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Uncertainty in Livy and Velleius

Annika Domainko

5. Synopsis

Texte intégral

1Let me now draw together the results of the close readings and theoretical deliberations by means of one last comparative example from Velleius and Livy. Over the last two chapters, I have focussed on exemplary passages in the historiography of both these authors which reveal particularly well their respective narrative takes on uncertainty, and which allow us to read them as two extremes on a spectrum along which it is possible to engage with temporality and ambiguity.

2Unfortunately, it is hardly possible to compare Velleius’ and Livy’s accounts of the same historical event, since their histories have been handed down to us in an almost complementary way. While Velleius’ first book covering early Roman and world history until the fall of Carthage survives merely in fragments, Livy’s Ab urbe condita breaks off during the aftermath of the Macedonian Wars. There is however one exceptional case that allows us at least a brief glimpse of a direct comparison of their narrative compositions, namely the account of Paulus’ victory over Perseus in Pydna in 168 BCE and of the events in the run-up to his triumph in Rome. The aftermath of the battle of Pydna in Livy and Velleius is a compelling example by which to draw together the observations made so far.

5.1 Velleius and Livy at Pydna

  • 1 On the lacuna and the content which was presumably covered, as well as on reconstructions of the or (...)

3The beginning of Velleius’ account of the Third Macedonian War is non-extant. The conflict with Perseus of Macedonia is first mentioned after a substantial lacuna that affects the roughly 550 years from the mythical rape of the Sabine women up to the second century BCE. A short fragment from the passage in-between refers us to Cimon and thus indicates that Velleius may have kept up his focus on world history, specifically including Greece, down to the fourth century BCE.1

  • 2 See Rich (2011b) 79. The reconstruction of the missing text portions is complicated by the fact tha (...)

4John Rich, in his re-evaluation of the History’s genre and purpose, has convincingly argued that the rest of the missing text portion presumably covered Alexander and the Diadochi, the Pyrrhic War, the Punic Wars and the conflicts with Philip, Antiochus, and Perseus.2 The transmitted text then starts with a summary of the Roman victory over Perseus (1.9.1-5):

[…] nam biennio adeo uaria fortuna cum consulibus conflixerat ut plerumque superior fuerit magnamque partem Graeciae in societatem suam perduceret. quin Rhodii quoque, fidelissimi antea Romanis, tum dubia fide speculati fortunam, proniores regis partibus fuisse uisi sunt; […]. tum senatus populusque Romanus L. Aemilium Paulum, qui et praetor et consul triumphauerat, uirum in tantum laudandum, in quantum intellegi uirtus potest, consulem creauit, filium eius Pauli qui ad Cannas quam tergiuersanter perniciosam rei publicae pugnam inierat, tam fortiter in ea mortem obierat. is Persen ingenti proelio apud urbem nomine Pydnam in Macedonia fusum fugatumque castris exuit deletisque eius copiis destitutum omni spe coegit e Macedonia profugere, quam ille linquens in insulam Samothraciam perfugit templique se religioni supplicem credidit. ad eum Cn. Octavius praetor, qui classi praeerat, peruenit et ratione magis quam ui persuasit, ut se Romanorum fidei committeret. ita Paulus maximum nobilissimumque regem in triumpho duxit.
[…] For two years he [Perseus] had kept up the struggle with the consuls with such varying fortune that he generally had the upper hand and eventually won over a large part of Greece to ally itself with him and his cause. Even the Rhodians who had been most loyal to the Romans in the past, seemed then, wavering in their faith and watching his good fortune, inclined to take the king’s side; […]. Then the senate and the Roman people elected L. Aemilius Paulus consul, Paulus who had triumphed in his praetorship and as a consul, a man worthy of the highest praise that can be associated with virtue, the father of the same Paulus who had died in the battle at Cannae just as bravely as he had been reluctant to begin a battle so fatal to the Republic. This Paulus defeated Perseus in a great battle at a city in Macedonia named Pydna, put him to flight, despoiled his camp, and, after he had destroyed his remaining forces, compelled him, who was by now deprived of every hope, to flee Macedonia; and abandoning his country Perseus took refuge on the island of Samothrace and entrusted himself as a suppliant to the sacredness of the temple. To this temple came Gnaeus Octavius, the praetor in command of the fleet, and he convinced him more by argument than by force to surrender to the integrity of the Romans. Just like that, Paulus led in triumph the greatest and the most noble of kings.

5In accordance with earlier observations regarding Velleius’ compositional techniques, the account of the Macedonian War clearly focusses on the general picture of the conflict. Instead of dwelling on details and elaborate causalities, Velleius teases out the major lines along which the war developed. In just two sentences, the first of which is even rendered in the pluperfect, he sums up his observation that the situation may have looked grim for the Romans for a while, but was quickly resolved and turned around when the senate and the people took the right decision in electing Paulus consul.

