCR 2007.03.36

Livy: Hannibal’s war (books 21-30). With an introduction and notes by Dexter Hoyos. Oxford World’s Classics

, , , Hannibal's war. Books twenty-one to thirty. Oxford world's classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. 1 online resource (xliii, 740 pages) : maps.. ISBN 9780191517761. $15.95.

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Livy’s account of the Second Punic War (219/218-201 B.C.) in the third decade of his massive 142-book history of Rome ab urbe condita has long been recognized as “one of the most outstanding narratives in ancient historiography” (p. xxxiii). This translation, the first new English rendering in over forty years,1 represents another in a series of excellent translations by John Yardley (Y.).2 In this case, he has the assistance of Dexter Hoyos (H.), who provides the introduction and non-textual explanatory notes which accompany the text.3 The clarity and precision of the translation, as well as the helpful guidance provided by the supplementary materials, make this book a welcome addition to the Oxford World’s Classics, and a suitable resource both for students in courses on Roman history and for scholars in general.

The “Introduction” (pp. ix-xxxiii) provides the necessary background information in an organized and concise manner. After a brief biography of Livy (“Livy and his history” [p. ix]), H. traces the history of Rome and Carthage prior to their epic struggle in the Second Punic War. “Rome and Carthage: two republics” (pp. x-xiii) offers an interesting comparative analysis of the early history and government of the two states, and also outlines the initial stages of their growth into regional superpowers, until they engaged in the first (264-241 B.C.) of their three major wars against each other (“The First Punic War” [pp. xiii-xiv]). Next, H. sets the stage for the second conflict with a balanced and in-depth presentation of the political and military events of the period between the wars (“The Barcid ascendancy” [pp. xiv-xv] and “Rome in the interwar years” [pp. xv-xvi]). “Hannibal’s war: causes and theories” (pp. xvi-xvii) briefly addresses the thorny question of the cause(s) of the conflict, and H. concludes that the war, in fact, may have been “unplanned”, the result of a series of miscalculations revolving around the status of Saguntum. Finally, after a review of “The rival military systems” (pp. xvii-xx), the historical section of the introduction concludes with a summary of the Second Punic War itself (“Hannibal’s war” [pp. xx-xxii]).

Having firmly established the Second Punic War in its historical context, H. continues with a brief discussion of Livy’s account of the conflict. “Books 21-30: structure and ideals” (pp. xxii-xxvi) remarks succinctly on topics ranging from the annalistic structure of Livy’s narrative and the lactea ubertas of his literary style, to the stark contrast between the generally virtuous behavior of the Romans, especially Scipio Africanus (“almost Livy’s perfect hero” [p. xxv]), and the unbecoming actions of some of their other generals, e.g., Q. Pleminius at Locri. Here, however, a more thorough analysis of the structure and content of books 21-30 would have been desirable, given the complex interweaving of the various narrative threads and the evident chronological difficulties (e.g., in the account of Saguntum), which H. himself acknowledges (pp. xxii-xxiii). The later chronological outline (see below) does not resolve this problem, since it often (necessarily) arranges the material very differently from its placement in Livy’s narrative. “Enemies and friends in Hannibal’s War” (pp. xxvi-xxvii) considers how Livy depicts the characters in his narrative. H. next evaluates the historical accuracy of Livy’s work (“Facts and flaws: Livy and history writing” [pp. xxvii-xxx]). Here, Livy comes in for a fair measure of harsh criticism for the shortcomings in his historical method. Furthermore, H. believes that Livy’s literary inclination and his avid patriotism only accentuated the general problem of biased and conflicting sources. While Livy certainly merits censure for the historical errors which impair the value of his work, it is too simplistic to assert that “Livy’s genius was literary, not analytical” (p. xxvii), as though the two were an antithetical pair. Consequently, this misconception leads H. to compare the account in Livy with the purportedly neutral control-text account in Polybius, who was certainly both a literary stylist and a patriot in his own right.4 H. completes his introduction with a full discussion of the rich historiographical resources from which Livy drew the material for his own work, including both the official state records and the extensive literary tradition, before a more detailed consideration of the complex relationship between Livy and Polybius (“Livy’s sources” [pp. xxx-xxxiii]).

