Scholia Reviews ns 9 (2000) 28.

Gary Forsythe, Livy and Early Rome: A Study in Historical Method and Judgement. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1999. Historia Einzelschriften 132. Pp. 147. ISBN 3-515-07495-3. DM88.00.

Alex Nice
University of the Witwatersrand

Modern approaches to Livian studies have diverged considerably from the work of the nineteenth and early twentieth century Quellenforscher. Instead of viewing Livy as a 'scissors and paste' historian, scholars of the later twentieth century have considered Livy as an accomplished literary artist, although often without taking into account the constraints of the annalistic tradition. Luce, however, demonstrated that while Livy's working technique involved the careful reading of a few chief sources up to fifteen books in advance, he also had an overall concept which traced Rome's decline from his earliest to latest books.[[1]] Thus Luce gave credence to Livy as a transcriber of the earlier annalists and as a historian in his own right, selecting and rewriting episodes to suit his own historiographical agenda. In this most recent study, Gary Forsythe proclaims that his book 'is intended in part to proceed farther along the path first pioneered by Luce' (p. 8).

The central aim of the book is to explore Livy's historiographical method and historical judgement through an analysis of all those instances in the first decade where Livy refers to his sources, makes personal remarks or anonymous attributions, and notes discrepancies in the source material. To this end the first chapter, 'Assembling and Defining the Data' (pp. 12-39), consists largely of a database recording the 380 examples of such statements discovered by Forsythe in the first decade. The same care and consideration that characterised Forsythe's earlier work on L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi is evident here.[[2]] In addition to the citation reference with the Latin wording and an English description of the content, the database consists of five broad divisions relating to the passage: its complexity (TP = Type); its verbal, semantic or grammatical form (FRM = Form); its 'Method of resolution' (M-R) or how Livy resolved the conflict in his sources or ascertained the truth; its subject matter (S-M). Each of these categories is further subdivided in order to distinguish between the various types of statement made by Livy. At first glance all of this is rather overwhelming as the author himself acknowledges: 'the various distinctions outlined below may initially strike the reader as too numerous and/or too refined for practical use' (p. 13). However, careful reading of the data is essential for an understanding of the book's purpose. Forsythe returns to the data in Chapter 8 (pp. 119-132), presenting book by book summaries of the statistical material. Here for the first time graphs are employed to show the concentrations of passages and issues graphically. These clarify the statistical data set out on pp. 120f. and it is surprising that Forsythe did not make use of pictorial images for his data earlier to give the reader an 'at-a-glance' overview of the various subjects under discussion.

These and the other chapters of the book explore the data in more detail from differing viewpoints. In comparison to the rigour of his database, the narrative chapters are fairly cursory discussions ranging from three to fourteen pages and consider the major question of how critically Livy used his sources, as well as his use of speeches, the religious and miraculous, and digressions. From the statistical evidence and his discussions Forsythe draws several conclusions. His main conclusion is that 'Livy was more likely by a ratio of 2 to 1 . . . simply to register variants or to make qualifications or attributions without any comment or exegesis on his part' (p. 133); and even where Livy does consider the source material he normally resorts to probability rather than following the majority or oldest viewpoint. Forsythe also argues that even where Livy exhibits scepticism toward the historical traditions concerning early Rome, he felt the need to include this material because of his adherence to the received traditions of the annalistic format and his own respect for those hallowed stories. Chapter 8 reveals unsurprisingly that Livy was more sceptical about the traditions surrounding regal Rome than those in other books of the First Decade. Perhaps more interesting in the book by book analysis is that it reveals that Livy does not become less sceptical after book 5 despite the suggestion that from this point on Roman affairs were clariora . . . certioraque.[[3]] The data here also reveal that Livy's working methods do not seem to have varied throughout his history.

However, despite the validity of Forsythe's claims in this work, the rigidity of his approach does not lend itself to more inventive questioning of why Livy wrote in the way that he did. This is clearest in Chapter 6 'Livy and the Divine' (pp. 87-98). Here Forsythe observes that Livy 'rarely fails to qualify in some way a miraculous or marvellous event or claim' (p. 133) and implies that this was simply because Livy had a 'romantic attachment to Rome's antique religious traditions' (p. 98). But when Livy painted portrayed his Roman ancestors as 'a more pious and god fearing people' (p. 87),[[4]] he was also adhering to one of his own historiographical aims. For the interrelationship of piety and Roman success is a cornerstone of Livy's approach to his narrative[[5]] and by stressing its importance in his early books he could more easily trace the decline of Rome from its earliest times to the impious, internecine strife that marked the last age of the Republic.[[6]]

