Livy's Exemplary History

Livy's Exemplary History

Livy's Exemplary History

Livy's Exemplary History

Synopsis

'Clearly and attractively written, this book is - exemplary of its kind' -Greece andamp; Rome'Makes a significant contribution to the revaluation of Livy as an historian' -Greece andamp; RomeThe Roman historian Livy saw the past as a storehouse of lessons. Jane Chaplin examines how his historical figures manipulate the shifting meaning of the past and reveals Livy's acute sensitivity to contemporary problems. Special emphasis is placed on Romans versus foreigners as students of the past, the competing claims of near and remote events, and history's relevance for current dilemmas.

Excerpt

Hoc illud est praecipue in cognitione rerum salubre ac frugiferum, omnis te exempli documenta in inlustri posita monumento intueri; inde tibi tuaeque rei publicae quod imitere capias, inde foedum inceptu foedum exitu quod uites.

For in the study of history it is especially improving and beneficial to contemplate examples of every kind of behaviour, which are set out on a clear monument. From it you can extract for yourself and your commonwealth both what is worthy of imitation and what you should avoid because it is rotten from start to finish. (Praef. 10)

In the Preface Livy invites his audience to seek exempla in his narrative of Roman history. in accepting the offer, modern readers have tended to look to Livy's treatment of well-known figures, especially those from the early days of the city. Lucretia, the victim of Sex. Tarquinius' lust, is a regular choice, and justifiably so, for she herself recognizes her exemplary potential with her dying words: 'nec ulla deinde impudica Lucretiae exemple uiuet'. With this speech she seems to offer exactly the kind of lesson indicated in Preface 10. Curiously enough, however, in the extant books and fragments of Livy, Lucretia is never cited as an exemplum, and no one ever takes her as a model of conduct. in this sense she disappoints the expectation raised by the Preface that it is possible to learn from history. She can be understood only as a lesson for

See e.g. Haberman (1981), Philippides (1983), Calhoon (1997), and
Feldherr (1998) 196.

'Nor from now on shall any unchaste woman live with Lucretia as her
model' (1. 58. 10).

It is true that Lucretia does not vanish altogether. She is commemorated,
though not named, at Brutus' funeral when he is credited with avenging her
suicide (2. 7. 4). Further, Livy refers to her in his introduction to the parallel
story of Verginia (3. 44. 1), and her story underlies all subsequent tales of
inappropriate lust mingled with political tyranny: on Livy's use of the
Lucretia narrative as a paradigm, see Kraus (1991). Her typological function
makes her lack of impact as an exemplum all the more striking, but see the . . .

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