Immediately after the introduction follow a brief “Note on the Text and Translation” (pp. xxxiv-xxxv) and a “Select Bibliography” (pp. xxxvi-xxxviii), with sections for “Texts”, “Translations”, “Commentaries”, and “Modern studies”, as well as “Further reading in Oxford World’s Classics”.5 “A Chronology of Events” (pp. xxxix-xliii) and five “Maps” (pp. xliv-xlviii) round out the introductory material.

Y.’s translation itself (pp. 1-618) is consistently even and accurate. He aids comprehension both by routinely further subdividing the paragraph divisions in the Teubner text and by frequently splitting a long Livian period into several separate sentences. This process, in turn, often entails some alteration of the overall clause structure (e.g., 21.1.1 and 21.30.4-6). In particular, he regularly converts long participial ratus -clauses into independent clauses (e.g., 21.5.2 and 21.12.4). By contrast, Y. only rarely combines independent clauses in the Latin in his translation (e.g., 21.5.5-6 and 21.6.3). In confronting another persistent problem for the translator of ancient historiography, he regularly transfers extended indirect discourse into direct discourse (e.g., 21.63.6-10). In short, by means of syntactical fragmentation and regularization, Y. furnishes a translation which is both comprehensible and pleasurable to read.

Beyond the level of general style, Y. heightens the level of his narrative with several elegant rhetorical effects, including the postponement of key elements to the end of the sentence (e.g., 21.5.17 and 21.18.5), as well as the use of italics for emphasis, most often in speeches (e.g., 21.3.5 and 21.3.6). Y. in no way constrains himself to a literal word-for-word rendering of the text. Examples of his apt word choice include “even more vitriolic” for infestius (21.11.1), “presumptuous” for praeceps (21.18.4), “at the appropriate moment” for cum opus facto sit (21.27.3), “written on every face” for in omnium vultu emineret (21.35.7), and “frost-bitten” for praeusti (21.40.9). Only on very rare occasions does the English seem to convey an inappropriate level of diction, e.g., “mop up” for conficere (21.40.11) is perhaps too colloquial, even for a general haranguing his soldiers, likewise “sell-out” for proditionis (21.48.9).

Actual errors in translation are especially infrequent. Occasionally, a proper name or a part thereof inadvertently drops out of the text,6 similarly an official title or a part thereof,7 and, once, both (23.37.12: “were also recaptured “). Rarely, a proper name appears in a fuller form in the English than in the Latin,8 or is simply incorrect.9 Seldom, other individual words10 and even some longer phrases11 get lost in translation, and there are also two incorrect numbers and two incorrect translations regarding festivals.12 Finally, one of the two “also”s in 22.7.5 should be deleted, and 22.61.12 should read “and all the Cisalpine Gauls”, since ferme does not modify omnes.

Some passages merit further comment:

26.9.6: Y. construes “people” (from hominum) as the subject of concitat and is then compelled to obelize “running about” (from < discursu) in his translation. In doing so, he fails to translate both rumoribus and, as the commas in Walsh’s restoration of the lacuna show, the actual subject, volgatum. Nevertheless, an introductory id or quod, a regular element of Livian syntax, would have aided comprehension and, perhaps, may have fallen out the manuscripts. Translate: “But the publicizing of this danger, because of the running about of people adding pure fiction to the rumors that they had heard, threw the entire city into even greater turmoil than had the initial report of it.”

26.13.15: Y. again obelizes where Walsh does not, but he does not explain his reason(s) for doing so. Here, the ut -clause functions, albeit somewhat loosely, as a result clause.

26.41.18: Y. fails to translate both vestro and transissent. However, the punctuation in Walsh suggests that the utinam -clause is both an interruption to the main syntax and, yet, itself internally complete. Translate: “What happened recently, too — I wish that it had passed by without as much grief for me as for you — <.. . .>“.

28.44.2: The form populere is a present subjunctive, not an infinitive, and it is therefore coordinate with videas, not uri, exscindi (see the app. crit.). Translate: “Pillaging other people’s territory is very different from seeing your own torched and destroyed.”

30.7.7: Y. misses bellum. Translate: “Because Hasdrubal, who was attending the meeting, and all members of the Barca faction were in favor of war, this was the proposal that prevailed.”

