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Titus Livius (59 BC – AD 17), known as Livy in English, was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people, Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC through the reign of Augustus in Livy's own time. He was on familiar terms with the Julio-Claudian family, advising Augustus' grandnephew, the future emperor Claudius, as a young man not long before 14 AD in a letter to take up the writing of history. Livy and Augustus' wife, Livia, were from the same clan in different locations, although not related by blood.

Life

Dates

The authority supplying the information from which possible vital data on Livy can be deduced is Eusebius of Caesaria, an early Christian-era bishop. One of his works was a summary of world history in ancient Greek, termed the Chronikon, dating from the early 4th century. This work was lost except for fragments (mainly excerpts), but not before it had been translated in whole and in part by various authors such as St. Jerome. The entire work survives in Armenian. St. Jerome wrote in Latin. Fragments in Syriac exist.

Eusebius' work consists of two books, the Chronographia, a summary of history in annalist form, and the Chronikoi Kanones, tables of years and events. St. Jerome translated the tables into Latin as the Chronicon, probably adding some information of his own from unknown sources. Livy's dates appear in Jerome's Chronicon.

The main problem with the information given in the MSS is that between them they often give different dates for the same events or different events, do not include the same material entirely and reformat what they do include. A date may be in AUC or in Olympiads or in some other form, such as age. These variations may have occurred through scribal error or scribal license. Some material has been inserted under the aegis of Eusebius.

The topic of manuscript variants is a large and specialized one, on which authors of works on Livy seldom care to linger. As a result standard information in a standard rendition is used, which gives the impression of a standard set of dates for Livy. There are no such dates. A typical presumption is of a birth in the 2nd year of the 180th Olympiad and a death in the first year of the 199th Olympiad, which are coded 180.2 and 199.1 respectively. All sources use the same first Olympiad, 776/775-773/772 BC by the modern calendar. By a complex formula (made so by the 0 reference point not falling on the border of an Olympiad) these codes correspond to 59 BC for the birth, 17 AD for the death. In another manuscript the birth is in 180.4, or 57 BC.

Jerome says that Livy was born the same year as Marcus Valerius Messala Corvinus and died the same year as Ovid. Messala, however, was born earlier, in 64 BC, and Ovid's death, usually taken to be the same year as Livy's, is more uncertain. As an alternative view, Ronald Syme argues for 64 BC-12 AD as a range for Livy, setting the death of Ovid at 12. A death date of 12, however, removes Livy from Augustus' best years and makes him depart for Padua without the good reason of the second emperor, Tiberius, being not as tolerant of his republicanism. The contradiction remains; there is no non-speculative solution.

Background

According to Jerome and numerous other sources, Livy was a native of Patavium, the modern Paduamarker. Going by name, he belonged to the Livia gens, or family, but no agnomen has survived. His works show that he was educated in oratory and Greek, which is an indicator of rank, although the Livii were of plebeian origin. Patavium was of multi-ethnic origin (but Livius is a good Roman name) and did not become a Roman municipium until 49 BC. Livy was ten years old then. The Patavians were enrolled in the Fabii, but perhaps not Romans who already had a good name, as Livy kept his and without agnomen. Whether the fact that the emperor Augustus' much loved and respected wife, Livia, was born into the Roman branch of the Livia gens, had anything to do with Augustus' tolerance of Livy's republican views is not known.

Various authors testify that Livy married and had children. Quintilian gives a fragment of a letter from Livy to his son. The same son became a writer considered an authority by Pliny the Elder in Books V and VI of Natural History. Seneca the Elder mentions a son-in-law, Lucius Magius. Two epitaphs from Paduamarker are considered relevant: CIL V 2975 commemorates Titus Livius, son of Gaius, his two sons: Titus Livius Priscus and Titus Livius Longus, as well as Livy's wife, Cassia; and CIL V 2865, marking the resting place of a freedman of Livia Quarta, daughter of Titus Livius. Evidently the Livii of Padua continued to reside there and one must presume that after sojourns elsewhere they came home to die.

At some time early in his career Livy moved to Rome, probably for his education. A few references in Book I suggest he was at Rome at or prior to 27 BC, when he began work on his History of Rome. It would have been in Rome also that he had or overheard a conversation with Augustus, who did not acquire that title until 27 BC. In that year, if born in 59 BC, Livy was 32.

