BMCR 2020.10.31

Livy. History of Rome, volume vi: books 23-25

, Livy. History of Rome, volume vi: books 23-25. Loeb classical library, 355. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2020. 400 p. ISBN 9780674997271 $28.00.

This is a skilled, updated rendition of Books 23-25 of Livy’s History. Yardley’s experience and expertise are evident throughout, and the volume will stand up to the no doubt heavy use it will receive. It has two natural comparanda: the previous Loeb edition, and Yardley’s own Oxford translation of Books 21-30, published under the title Hannibal’s War (2006).

The reader will find significant differences from the 1940 Loeb. Leaving aside the style of the translation for a moment, one might note some obvious changes in presentation. While Roman numerals have been retained for the three books, both chapters and sections are now demarcated by Arabic numbers, and there are many more paragraph breaks; both of these changes make the new edition more accessible. Another improvement is the use of American (instead of British) spelling. Other changes strike me as less successful. Years are no longer noted in the margin, and the book does not have any maps; the earlier volumes covering the second Punic war came equipped with foldout maps tailored to their contents. As a reader who used those marginal dates to locate material and consulted maps to follow the narrative, I regret their disappearance. A lesser loss is the family tree of Hiero, though that certainly helped a reader to follow the power struggles in Book 24.

In lieu of maps, the reader is referred to other works, such as the Barrington Atlas (R. J. A. Talbert, ed., Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, Princeton 2000) and L. J. Richardson’s A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Baltimore 1992). This solution presents two difficulties: the reader may not have access to these books; and, since they are referred to only by the abbreviated system introduced in a separate volume, to the uninitiated, a note such as “Modern Pozzuoli, west of Naples (Barr. 44 F4)” (p. 198, n. 24) is not very illuminating. This system pertains to all secondary literature. For example, one footnote reads, “The people of Tarentum, worried by Roman expansion in southern Italy, appealed for aid to Pyrrhus of Epirus, who arrived in 280 but was eventually forced to withdraw after several “Pyrrhic victories” (cf. OCD s.v.; Cornell 363-64)” (p. 22, n. 23). These potentially cryptic notes stand in contrast with the previous edition, with maps and for the most part without specialized knowledge.

The previous volume, Volume 5 contains not just Books 21 and 22 but the ancillary material for the entire third decade: the list of abbreviations, the bibliography of secondary works, and what looks to be an extremely helpful introduction, with explanations of the sources available to Livy, his techniques, background to the second Punic war, and the manuscript tradition. I assume cost influenced the new format, and it may be that most people are using multiple volumes at the same time or toggling amongst various online resources, but the self-contained nature of the original series had its advantages.

The style of Yardley’s translation is suited to a twenty-first century readership. His lexicon is much lighter. For example, in place of “bestirring themselves” (moventes, 24.19.5), we get “mobilizing”; iubentur is rendered as “they were instructed” instead of “they were bidden” (25.8.6); and almost entirely gone are words such as “whence”, “thereupon”, and “lest”. At the same time, Yardley still captures some of Livy’s high style, and masterfully grapples with his verb-rich prose. For example, Livy writes:

“ut conspecta inter se agmina sunt et neutra pars detractavit pugnam, extemplo instructae acies. pugnatum tamen ut in nulla pari re duas amplius horas, concitata, donec dux stetit, Romana acie. postquam is non pro vetere fama solum sed etiam metu futuri dedecoris, si sua temeritate contractae cladi superesset, obiectans se hostium telis cecidit, fusa extemplo est Romana acies (25.19.15-16).”

And Yardley translates:

“When the columns sighted each other and neither side declined battle, lines were immediately drawn up. The battle, despite the total imbalance, nevertheless lasted more than two hours, the Roman line spurred on as long as its leader stood firm. However, the man went down deliberately exposing himself to enemy weapons – not only to protect his long-standing reputation but also fearing disgrace from surviving defeat brought on by his own recklessness – and the Roman line was immediately put to flight.”

There are lots of nice touches here: “spurred on” for concitata, “stood firm” for steterat, the rearrangement of the sequence in the third sentence, so that the motivation for the suicide does not interrupt the narrative of events.

