Biography of Livy


TITUS LIVIUS, the most illustrious of Roman historians, was born at Pativium, (Padua,) 61 B.C., according to Cato, but according to Varro, in 59 B.C., the year of the great Caesar's first consulship. We know nothing of his early life, except that for some time he practiced as a rhetorician, and wrote on Rhetoric. It is probable that he did not commence his great historical work till he was drawing near middle age. He had ample time to finish it for he lived to see his eightieth year. His fame was so thoroughly established and widely spread even during his lifetime, that a Spaniard travelled from Gades to Rome only to see him. The Roman history of Livy is one of the greatest masterpieces of Latin, or of human composition. Originally it was comprised in 142 books, divided into tens or decades; but only 30 books, with the greater part of five more, now exist.

In classing Livy in his proper place among the great historians of the ancient and modern world, we must not think of him as a critical antiquarian writer - a writer of scrupluously calm judgment and diligent research. He is preeminently a man of beautiful genius, with an unrivalled talent for narration, who takes up the history of his country in the spirit of an artist, makes a free use of the materials lying handiest, for the creation of a work full of grace, color, harmony, and a dignified ease.

The value of his history is incalculable even in the mutilated state in which we have it, as a picture of what the great Roman traditions were to the Romans in their most cultivated period. The literary talent most conspicuous in Livy, is that of a narrator. He does not rival Tacitus in portraiture or in tragic power, but no writer has ever surpassed him in the art of telling a story; and the speeches which, acccording to the antique fashion, he puts into the mouths of his historic characters, are singularly ingenious, pointed, and dramatically real.