Thursday, December 04, 2003

Spectacle and Society in Livy’s History

"Livy's use of “spectacular” effects has traditionally been attributed to a desire to stimulate the emotions of his audience. Far from enhancing the credibility of his narrative, elaborate set pieces like the account of the fall of Alba Longa or of the scene in Rome following the announcement of Hannibal’s victory at Lake Trasimene, in which Livy combines an attention to the precise sensory components of the scene, such as the dust cloud rising over Alba, with a description of the extreme emotions of those actually present, have suggested that Livy’s was drawn away from his historiographical duties by “allure of dramatic techniques.”

"There is yet another dimension to enargeia’s capacity to make the past present. Within this passage, describing the profectio or ritual departure of the consul P. Licinius Crassus from Rome at the start of his campaign against Perseus of Macedon in 171 B.C.E., the process of vision plays a very precise role in communicating the social and political authority of the consul to the spectators and thus reinforcing the bond that links them to the collective power of the state:

It happened that during those days the consul P. Licinius, after offering vows on the Capitoline, set forth from the city in the costume of a general. This event is always [conducted] with great dignity and majesty, but it especially attracts eyes and minds when they follow a consul setting forth against a great enemy distinguished by his prowess or his fortune. For not only the performance of duty draws the crowd but also their enthusiasm for the spectacle, that they might see their leader, to whose power [imperium] and planning [consilium] they have entrusted the protection of the Republic itself. Then there enters their minds the reckoning of the contingencies of war, how uncertain is the outcome of fortune, and how impartial is Mars, what disasters have come about through the ignorance and rashness of the leaders, and yet what advantages have been the result of foresight and valor. What man knew which was the intellect and which the fortune of the consul they were sending to war? Would they soon see him in his triumph, ascending the Capitolium with his victorious troops to the same gods from whom he was setting out, or would they offer this pleasure to their enemies?

This digital version of Andrew Feldherr's work is part of the new eScholarship database of the University of California Press.
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