The History of Rome, by Livy

The History of Rome.


Whether, in tracing the series of the Roman History, from the foundation of the city, I shall employ my time to good purpose, is a question which I cannot positively determine; nor, were it possible, would I venture to pronounce such determination: for I am aware that the matter is of high antiquity, and has been already treated by many others; the latest writers always supposing themselves capable, either of throwing some new light on the subject, or, by the superiority of their talents for composition, of excelling the more inelegant writers who preceded them. However that may be, I shall, at all events, derive no small satisfaction from the reflection that my best endeavours have been exerted in transmitting to posterity the achievements of the greatest people in the world; and if, amidst such a multitude of writers, my name should not emerge from obscurity, I shall console myself by attributing it to the eminent merit of those who stand in my way in the pursuit of fame. It may be farther observed, that such a subject must require a work of immense extent, as our researches must be carried back through a space of more than seven hundred years; that the state has, from very small beginnings, gradually increased to such a magnitude, that it is now distressed by its own bulk; and that there is every reason to apprehend that the generality of readers will receive but little pleasure from the accounts of its first origin; or of the times immediately succeeding, but will be impatient to arrive at that period, in which the powers of this overgrown state have been long employed in working their own destruction. On the other hand, this much will be derived from my labour, that, so long at least as I shall have my thoughts totally occupied in investigating the transactions of such distant ages, without being embarrassed by any of those unpleasing considerations, in respect of later days, which, though they might not have power to warp a writer’s mind from the truth, would yet be sufficient to create uneasiness, I shall withdraw myself from the sight of the many evils to which our eyes have been so long accustomed. As to the relations which have been handed down of events prior to the founding of the city, or to the circumstances that gave occasion to its being founded, and which bear the semblance rather of poetic fictions, than of authentic records of history — these, I have no intention either to maintain or refute. Antiquity is always indulged with the privilege of rendering the origin of cities more venerable, by intermixing divine with human agency; and if any nation may claim the privilege of being allowed to consider its original as sacred, and to attribute it to the operations of the Gods, surely the Roman people, who rank so high in military fame, may well expect, that, while they choose to represent Mars as their own parent, and that of their founder, the other nations of the world may acquiesce in this, with the same deference with which they acknowledge their sovereignty. But what degree of attention or credit may be given to these and such-like matters I shall not consider as very material. To the following considerations, I wish every one seriously and earnestly to attend; by what kind of men, and by what sort of conduct, in peace and war, the empire has been both acquired and extended: then, as discipline gradually declined, let him follow in his thoughts the structure of ancient morals, at first, as it were, leaning aside, then sinking farther and farther, then beginning to fall precipitate, until he arrives at the present times, when our vices have attained to such a height of enormity, that we can no longer endure either the burden of them, or the sharpness of the necessary remedies. This is the great advantage to be derived from the study of history; indeed the only one which can make it answer any profitable and salutary purpose: for, being abundantly furnished with clear and distinct examples of every kind of conduct, we may select for ourselves, and for the state to which we belong, such as are worthy of imitation; and, carefully noting such, as being dishonourable in their principles, are equally so in their effects, learn to avoid them. Now, either partiality to the subject of my intended work misleads me, or there never was any state either greater, or of purer morals, or richer in good examples, than this of Rome; nor was there ever any city into which avarice and luxury made their entrance so late, or where poverty and frugality were so highly and so long held in honour; men contracting their desires in proportion to the narrowness of their circumstances. Of late years, indeed, opulence has introduced a greediness for gain, and the boundless variety of dissolute pleasures has created, in many, a passion for ruining themselves, and all around them. But let us, in the first stage at least of this undertaking, avoid gloomy reflections, which, when perhaps unavoidable, will not, even then, be agreeable. If it were customary with us, as it is with poets, we would more willingly begin with good omens, and vows, and prayers to the gods and goddesses, that they would propitiously grant success to our endeavours, in the prosecution of so arduous a task.

Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52