Themes

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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 625

Titus Livius, author of The History of Rome, is one of two great Roman historians (the other being Tacitus). Livy's Ab Urbe Condita and Tacitus's Annales together give us a thorough description of Rome's history from the legendary founding by Aeneas to the Jewish Wars in 70 CE. Livy's History of Rome ends with the death of Drusus (the son of Augustus's first wife, Livia).

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Thirty-five of Livy's 142 books survive. The complete narrative has existed in epitomized form since antiquity, giving us some insights into the full contents, though we have only select portions. The majority of what survives is from Rome's early history. The major themes of the extant portions will be discussed here.

An abiding theme throughout the book is Livy's own admission of the scarcity of sources concerning the beginning of the city, and his acknowledgement of their mythical nature. This in turn, however, elevates Livy to a status quite different than poets of his time. He is committed to transparency, honesty, and attention to sources when he has them.

Livy is our primary source for many of Rome's founding myths and for the legends of Rome's early history. His account of Rome's founding is a traditional and well-known one. It is well-attested, if legendary. Specifically, he explains the Trojan Aeneas's escape from Troy to Italy, his agreement with the local king, Latinus, and his establishment of a new city in Italy. Here, as elsewhere, Livy gives two possible accounts:

Of what followed, there are two different accounts. Some writers say, that Latinus, being overcome in battle, contracted an alliance, and afterwards an affinity, with Aeneas; others, that when the armies were drawn up in order of battle, before the signal was given, Latinus, advancing in the front, invited the leader of the strangers to a conference . . . when he was informed that the leader was Aeneas, the son of Anchises by Venus, and his followers Trojans...being struck with admiration of that renowned people and their chief . . . he gave him his right hand, and by that pledge assured him of his future friendship" (Book I).

Livy also explains the history of Romulus and Remus—twin sons of Mars and a Vestal Virgin (a Roman priestess sworn to chastity). On this, Livy remarks,

The vestal being deflowered by force, brought forth twins, and declared that the father of her doubtful offspring was Mars; either because she really thought so, or in...

(The entire section contains 625 words.)

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