Forsythe also argued for the probability that Livy was not much of an innovator in his approach to his historical material in his discussion of the digressions in the First Decade. Here Forsythe argues that the digressions in the First Decade were material that the historian had found in his sources (p. 118). The most disturbing aspect of this chapter is that here the 'objective' approach of the author falls down for there is no real proof that the digressions on Alexander of Epirus (8.3.6-7 or 8.24) and Alexander the Great (9.17-19) appeared in Livy's annalistic sources and to conclude that 'it seems probable that the selection of the material preceded Livy as well' (p. 118) is utterly hypothetical. Certainly, it is possible but it is just as possible that Livy is the one who developed the train of thought whereby the failures of Alexander of Epirus diminish the greatness of his more famous nephew in order to further glorify the Roman state. Furthermore, if Forsythe's argument is accepted there is an implicit contradiction with the conclusion of Chapter 4 where he argues that Livy could sacrifice historicity for morality or patriotism: an unsurprising observation given the objectives set out in Livy's preface.[[7]] The probability that these digressions may have been inserted by Livy for his own historiographical purposes is, I think, more evident in the story concerning the Gallic migration in book 5.

Forsythe argues that the digression concerning the Gallic migration in book 5 was a part of the tralatician element of the annalistic tradition and, therefore, had to be included. However, Forsythe fails to mention the stress that is placed upon the piety of the Gauls in this episode and even goes so far as to suggest that Livy's account of the Celtic migration contains no fantastic or marvellous element. The real purpose of the digression, as Levene has argued,[[8]] is to contrast the piety of the Gauls with the failure of the tribunes to take the auspices prior to the battle of the Allia which resulted in the subsequent Roman disaster.[[9]]

Perhaps Forsythe was constrained by space but the brevity of this book seems to beg more questions than it answers. For example, although Forsythe argues that Livy felt a need to record faithfully the various traditions handed down by the annalistic tradition, Livy could also omit canonical stories. For example, he says nothing of the prophecy regarding the sow that guided Aeneas to Italy or the reception of the Sibylline Books during the reign of Tarquinius Superbus.[[10]] In the case of the former there was even monumental evidence to support the story in Livy's own life time.[[11]] The Sibylline Books of course were an integral part of the Augustan religious revival.[[12]] Here there are issues of the broader historiographical agenda of Livy which Forsythe does not appear explore in sufficient detail. I have suggested elsewhere that Livy omitted these stories because he wanted, firstly, to play down the Greek role in the foundation of Rome and secondly, because he did not want to associate an event of fundamental importance to the religious practices of the Republic with a king whose reign had begun with kindred murder and was to end with the rape of Lucretia. This is presumably one of those areas that might 'stimulate further investigation' (p. 10).

Another important question that Forsythe raises, but does not explore in detail, is the extent to which Livy may have been sensitive to the intellectual stance of Cicero. On p. 49 he quotes the opening sections of De Leg. 1.1-5 and argues how the apparent contradiction of 'respectful reverence and agnostic rationalism toward hallowed historical traditions' was also apparent in the work of Cicero. Later at p. 76 Forsythe also indicates the similarities between Cicero's Brutus 53-62 and Livy 8.40 suggesting that Livy's rhetorical training meant he would have been aware of the subject matter of this passage and would generally have agreed with Cicero's interpretation of the early history of Roman oratory. Taken together these observations seem rather significant. Levene had already suggested that Livy's concept of religion as something that was important for the continuing survival of the state was an ideology shared with other intellectuals of the late Republic.[[13]] I have also argued that the concept of 'traditional' religious and divinatory practice that appears in Livy seems in part to be derived from Varro and Cicero.[[14]] It seems possible that Livy owed a greater debt to his immediate non-annalistic predecessors for their philosophical and moral outlook than has previously been observed.

Other questions are also left unanswered and would have benefited from more in-depth enquiry. For example, I would have preferred a clearer understanding of the ways in which Livy used speeches to air difficult or thorny problems. How significant was the contribution of Licinius Macer to the speeches concerning the 'struggle of the orders' and how does that affect Livy's portrayal of events? Furthermore, when Forsythe mentions that Livy's most common method of resolving issues is 'probability' (p. 133), to what extent does this confirm the hypotheses of Wiseman and Woodman who argued that to\ ei)ko/j was a governing precept of Roman historical writing?[[15]] Although Forsythe has proceeded someway along the path of Luce in highlighting more clearly Livy's approach towards his source material, he appears not to have sufficiently considered the broader historiographical aims of the author.

