September 19, 2009

Timing Issues

This was also the time of Alexander the Great... who was destined to be cut off by sickness in another part of the world. (VIII 3)


Livy puts this comment into the middle of Book 8 but says almost nothing else about Alexander the Great. Mentioning Alexander at this point exposes something about his thinking and that of his audience. The first is that it establishes his chronology- as though for example I were to describe the discovery of certain ideas of quantum mechanics as occuring just before or just after World War 2- it locates what he is describing. In that sense, what Livy's locator gives testimony too is the centrality of Greek history to a Roman understanding of the past. When we think about the way that Roman elites thought about politics, we should never think about Roman history alone but also the Greek comparison. Perhaps this is clearest in the work of Plutarch, a Greek, who wrote accompanying lives- one Roman, one Greek- but this reference exposes its relevance for Livy. Writing a history of Rome, Livy wants to fix it to some familiar dates in his readers' minds- one set of well established and familiar dates are the Greek dates and events- hence we see Alexander the Great arrive on the scene very briefly.

5 comments:

James Higham said...

Timing is critical in understanding the historic record. That's why those who attack the 45-60 dating of Mark turn history on its head. Ditto with Livy et al.

Gracchi said...

Chronology is critical in history. I'm going to abstain through ignorance on Mark but I agree in general with your observation!

With Livy of course you come up to the problem that the Romans didn't count years like we did- they counted by consular date or from the foundation of the city rather than in the dating we use (AD and BC)- that makes for non-specialists (like me!) the dating of events in Livy very complicated- and added ot that is the vagueries of Livy's records.

James H said...

Some of your shortest posts are the best; this is telling not just about Roman historical writing, but about the contemporary craft. Not a word too long nor one too short. Just excellent.

James Higham said...

James H - I don't remember posting that comment? Have I gone double?

Gracchi said...

Aaah yes that is James Hamilton- the best British blogger around in my humble opinion or one of the best at any rate.

James H- I agree one of my desires is to write more succinctly, I seldom succeed!