Meet Titus Livy , Recycling Morals of the Past

The writing style of Livy is often described as poetic and archaic when compared to the styles of Cicero or Julius Caesar. He also wrote from the opposing viewpoint of a Roman. Since he focused on a poetic style of writing, he is known for walking a rather thin line between fat and fiction. Livy also had a reputation for ‘borrowing’ the work of previous authors, as he felt the moral lessons of the past would greatly aid the progression of Rome.

Originally, Livy created 142 books with only 35 being in existence to this day , Books 1,10 and 21,45. Various fragments have existed, such as a sample of his work found in the Vatican Library in 1772. Consisting of around 1,000 words, it provides a preview of his work. In Egypt, smaller papyrus fragments have been uncovered with the contents relatively unknown to readers.

When Livy gathered information for his books, he used annalists as sources. In these times, an annalist was much different than a historian, as they were in charge of recording events for the purpose of creating a reference rather than inserting their own opinions of such events. Livy formulated his works based upon the records of the likes of Quintus Fabius Pictor, Quintus Claudius Quadrigarius, Valerius Antias, and Sempronius Asellio. When he recalled the events that took place in the Eastern Mediterranean, Livy relied on the words of the Greek historian, Polybius.

This practice of using the records of others was well known, as Livy’s work was also used by Roman authors, including Aurelius Victor, Eutropius, Festus, Florus, and Granius Licinianus. For instance, Livy served as a source when Julius Obsequens wrote his “De Prodigiis,” which offered an account of supernatural events associated with Rome.

The work of Livy was also subject to the practice of digression, which involved the intentional change of a subject pertaining to a part of a speech or composition. In his Book 9 (Sections 17,19), there is a suggestion that the Roman may have had a chance to defeat Alexander the Great if he had lived a little longer and pursued an attack on the Romans by turning his attention to the west. Interestingly, this piece is regarded as the oldest known alternate history.

More Words of Wisdom , Livy

 “A person under the firm persuasion that he can command resources virtually has them.”

“Men are slower to recognize blessings than evils.”

“Adversity makes men remember God”

“Adversity reminds men of religion”

“Rashness is not fortunate”

“Truth is often eclipsed but never extinguished”

“No wickedness proceeds on any grounds of reason”

“Envy is blind, and she has no other quality than that of detracting from virtue”

“When a woman once begins to be ashamed of what she ought not to be ashamed of, she will not be ashamed of what she ought”

“Men’s minds are too ready to excuse guilt in themselves”

“Superstition brings the gods into even the smallest matters”


“It takes a long time to bring excellence to maturity.”