The adjective Poenus occasionally presents a problem for Y., because in its substantival use the word may denote either “the Carthaginians” as a singular collective noun or, specifically, Hannibal. He correctly translates this word as “the Carthaginians” in, e.g., 21.8.3 and 21.9.1, and as “Hannibal” or “the Carthaginian” (i.e., Hannibal) in, e.g., 21.12.5 and 21.24.5. In 21.8.8, however, not the singular but the plural form “the Carthaginians” is the correct translation (cf. 21.9.1, where the opposition is also between Poenus and Saguntini). Besides the ambiguous translation “the Punic foe” for Poenus hostis in 21.19.9, it is worth considering whether Poenus should also be translated elsewhere in the plural, e.g., in 21.17.6 and 21.20.2 (cf. 21.26.6).

Two appendices immediately follow the translation. “Appendix 1. List of Variations from the Teubner Text” (p. 619) supplies a list of those six passages in which Y. offers a different reading from that in the Teubner text, as well as the dozen misprints which he has noticed.13 Of the variant readings, curia (Madvig) for curiam in 23.3.2 ( clausos omnis in curia) receives strong support both from the similar construction claudam, inquit, in curia vos in 23.2.9 and the different construction claudi curiam iubet in 23.2.10. Meanwhile, Idem (with some manuscript support) for Ibem in 28.21.6 also seems an improvement, in light of H.’s note ad 28.21 (p. 686). However, capta sunt for capti * et in 23.35.19 is not as certain an emendation. First, Y. does not correlate his use of the lacuna with the manuscript reading which he adopts here (cf. Dorey in the app. crit.). Additionally, capti et signa militaria septem et viginti in 23.40.12 (also noted by Dorey in the app. crit. to 23.35.19) suggests that the lacuna, if one exists, may, in fact, be between Alfio and capti, and may have originally listed the number of men captured. The deletion of velut in ut si in 26.31.1 is a similarly uncertain emendation. Although Walsh does not discuss the passage in his praefatio (pp. χι it appears that he added velut in order to make it clear that Marcellus was not in fact allowing for the actual possibility of Greeks acting as his accusers in a Roman court of law, a subtle flavor of rhetoric which Y. somewhat obscures through his rearrangement of the dependent clause. Of the remaining two readings emended by Y., it is unnecessary to alter vomica to vomicam in 25.12.9 ( hostis Romani si expellere vultis vomica quae gentium venit longe), since, apart from the disruption to the structure of the si -clause, Latin often pairs a relative pronoun with its syntactical antecedent embedded inside the relative clause in apposition. Finally, the change from qui nesciat to qui sciat in 29.17.17 is also problematic, as either reading (both with at least minimal manuscript authority) may yield an acceptable sense, depending on whether the verb of knowing or – as is more common – miretur governs the quomodo -clause. In Appendix 2 (pp. 620-630), H. offers an analysis of the many difficult questions surrounding “Hannibal’s Route over the Alps” into Italy, and his “Conclusions” (p. 629) reconstruct the suggested route, followed by a brief compilation of works for “Further reading” (pp. 629-630).

Conveniently arranged by book and chapter number, the “Explanatory Notes” (pp. 631-714) provide a wealth of useful information. H. supplies the majority of these notes, but Y. also makes several additional contributions, accordingly designated “(translator’s note)” (e.g., ad 21.25). Apart from occasional observations on literary and textual issues (e.g., ad 21.39 and 21.46), the notes primarily comprise relevant historical, geographical, and cultural material (e.g., ad 21.1 and 21.5), as well as discussion of the various discrepancies both within Livy (e.g., ad 21.3) and between him and Polybius (e.g., ad 21.1). A “Glossary” (pp. 715-726) and an “Index” (pp. 727-740) complete the ancillary material.

Altogether, Y. and H. have collaborated to produce what will now become the authoritative English rendering of Livy 21-30. Y.’s exemplary translation strikes the right balance between a strict fidelity to the syntax of the Latin and the need to explain what Livy means while translating him. H.’s introductory material and the explanatory notes well illuminate and explicate the place of the Punic Wars in Roman history and they suffer only for a somewhat rigid and dated interpretation of Livy as a historiographer.