Thankfully, the book is devoid of major typographical errors, Agripa appears for Agrippa (p. 20); Verugo for Verrugo (p. 29). There is some inconsistency in the application of italics to Latin terms and phrases. For example, throughout the database the Latin titles magister equitum; curiae; dictator; cos. etc., are not italicised neither is omnis exempla documenta (p. 68) or ludi scaenici (p. 113). Abbreviations are not satisfactorily explained nor consistently applied. So pec. occurs for peculium, dict. for dictator, cos. for consul, praef. for praefectus and the cp (consulari potestate) after mil. trs. (4.23.2b p. 29) or mil. tr. (5.12.12 p. 29) would be mystifying to the inexperienced reader of Latin. More seriously two unfortunate errors appear in the statistical evidence. On p. 89 Forsythe suggests that statements regarding religion and the miraculous are the least common of Livy's statements having 53 records. However, he immediately contradicts that statement by showing that statements relating to the fasti have only 38 records. I presume that Forsythe means individually statements concerning religion and the miraculous (23 and 30 records respectively) are the least common and that something has dropped out in the quest for brevity.

Rather confusingly the table on pp. 120f. is not aligned from one page to the next and there are also errors in the final row concerning the figures for 'Rel'. Instead of the 23 mentioned on p. 86, the sum is only 16. A cross check of the figures revealed errors for book 3 (2 instead of 4), book 7 (3 for 4), book 9 (3 for 5) and book 10 (3 for 4). In a book which relies so heavily on statistical data for its conclusions, errors such as these are inexcusable and do not assist the work's claim to 'objectivity' (p. 12).

Despite the criticisms, however, even though empirical collations are out of vogue in the present climate of post-modernism, the complexity of the database is admirable and shows the lengths to which Forsythe has gone in order to maintain an 'objective' stance towards Livy's material. However, this is decidedly a book for the expert. It should provide a convenient starting point for professional historians and historiographers wishing to investigate Livy's working methods and his approach to the traditions of early history of the Rome.


[[1]] T. J. Luce, Livy: The Composition of his History (Princeton 1978) esp. 185-229.

[[2]] G. Forsythe, The Historian L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi and the Roman Annalistic Tradition (Lanham 1994).

[[3]] Livy 6.1.3.

[[4]] An attitude expressed famously at 43.13.6 where Livy laments the lack of prodigy reports in his own day.

[[5]] D. S. Levene, Religion in Livy (Leiden 1993).

[[6]] As I have recently argued: A. T. Nice, Divination and Roman Historiography (Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Exeter 1999).

[[7]] Livy, pr. 9: ad illa mihi pro se quisque acriter intendat animum, quae vita, qui mores fuerint, per quos viros quibusque artibus domi militiaeque et partum et auctum imperium sit ('The subjects to which I would ask each of my readers to devote his earnest attention are these-the life and morals of the community; the men and the qualities by which through domestic policy and foreign war dominion was won and extended').

[[8]] Levene [5] 193.

[[9]] Livy, 5.38.1. The only other author to mention this incident was Florus (1.7.1-3) who referred to the invidia deum and the fatum that supported the Gauls against the Romans, thus stressing the religious importance of the story.

[[10]] The story is recorded at Dion. Hal. 1.55.3- 56.5; Dio=Tzetzes, In Lyc. Alex. 1232; Varro, De Ling. Lat. 5.144; Verg. Aen.7.107- 147; 8.42-102; Forsythe 3.255-257; 3.390-393, and most importantly Pictor, fr. 4P (=Euseb. Armen. apud Mai N. coll. VIII p. 214).

[[11]] Varro, R. R. 2.4.18: huius suis ac porcorum etiam nunc vestigia apparent, quod et simulacra eorum ahenea etiam nunc in publico posita, et corpus matris ab sacerdotibus, quod in salsura fuerit, demonstratur ('Even today there are still traces of this sow and her piglets, because even now bronze statues of them have been set up in public, and the body of the mother, which has been preserved in brine, is exhibited by the priests'),

[[12]] Nice [6] 92f. on the importance of the Temple of Apollo and the Sibylline Books to the Augustan religious revival.

[[13]] Levene [5] 247f.

[[14]] Nice [6] 264-266.

[[15]] For example, T. P. Wiseman, 'Practice and theory in Roman historiography' Historia 66 (1981) 375-93; Clio's Cosmetics (Leicester, 1979), esp. ch. 1; A. J. Woodman, Rhetoric in Classical Historiography (London 1988).