Not surprisingly, then, the new Loeb is far more readable than its predecessor. One passage (24.9.9-11) can offer a reasonable sense of the difference. Moore’s 1940 translation reads:

“Marcellus was made consul in his absence, being with the army; for Fabius, who was present and himself conducted the election, his consulship was continued. The times and the straits of war and danger to the existence of the state deterred any one from searching for a precedent for that, and from suspecting the consul of greed for power. On the contrary they praised his high-mindedness, in that, knowing the state had need of a great commander, and that he was himself undoubtedly that man, he counted his own unpopularity, should any be the consequence, as of less moment than the advantage of the state.”

Yardley offers:

“Marcellus was elected consul in absentia since he was with the army, and Fabius had his consulship prolonged while he was present and personally supervising the elections. The time, the demands of the war, and the critical situation facing the state deterred anyone from looking for a precedent or suspecting lust for power on the consul’s part. In fact, people actually praised his magnanimity: knowing the republic needed a first-rate commander, and that this he undoubtedly was, he was less concerned about any unpopularity arising from the issue than he was about the public good.”

Notably, Yardley eschews the absolute construction “being with the army”; “since he was with the army” is paradoxically both less Latinate and closer to Livy’s syntax (cum ad exercitum esset). The syntax of the final sentence also reads more easily in Yardley’s English. Further, for “straits” (necessitas) we find “demands”, and for “counted . . . of less moment” we get “was less concerned about”. Although “lust” (for cupiditas) may have more moralistic resonances today than “greed” does, it conveys the tone of the passage and corresponds to the root meaning of the Latin. One curiosity is the introduction into the translation of the Latin in absentia. While probably familiar to readers in the academy, it may be more problematic to some. As with the absence of maps and the absence of bibliographical information, the use of a Latin phrase in the translation draws attention to the question of the intended audience.

As Yardley explains in the preface to Volume 5, “The translation is based on my Hannibal’s War in the Oxford World’s Classics series (…) and has been substantially adapted to suit what I believe may be a different readership from OWC, one that ranges from the Latinless to those who know the language well” (p. vii). This sentence encapsulates a difficulty that a translator faces: does the reader want to be able to read the text in her/his own language, or to make sense of the original? For the latter cohort, Yardley flags major textual problems in the English and refers the reader to the apparatus criticus; presumably this is the readership that knows Latin well. Equally, at points the text has been left closer to the Latin, with some loss of clarity or elegance (e.g. while Latin can begin a sentence ab eo, an English one rarely begins “By him” [as at 25.2.4 “By him Quintus Fulvius Flaccus was appointed master of horse”]).

Presumably, it is for the Latinless that the register of the diction is slightly more colloquial than what Yardley produced for the OWC edition. For example, for urget we get “piled on the pressure” rather than “there was heavy pressure” (23.29.10); and nemo satis pro certo scire is changed to “no one knew for sure” from “nobody really knew” (25.10.1). At this point, I should disclose that, of all English translations of all books of Livy, Yardley’s OWC rendition of the third decade is my absolute favorite. It is fluid and easy to read without departing excessively from the Latin.Given that bias, it is not surprising that I found more to quibble with in this version.

Perhaps inevitably, revision introduced errors(which careful copy editing could or should have caught): e.g. “with the loss of its lost a father” (p. 189 = 24.4.7) where the presence of a textual crux does not explain the unintelligible English; or “would each to take” (p. 211 = 24.11.2) which arises from a shift in the modal verb. The new edition also has mistakes of its own; the worst I encountered was, fortunately, in the blurb, which contains the inaccurate and self-contradictory statement: “Of its 142 books, conventionally divided into pentads and decades, we have 1-10 and 21-45 complete, and short summaries (periochae) of all the rest except 41 and 43-45; 11-20 are lost, and of the rest only fragments and the summaries remain”. In general, the copy-editing falls short of the quality set by the translation.

Translation is impossibly exacting work, requiring one to harness creativity to communicating the ideas of another, and perfection is unattainable. In contributing to the renovation of the Loeb Classical Library, Yardley has done signal service.