Works

Livy's only surviving work is the "History of Rome" (Ab Urbe Condita), which was his career from an age in middle life, probably 32, until he left Rome for Padua in old age, probably after the death of Augustus in the reign of Tiberius. When he began this work he was already past his youth; presumably, events in his life prior to that time had led to his intense activity as a historian. Seneca the Younger gives brief mention that he was also known as an orator and philosopher and had written some treatises in those fields from a historical point of view.

Reception

Livy's History of Rome was in demand from the publication of the first packet. Livy became so famous that a man from Cadizmarker travelled to Rome just to see him, and once he had seen, returned home. The popularity of the work continued through the entire classical period. A number of Roman authors used Livy, including Aurelius Victor, Cassiodorus, Eutropius, Festus, Florus, Granius Licinianus and Orosius. Julius Obsequens used Livy, or a source with access to Livy, to compose his De Prodigiis, an account of supernatural events in Rome, from the consulship of Scipio and Laelius to that of Paulus Fabius and Quintus Aelius.

Livy wrote during the reign of Augustus, who came to power after a civil war with generals and consuls claiming to be defending the Roman Republic, such as Pompey. Patavium had been pro-Pompey. To clarify his status, the victor of the civil war, Octavian Caesar, had wanted to take the title Romulus (the first king of Rome) but in the end accepted the senate proposal of Augustus. He did not abolish the republic de facto but adapted its institutions into the empire.

Livy's enthusiasm for the republic is evident from the first pentade of his work, and yet the Julio-Claudian family (the imperial family) were as much fans of Livy as anyone. He could not have been an advocate of any sort of sedition in favor of restoring the republic; he would have been put on trial for treason and executed, as many had been and would be. He must have been viewed as a harmless and relevant advocate of the ancient morality, which was a known public stance of the citizens of Patavium. His relationship to Augustus is defined primarily by a passage from Tacitus in which Cremutius Cordus is put on trial for his life for offenses no worse than Livy's and defends himself face-to-face with the frowning Tiberius as follows:
"I am said to have praised Brutus and Cassius, whose careers many have described and no one mentioned without eulogy.
Titus Livius, pre-eminently famous for eloquence and truthfulness, extolled Cneius Pompeius in such a panegyric that Augustus called him Pompeianus, and yet this was no obstacle to their friendship.
To avoid conviction, while waiting for a verdict Cordus committed suicide by self-starvation. His worst fears were realized in absentia: his books were sentenced to be burned by the aediles, but they performed the task without zeal and many escaped. Livy's reasons for returning to Padua after the death of Augustus (if he did) are unclear, but the circumstances of Tiberius' reign certainly allow for speculation.

During the Middle Ages interest in Livy fell off. Due to the length of the work the literate class were already reading summaries rather than the work itself, which was tedious to copy, expensive, and required a lot of storage space. It must have been during this period, if not before, that MSS began to be lost without replacement.

The Renaissance was a time of intense revival; the population discovered that Livy was being lost and large amounts of money changed hands in the rush to collect Livy manuscripts. The poet, Beccadelli, sold a country home for the money to purchase one manuscript copied by Poggio. Petrarch and Pope Nicholas V launched a search for the now missing books. Laurentius Valla published an emended text initiating the field of Livy scholarship. Dante speaks highly of him in his poetry, and Francis I of France commissioned extensive artwork treating Livian themes; Niccolò Machiavelli's work on republics, the Discourses on Livy is presented as a commentary on the History of Rome. Respect for Livy rose to lofty heights.

After a few thousand years of Livy being studied by the schoolboys of every western population, moderns have developed their own views of Livy and his place in the ancient world, which were not current in ancient times. For example, one text on western civilization pronounces: "Livy was the prose counterpart of Vergil", as both have been standard in the study of Golden Age Latin literature. Golden Age Latin was not known as such in classical times and the ancient reader could choose from a vastly larger bibliography; but in fact, private reading was a privilege of the literate few, who had the wealth to buy manuscripts or have them copied and had the time for library research. Public readings of works, however, were common and were the main way in which an author became known.

Notes

  1. Foster (1874), p. xii, citing Suetonius, Claudius, xli.
  2. Fotheringham (1905), P. 1.
  3. Kraus (1994), p.1, citing several articles by Syme.
  4. Foster (1874), pp. ix-x.
  5. Foster (1874), p. xii, citing Quintilian VIII.2.18.
  6. Foster (1874) p. xiii, citing Seneca, Controversiae, X.Preface.2.
  7. Foster (1874), pp. xii-xiii.
  8. Pliny the Younger, Epistles, II.3.
  9. Annales IV.34.
  10. Foster (1874), p. xxiv.
  11. Foster (1874), p. xxiv.


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