Who is reading Livy, may not only read with eyes and reason, he must
imagine himself in the events that the historian is describing, and he must
feel the pulse of this man filled with belief in the strength of Romanity, who
devoted his life to the task of reawaking the good spirits, who, being free
from prejudices, but also from political experiences, was not a great
historian, but in his manner a great human and artist.
Livy’s work reflects the mental and moral movement of the Augustean age.
What Virgil wanted in his great epic
work, that was the correspondent aim of Livy’s historical work written in
prose. Not the easy devotion to the belief in a perennial peace is living in
him (nor in Virgil and Horace), but the wish to reawake and invigorate the
forces of the past in order to make them effective for the present and the
future time. In 142 books Livy has written the history of the city of Rome from
its foundation until to the death of Drusus (9 B.C.), and the assumption is
obvious that he had planned to continue his history in 150 books until the
death of Augustus (14 A.D.), but that death has prevented the completion of the
monumental work. Livy has created an
enormous work, that he begun between the years 29 and 25 B.C., in order to
complete every year first three, later even more books, which he then collected
to single groups. It is an
irreplaceable loss that only a relatively small part of the work has been
preserved. We only possess book I-X (from the city’s foundation until 293) and
book XXI-XLVI (from the beginning of Second Punic War until 167 B.C.), in which
the third decade contains the 2nd Punic War.
CD: Livy, The siege of Saguntum.
The text of the work selected by us for our Livy audiobook deals with
the beginning of the Second Punic War, of the „most memorable of all wars that
were ever waged“, as the author says.
After a preface, in which he emphasizes the unique character of this
war, Livy begins to speak about the commanders of the Carthaginians: about
Hamilcar and his son who would the Romans learn to fear – Hannibal:
„There never was a genius more fitted for the two most opposite duties
of obeying and commanding; so that you could not easily decide whether he were dearer
to the general or the army: and neither did Hasdrubal prefer giving the command
to any other, when any thing was to be done with courage and activity; nor did
the soldiers feel more confidence and boldness under any other leader. His
fearlessness in encountering dangers, and his prudence when in the midst of
them, were extreme. His body could not be exhausted, nor his mind subdued, by any toil. He could alike endure
either heat or cold. The quantity of his food and drink was determined by the
wants of nature, and not by pleasure. The seasons of his sleeping and waking
were distinguished neither by day nor night. The time that remained after the
transaction of business was given to repose; but that repose was neither
invited by a soft bed nor by quiet. Many have seen him wrapped in a military
cloak, lying on the ground amid the watches and outposts of the soldiers. His
dress was not at all superior to that of his equals: his arms and his
horses were conspicuous. He was at once by far the first of the cavalry and
infantry; and, foremost to advance to the charge, was last to leave the
engagement. Excessive vices counterbalanced these high virtues of the hero;
inhuman cruelty, more than Punic perfidy, no truth, no reverence for things
sacred, no fear of the gods, no respect for oaths, no sense of religion..
The Siege of Saguntum
took place in 218 BC between the Carthaginians and the Saguntines which led to
the Second Punic War.
After Hannibal was made
Supreme comander of Spain (221 BC) at the age of just 26, he spent two years
maturing his plans and completing his preparations to secure power in the
Mediterranean. The Romans, though receiving ample warning of Hannibal's
movements, did nothing. They were yet to learn the characteristics of the man
to whom they had to deal with. The Romans thought that they could strike down
this Carthaginian youth whenever they pleased, and no special effort was
required. The Romans even went as far as ignoring Hannibal by turning their
attentions to the Illyrians who had begun to revolt. The Romans did not even
react when news reached them that Hannibal was besieging Saguntum in South-east Spain...