Cutting Rome Down To Size

The Gentle Art of the Historical Summary

David Levene

ISAW Visiting Research Scholar

Three-quarters of the monumental work of the Roman historian Livy (59 B.C.-A.D.17) is lost. The single most important source to enable us to reconstruct the contents of the missing volumes is a summary known as the Periochae, composed in (probably) the 4th century A.D. This summary, reducing each volume of Livy to a single paragraph, appears on its surface a mechanical exercise. However, this lecture will show that a comparison of the Periochae of the surviving books with Livy's original work reveals many subtle alterations and distortions, which reflect a distinctive historical outlook on the part of the summarizer. Armed with this knowledge of the summarizer's techniques, we gain a clearer picture of the missing books for which the Periochae provides us with our primary evidence, and can refine our knowledge of the events of Roman history that Livy described in the books now lost.

David Levene is Professor in the Department of Classics at New York University, where he has worked since 2006 (including serving as Chair from 2008 until 2017). He holds the degrees of M.A. and D.Phil. from Oxford University; prior to coming to NYU, he held positions at Oxford, Durham, and Leeds.

His primary interests are in Latin prose literature (chiefly historiography and rhetoric), Roman religion, and Roman republican history, but his research has ranged more widely than that: he has, among other things, published articles on the Talmud, on cinema, and on the 19th century French novel. His other publications include articles on the definition of a Roman god, on historical memory at Rome, and on various individual authors, including Sallust, Cicero, Tacitus, Polybius, Pompeius Trogus, and Quintilian. But his particular interest is in the history of Livy, on which he has published two books and a number of articles.

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