[For an addendum to this review by John Jacobs, please see BMCR 2007.04.14.]


1. Besides the Loeb Classical Library (1929-1949) version, see also the translations by Canon W. M. Roberts in the Everyman’s Library (1912-1931) and, most recently, by Aubrey de Sélincourt in the Penguin Classics (1965).

2. Y. has translated Quintus Curtius, The history of Alexander (Penguin Classics, 1984) and Justin (APA Classical Resources, 1994; and, books 11-12, Clarendon Ancient History, 1997), as well as books 31-40 of Livy, also for the Oxford World’s Classics (2000).

3. H. has recently published Unplanned wars: The origins of the First and Second Punic Wars (Berlin and New York, 1998) and Hannibal’s dynasty: Power and politics in the western Mediterranean, 247-183 B.C. (London and New York, 2003).

4. See, e.g., T. J. Luce, Livy: The composition of his history (Princeton, 1977) for a more current and sympathetic perspective on Livy as a historiographer.

5. Y. adopts the Teubner text edited by Dorey (21-25) and Walsh (26-30) as the basis for his translation. Silius Italicus’ Punica, the Flavian epic on the Second Punic War, might have been mentioned either in the Introduction or the Select Bibliography.

6. 22.42.4: “ Statilius”; 27.8.5: “his brother “; 27.36.9: “Marcus Caecilius “; and 30.43.1: “ Lentulus”.

7. 26.3.9: “the praetor, Gaius Calpurnius”; 26.48.7: “Gaius Laelius, “; 27.8.12: “ Gaius Fulvius Flaccus”; 27.51.8: “To mark Marcus Livius’ and Gaius Claudius’ destruction”; 28.32.6: “by his father or himself”; 29.30.5: “ Lacumazes”; 30.24.1: “ Gnaeus Servilius”; 30.40.9: “ Tiberius Claudius”; and 30.41.2: “ Publius Aelius”.

8. 27.24.5: “Gaius Terentius [Varro]”; 27.34.14: “Marcus Furius [Camillus]”; and 28.10.9: “Marcus Caecilius [Metellus]”.

9. 24.10.4: for “Quintus Marcus” read “Quintus Mucius”; 27.18.7: for “Hannibal” read “Hasdrubal”; 28.11.6: for “Licinus” read “Licinius”; and 30.36.3: for “Laelius'” read “Lentulus'”.

10. 23.30.13: “outcomes, in Africa”; 24.4.7: “to raise “; 24.47.5: “was leading them<, Italians,> to wage war against their old Roman allies”; 25.36.6: “no part of the hill was high or steep enough”; 26.2.7: “through foolhardiness and experience”; and 27.4.10: “a toga” (cf. 27.4.8).

11. 22.56.2: “attempting to bring together<, as if from a shipwreck,> the remnants of that catastrophic defeat”; 24.16.19: “which his father had had constructed “; 25.39.8: “either sitting or lying around”; 29.23.4: “he sent for the girl from Carthage<, since she was then at an age to marry,> and pushed the wedding ahead”; and 29.33.5: “And so the infantry and cavalry were all cut down “.

12. 21.51.7: for “twelve” read “ten” and 25.27.1: for “five” read “fifteen”; 27.36.8: “the Roman games were repeated once” not “for one day” and 30.26.11: “the Roman Games were repeated for one day, and the Plebeian Games three times in their entirety”.

13. However, quit for quid is in 21.4.4, not 21.4.3; idu for ubi is in 23.18.2, not 23.18.1; and the error is quiem, not qui em, for quidem in 25.31.5. Additional misprints in the Teubner volumes include Braneus for Branceus in 21.31.6; Compsa inde, Fugifulae for Compsa, inde Fugifulae in 24.20.5; Virrum for Virrium in 26.14.3; Scerdilaeus for Scerdilaedus in 26.24.9; corpnra for corpora in 26.51.17; educit for eduxit in 27.14.2 (?); inuisitati for inusitati in 27.39.8; insidere tangustos for insideret angustos in 27.46.6; acie spraetori for acies praetori in 27.48.4; and Symphacem for Syphacem in 28.18.6.