BMCR 2020.07.36

Livy. History of Rome. Books 21-22

John Yardley, Livy. History of Rome. Books 21-22. Loeb classical library, 233. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019. xciv, 400 p.. ISBN 9780674996946 $28.00.

At BMCR 2018.08.24 I reviewed Yardley’s Loeb volume for Books 38-40 of Livy, which replaced the earlier one. As that volume completed Yardley’s revision of the fourth decade, so this one begins his revision of the third.[1] What I said there and illustrated with examples I need not rehearse in detail now, since the same differences obtain. The new volume too is unquestionably superior to the one it replaced. These are the main points (some qualifications follow): The text is better, and the apparatus criticus more selective and slimmer. The translation is more contemporary. The introduction is far richer and the notes more helpful.

Some readers today may still prefer a translation of Livy into heroic prose. For most of us, the opening sentences of the decade, which I offer as a fair sample, are redolent of the fussy, musty diction of ninety years ago. Here’s Foster:

In this preface to a part of my history I may properly assert what many an historian has declared at the outset of his entire work, to wit, that the war which I am going to describe was the most memorable of all wars ever waged—the war, that is, which under the leadership of Hannibal, the Carthaginians waged with the Roman People. For neither have states or nations met in armspossessed of ampler resources, nor was their own might and power ever so great. Nor yet were they strangers to one another’s modes of fighting, which the First Punic War had made them understand.

Contrast the new version:

In a preface to only a section of my work I am able to make the claim that most historians have made at the beginning of their entire opus: that I am going to provide an account of the most momentous war ever fought, that which the Carthaginians, led by Hannibal, waged against the Roman people. For no other states or nations have come into conflict with greater resources than these, nor had the combatants themselves ever possessed more strength and power. They each also brought to the struggle strategies that were not unfamiliar to the other but ones that had been put to the test in the First Punic War.

(But “memorable” is more accurate than “momentous.”) A little below, Livy’s indignantibus quod victoribus victi ultro inferrent arma was rendered by Foster as “enraged that the conquered should be actually drawing sword upon their conquerors,” and now by Yardley as “indignant that a conquered people was presuming to attack its conquerors.” (But neither one has captured the sense of ultro.) And so it goes, page after page.

Along with the old-fashioned language, this and the other new Loebs jettison not only Roman numerals used for identifying books and chapters but also the earlier typeface, which has been replaced by a lighter-bodied font, giving the page a cleaner look. They also offer American spellings, like “armor.” This volume does not retain, however, those valuable old maps, seven of which were folded into the back of the earlier Loeb. Instead, one finds references to the Barrington Atlas, an inexpensive yet inadequate substitute. Also dropped were the helpful marginal indications of the year being narrated.

Whereas Yardley’s edition of the fourth decade referred to the large-scale historical commentary by John Briscoe (three volumes, Oxford, 1973-2008), his edition of the third decade can rely on no similar resource, for none such exists. Luca Beltramini is about to publish an Italian commentary on Book 26, however, while Simon Hornblower and the inescapable Briscoe are preparing one on 22 for the Cambridge Greek and Latin Series. The desideratum remains.

In my earlier review I was obliged to suppose that the text Yardley followed for the fourth decade, Briscoe’s 1991 Teubner, was superior to his predecessor’s. Here, for the first half of the third decade, he adopts Briscoe’s 2016 Oxford Classical Text—and Briscoe himself contributes a section on the MSS to the introduction. That text has been favorably reviewed.[2] The nine pages devoted here to the MSS are considerably fuller than is usual, or perhaps even appropriate, in a Loeb volume. Similarly, the list of abbreviations and the bibliography are foolishly detailed.

The remainder of the introduction, which covers the entire decade, is by the Roman military historian Dexter Hoyos, and it is outstanding. A comparison with Hoyos’s introduction to the fourth decade in the Loeb series reveals a striking oddity. To be sure, both introductions treat Livy’s sources, and at similar length; both sketch the historical background of international relations, again at similar length; and both treat the transmission of the text. Several topics—the layout of the material within books and in larger units, the speeches, the sifting of sources and the marshaling of events into a narrative—are handled in both, but receive more than twice as much space in the present volume, and are proportionately more valuable. But there the similarities end.

The introduction to the fourth decade included these significant subjects: the structure of the whole history, Roman governance (the people, the magistracies, the senate), armies and fleets, the calendar. Not one of these, however, is addressed in the introduction to the third decade, which includes these significant subjects: Livy’s life and the age of Augustus, inconsistencies and contradictions in the narrative, color and emotion, depiction of character, religion and ritual. And none of those was addressed in the other volume. As a result, substantial, valuable portions of the two introductions complement one another nicely, but readers might fervently wish they were found together in one volume instead of separately.

More on the present introduction: Hoyos does well to draw attention, always with excellent examples, to the inconsistencies and contradictions in Livy’s account, which in turn grants insight into how the historian likely worked—how he used his sources and how he fashioned the material into the kind of narrative he desired; the analysis of events at Capua (23.2-7) is especially fine. Hoyos brings out clearly the dramatic, emotional quality of Livian scenes, the distinct portrayal of personalities (Hannibal and Scipio Africanus above all, but also Marcellus and Masinissa), the various purposes that the speeches serve. On the historical side, he concisely and clearly sketches the background to the war, setting its origins within the broad context of the various competing Mediterranean powers, as Livy does not. The introduction concludes with a very handy chronology, and not of the Secund Punic War alone but of the First and the Third as well.

In short, a valuable volume. Kudos to all!


[1] The old Loeb of 21-22 was by B. O. Foster. The three remaining new volumes of the third decade are slated to appear within a year.

[2] For Dániel Kiss, writing in BMCR 2019.06.07, “it constitutes a major step forward in the textual criticism of Livy.” Shortly afterwards, Briscoe published Liviana: Studies on Livy (Oxford, 2018), which corrects the texts and discusses the textual problems in his several editions of Livy, yet dwells on the edition of 21-25 more than anything else.