"Livy and Thucydides. An Underestimated Relationship"
Wolfgang Polleichtner, Ruhr-Universitšt Bochum
Livy and Intertextuality, Department of Classics, The University of Texas at Austin, October 3, 2009


It has been a long held view that Livy’s historical work was largely not influenced by Thucydides at all or at least only indirectly via his sources, whose sources in turn knew sources that eventually knew Thucydides. This paper wants to reset the approach to the question whether Livy knew Thucydides and then give a new answer to this question.

Of course, Livy does not mention Thucydides at all in his Ab urbe condita. And judging from Livy’s sources, he did not have to know Thucydides. But we need to move beyond mere Quellenforschung and ask ourselves what Livy’s intellectual horizon looked like. Apart from the fact that Thucydides was widely read in the 1st century BC, we find, for example, that Seneca the Elder informs us that Livy criticized Sallust over his translation of Thucydides. We have no reason to doubt the authenticity of that passage. But if Seneca is correct - and Quintilian will confirm this in part -, then we need to assume that Livy’s knowledge of Thucydides’s text went beyond just having read his works.

The most obvious traces of Thucydides’ influence on Livy can be found in the third decade. Livy places his account of the second Punic War squarely on the shoulders of those authors who wrote in the monographical tradition about this war. The works of these Greek writers, who were “embedded” historians on Hannibal’s payroll, in turn were probably inspired by Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War. And it might have been indeed tempting to use Athens' loss as the role model for Carthage’s loss. What is interesting about Livy’s account of this war, of course, is the fact that Livy had to switch sides. He had to rewrite the Peloponnesian War from the Sicilian or Spartan view. For his Rome won, where Thucydides’ Athens had lost. And we find indeed reflections of that theoretical debate in the discussion between Fabius and Scipio when they deal with the question whether it is really necessary to embark on an expedition to North Africa. If my suggestion is acceptable, we need to recognize Livy’s mastery of applying Thucydides’ work to his efforts on a level that is different from a comparison of sources. Of course, Livy was not writing about the Peloponnesian War. And he seems to have been aware of that fact. Furthermore, Livy’s Scipio criticizes not only Fabius’ hesitation and timidity, but also his mistaken application of the lessons of history. Thereby, then, Livy implicitly criticizes those of his literary predecessors who cast the second Punic War into Thucydidean terms just too simplistically. And this holds true especially because Livy uses so many more details from the Peloponnesian War, like the tradition of painting a plague in Thucydidean terms.

Thucydidean traces can also be found outside of the third decade, as many scholars have noted. Especially when it comes to the theoretical discussions of what historiography can and cannot do, we see that Livy is agreeing with those historians again who wrote in the tradition of Thucydides. Seen in the light of the evidence presented in this paper, it is even more likely that Livy wrote these passages after having read not only Polybius or other more contemporary historians, but also the original Thucydides - at least every  now and then.



last modified September 28, 2009 by timmoore@mail.utexas.edu