Audientae salutem dicit M.

Si vales, bene est, ego valeo.

Please excuse my tardiness in writing to you personally, Dear Reader, since the last time I did so, for this past week I’ve had to plunge myself back into my library and its recherches.

Recently, this has meant I have been reading and annotating from Miriam Pittenger’s excellent 2008 book, Contested Triumphs: Politics, Pageantry, and Performance in Livy’s Republican Rome[1] and have been finding despondency within its pages. The moments of despondency are not caused from Pittenger’s writing, oh no, but but the consequences of what she writes on the outcomes of my research.

The Roman triumph with all its literal and metaphoric riches is not my subject, although it does relate to my research. No, dear reader, this doesn’t impact directly onto me, rather my reason for dread lies in the treatment of her subject and what it means for mine. Pittenger’s main source for the triumphal debates which are the object of her study is Livy, and Livy is my research project’s source, too. The thing that troubles me, and I’m sure you’ll already know this, dear reader, being much more widely read than myself, is Pittenger’s introduction and its succinct overview of the state of affairs in Livian studies.

You see, my dear reader, scholars of Livy are divided into roughly three camps. Well one of these groups are more-or-less irredeemably hostile to everything in it. This faction concurs entirely with the crusty old cynic, Syme, in the matter of Livy. For Syme, Livy suffers the abominable and unrecoverable sin of not being Tacitus, or his models Sallust and Thucicydes. All three of these writers of course, apparently suffered the same cynical afflictions that benighted Syme, and for that old product of a much later empire, Livy “takes leave of legend only to plunge into fiction.”[2] Such is the state of mind of many in the older generation of classicists, whom are still under Syme’s sway. Only this year, a recently-retired senior faculty member sniffed at me that Livy was rubbish when I mentioned to him my project was based on Livy.

The other two factions, we shall call them the “source” and “text” factions. On one hand, in the “source” faction there are historians, more-or-less, who are prone to a technical approach which concentrates on certain details in small parts of the text — taken out of context of course. Then on the other hand we find the faction of the “text”. This faction loves to describe the complexity of the context but tend to only concentrate on the first ten books, because they read better, not being the rather more mundane annalistic renditions of elections, wars, and political disputes. Of course, by ignoring these later books, the faction of the “text” is ignoring the larger context of Livy’s entire corpus; and ignoring a more “historical” period. In many ways, this latter faction is my own, having been schooled in Livian scholarship by the books of its luminaries such as Gary B. Miles, Christina Kraus, Jane Chaplin, Mary Jaeger and Andrew Feldherr. Oh my grand topic was space and warfare, space-of-warfare and warfare-in-space, or something … monuments! memory! space! time! war! … but sadly, no. Where do I fall in these two camps; I wanted it all; do I need to pick a side or can I, like Pittenger, attempt to bridge both in my project? It’s a seriously mind-numbing decision and I can’t reach a proper conclusion — yet.

I knew the jig had to be up a couple of months ago when I was asked by a really prestigious (stupendously so) visiting professor what the “problem” was I was investigating when we were conversing, over wine in the staff rec room, about my project. Ahhh, the “so what?” question, which I proceeded to flummox about (well we had been drinking wine) and thence deflected onto the much smaller scale of my paper on Horace’s Epode 16 and Livy 5.51-4, which I was going to present at a conference the week after. A small-scale problem, and interesting observation, something that doesn’t sound so grandiose … is that what I need to be concentrating on?

I trust you may understand my dilemma.

di te incolumem custodiant


[1] Pittenger, Miriam R. Pelikan. 2008, Contested Triumphs: Politics, pageantry, and performance in Livy’s Republican Rome. Berkeley and Los Angeles : Univerisity of California Press.

[2] Syme, Ronald. 1959. “Livy and Augustus” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 64. pp 27-87.