Similar to Ovid, Livy was also tasked with rewriting the beginnings of Rome. Livy wrote a total of 142 books recounting the events, of which only 35 have survived today. The books not only include the retelling of the foundation of Rome, but also commentary surrounding it. Livy’s take on the origin story is the most interesting. Livy was the only author out of the three to follow Augustus’s orders and to write a foundation story that glorified the Roman empire. In Livy’s The History of Early Rome, Livy says “I invite the reader’s attention to the much more serious consideration of the kind of lives our ancestors lived, of who were men… I would then have him trace the process of moral decline, to watch, first, the sinking of the foundations of morality as the old teaching was allowed to lapse, then the rapidly increasing disintegration, then the final collapse of the whole edifice, and the dark dawning of our modern day when we can neither endure our vices, nor face the remedies needed to cure them.” Livy sets up the tale to claim that their ancestors were men. Although Romulus was a man and they started with a population of mostly men, they eventually obtained women in order to grow the empire. The ancestry should include both men and women. Leaving out the women is important for Livy in the beginning of this tale because he uses the claim of male ancestry to dismiss the rape of the Sabine women later on. In addition, his opening is claiming that the beginnings of Rome had morality, which eventually declined to Augustan society, which now has none. His claim about the decline of morality is also important because it gives the reason behind Augustus wanting to “restore old Roman values.”
Livy begins his telling with the rape of Rhea Silvia, “the first steps be taken to the founding of the mightiest empire the world has known – next to the God’s. The Vestal Virgin was raped and gave birth to twin boys. Mars, she declared, was their father – perhaps she believed it, perhaps she was merely hoping by the pretense to palliate her guilt.” First, Livy begins the story by glorifying Rome. He implies that Rhea Silvia being raped was fated and that it was an essential step to the beginnings of a great empire. Not only that, but continues to dismiss Rhea Silvia. After she claimed being raped by Mars, Livy victim blames. He claims that maybe she really was raped by Mars, or maybe she was trying to not feel any guilt towards losing her virginity as a Vestal Virgin. Regardless of whether Rhea Silvia was raped by Mars or not, it still is the start to the beginning of Rome. No other origin story even suggests that Rhea Silvia may have made the whole thing up. Livy has a very dismissive attitude towards crimes of the early Roman people and justifies them by either saying that it was “fated” or “essential for the foundation.”
Later on in his retelling, Livy recounts the rape of the Sabine women. “Romulus, however, reassured them… they need not fear; as married women they would share all the fortunes of Rome, all the privileges of the community, and they would be bound to their husbands by the dearest bond of all, their children… The men too played their part: they spoke honeyed words and vowed that it was passionate love which had prompted their offense. No plea can better touch a woman’s heart.” Again, Livy continues to dismiss the crime of the Romans. Even though they were raped, Livy claims it to be okay because Romulus reassured them. Not only did Romulus reassure the women and parents, but the men of the family acted only on love and passion. Livy even claims that women were easily pleased by children, and words of affirmation and endearment, and later uses these ‘ways to a woman’s heart’ to claim that the women were happy to become Romans.
After the Sabine women were taken in by the Romans, a war commenced between the Sabines and the Romans. The Romans were severely losing the war, and the war later was stopped by the Sabine (now Roman) women. “‘We are mothers now,’ they cried; ‘our children are your sons- your grandsons: do not put on them the stain of parricide. If our marriage – if the relationship between you is hateful to you, turn your anger against us. We are the cause of strife.’” The Sabine women are now the ones stopping the war because they are mothers. Like Livy claimed before, children were the greatest bond between a husband and wife. Not only were they stopping the war because they were mothers and wives to the Romans, but also telling the Sabines as well as the Romans that they are to blame. Livy is using this retelling to allow for the blame to be on the women rather than blaming the Romans for raping them.
The monarchy of Rome begins with Romulus, and ends with the seventh king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus (or Tarquin the Proud.) Unlike the other two authors, Livy recounts the beginnings of Rome until the era of Augustus. The monarchy ends the same way it began; with a rape. Tarquinius Superbus has a son that rapes a woman named Lucretia. Livy describes the incident, “They found Lucretia sitting in her room in deep distress. Tears rose to her eyes as they entered, and to her husband’s question, ‘Is it well with you?’ she answered, ‘No. What can be well with a woman who has lost her honour? In your bed, Collatinus, is the impress of another man. My body only has been violated. My heart is innocent, and death will be my witness… he is Sextus Tarquinius. He it is who last night came as my enemy disguised as my guest, and took his pleasure of me. That pleasure will be my death – and his too if you are men… I am innocent of fault, but I will take my punishment. Never shall Lucretia provide a precedent for unchaste women to escape what they deserve.’ With these words she drew a knife from under her robe, drove it into her heart, and fell forward, dead.” The recount of the story, allows for Lucretia to take the blame for her rape. She would rather take her own life than live with the reputation of being unchaste. The death of Lucretia starts an overthrow of the king because of her deciding to kill herself. Livy chooses to highlight that Lucretia knew she was in the wrong for being raped, and she should take her punishment, death, because of it.
Livy’s retellings of the beginnings of Rome were encouraged by Augustus. Livy chooses to victim blame and discount the women within the stories. He accounts the events as “necessary for a great empire” and allows for the crimes of the Roman citizens to be dismissed. All of these claims made by Livy were under the encouragement of Augustus even though they directly violate his values. Augustus preached morality, however dismissing the rapes that started and ended the monarchy shows only care for the men involved.
Livy, & Sélincourt De Aubrey. (1960). The early history of Rome. Penguin Books.
You’ve edited Livy in a way that seems disingenuous, Pluto. Your ellipsis leaves out something seemingly innocuous:
But then you interpret the quote as Livy having emphasized the maleness of the ancients, which seems an odd interpretation of the text. Your claim
appears to be at the very least a forced interpretation.
Oh gosh! Thank you for catching that- I wrote down pieces of the quote on a sheet of paper that I used for reference, but I guess when I wrote it it was with the intent of knowing where to find it. I totally just screwed up in my notes!