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Livy: Wishing for the Better Days of the Past when Ancient Rome was the Present

Updated on August 13, 2016

The Roman Historian Livy Longed for Yesterday When Rome Was an Empire

Titus Livius Patavinus is better known as Livy and he remains one of the most important figures of Ancient Rome. Livy was not a general or one of the Caesars. Nor was be a famous Gladiator. Livy was a historian who recorded a significant amount of the history of the Republic and later Empire. While it is certainly true that a great deal of myth and folk tales found their way into Livy's writings (which were originally crafted in wax), his work does provide interesting insight into the age of Rome.

An Alternate Historical Perspective on Ancient Rome

While we rarely, if ever, look at Rome beyond its more militaristic history, the culture was far deeper than those only familiar with what they have seen in movies and television programs. A great many Roman historical features and programs, sadly, root themselves in exploitative aspects of the fallen society. Those that wallow in tales of the decadence of Rome ignore something that should be clearly assumed - unless the society was also educationally and culturally advanced, it would never have thrived for so many centuries. Decadence does not create an Empire. It brings empires down.

Just as not all tales of Rome are decadent, they are not also filled with adventurous grandeur.

In the writings of Livy, we also see a somewhat melancholy component to life in Ancient Rome. While the philosophers and playwrights of Ancient Greece receive much acclaim, those artisans of Rome are not always given their much deserved due. We certainly do not often connect them with works of humor - be the humor intentional or not.

In many works, we simply seem the honest expressions of honest people.

The Profound and the Cliched: Roman Musing from Antiquity

In Livy's writings, he does make a rather profound quote that just might be the most cliché of all clichés.

Livy stated: ''I shall find antiquity a rewarding study, if only because, while I am absorbed in it, I shall be able to turn my eyes from the troubles which for so long have tormented the modern world.''

In this, we can see the true passion of Livy. He wishes to find an escape from the troubles of the modern world by escaping into the past where the vileness of modern times does not exist.

Or more aptly, Livy is saying ''Things were a lot better in my day'' which is among the most clichéd of all clichés that could ever be uttered. Those that utter it might be surprised to find out people were saying that over a thousand years ago. It was probably a cliché even when Livy weaved the commentary into his historical documents.

There is likely a little more to this sentiment than the droning of someone wishing for yesterday.

Wishing for Better Days in the Ancient World

In my Game of Thrones essay, I alluded to the notion that the loner always dreams of fantasy realms where he or she can fit in better and does not have to be locked into not fitting into the society he/she is part of. Once you read Livy's words, you realize that the world the loner wishes to travel to does not have to a fantasy one. Often, it is merely the past.

An old Japanese saying notes that wallowing in the past is not always a good thing to do. The reason is because we end up mystifying the past and making it far better than what it was. The negative aspects of the past are eradicated and only a romanticized version of the days gone by are left in someone's mind. This creates a distorted perception of the past that is no longer history,which is supposed to be nonfiction. Rather, it becomes one of fantasy. Perhaps this is why Livy is so quick to weave myths and legends into his work of history.

Do we have to go so far as one of the characters in the HBO Rome series suggests and ''Forget about the past'' and leave it behind? Doing so would mean we would lose perspective of why we should study history. Livy did mention why we should study history and that will be the subject of our next entry on the historian's work.


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