6While it is not possible to say with complete certainty how extensively Velleius treated the beginning and the course of the war, his mention of the Rhodians in the second paragraph – a relatively unimportant side-story – may indicate that what we are dealing with here is not a mere summary of a now lost, more detailed account, but the actual narrative of the Third Macedonian War. I would like to single out two aspects of this episode for closer consideration, namely the density of the narrative of the Roman victory, and the weight that Velleius attaches to his narratorial voice.

7Let me first turn to the density of the narrative. The Romans’ actual victory is presented in just one sentence that is crammed with informative detail (1.9.4). The enormous battle and the defeat at Pydna, putting to rout Perseus’ troops, despoiling their camp, destroying the rest of the forces, robbing the king of any hope, and forcing him to flee from Macedonia – all these subsequent actions and events which add up to the story of Rome’s triumph are woven together so densely that their chronology and sequentiality fades into the background in favour of a general atmosphere of haste and near simultaneity. The heavy use of participial constructions appears to collapse the individual bits and pieces of the story into a single, as it were, synoptic mass. The chain of events is not spelled out through its causal relations, or with reference to decisions that had to be taken, uncertainties that needed to be discussed and uncertainties that were still felt over the course of these developments. By rushing through all that in the blink of an eye, the complex material of a long story is rather rendered into a synoptic discourse by means of syntactical density.

8In this sense the narrative of the war against Perseus is another compelling example which demonstrates Velleius’ peculiar configuration of uncertainty. The openness and contingent nature of the Romans’ future during the conflict is indeed mentioned in passing this time, but by rendering it in the pluperfect, Velleius’ narrative attributes it to a remote, already gone-by past and thus capitalizes on the hindsight and retrospective knowledge of the historian. The most dramatic part of the wars, the presumed climax of uncertainty is in fact an anti-climax, which is presented not as the uncertain present of the historical agents, but as a past condensed that has significance only as an emblematic prelude to the telos of the story which governs the meaning of anything happening around it: the Romans’ victory.

9Uncertainty in Velleius is not something to be experienced by the characters (or, for that matter, by the reader), but part of a plupast. This ‘plu-perfectization’ of uncertainty sparks a similar effect to the micro-prolepses I have analyzed in Chapter 3. The linguistic choice to record the most uncertain stages of the war in the pluperfect shuts down the openness, contingency and ambiguity, and installs in its place a sense of seclusion. Velleius’ configuration of Roman historical time downplays temporal uncertainty on the level of both the story and the discourse: the characters’ tension between experience and expectation is downrightly ignored, and as a consequence, the tension between the reader’s knowledge about the past and expectations towards Velleius’ version of it is not built up, but directed into clear-cut paths right from the beginning.

10This effect is further enhanced by the analytical tone of the passage, which does not attempt to let the events and actions ‘speak’ for themselves. On the contrary, the episode is another striking example of Velleius’ strong narratorial authority and the monophonic composition of the History. The passage starts with a correlative clause – ‘the fortune of war was so fickle as to… ’ – and it ends with an analytical summary given by a strong narratorial voice in an almost laconic manner – ‘thus’, Velleius concludes, ‘Paulus held the triumph’. Perseus’ flight, struggle and eventual decision to surrender to Rome, Paulus’ strategy and Octavius’ act of persuasion are all just presented to the reader as having been mediated by the analytical tone of the narrator, in which the correlative clause at the start (adeo… ut) and the conclusion in the end (ita…) stand as linguistic markers making apparent that we have access only to a pre-interpreted, pre-structured, and pre-evaluated Roman past.

11In accordance with this syntax, Velleius’ Paulus is neither allowed to speak himself nor to let his actions speak for him. His key role for the Roman victory is not presented as a result of his deeds or his decisions between different routes to take, but is rather condensed in a brief emblematic character sketch focussing on his ‘trans-temporal’ traits and attributes. History here is not ‘made by people’, but represents a retrospective result of the trans-temporal virtues (and vices) of great individuals. Once again, tense and voice are composed in such a way that both temporal and hermeneutic uncertainty is eliminated. The narrative comes down on the ‘closure’ end of the spectrum along which uncertainty can be composed – and grappled with qua narrative.

  • 3 Book 44 breaks off during the description of Perseus’ flight to Samothrace. On books 41 to 45 formi (...)

12Livy’s version of the same events, by contrast, throws these findings into relief. The Rhodians’ threat to enter the war on Macedonia’s side, Paulus’ election, the events from his first campaign until his victory, and eventually Perseus’ flight to Samothrace, take up the whole of Livy’s book 44.3 The most compelling point of comparison, however, is the first paragraphs of book 45, where, diametrically opposed to Velleius’ record, Livy puts on stage both the temporal and hermeneutic uncertainty that accompany the events in the direct aftermath of the war.

13Especially on the level of hermeneutic uncertainty Livy’s narrative constitutes an intriguing counterpoint to Velleius’ closure. In the beginning of book 45, Livy describes at length how the Romans at home learned of the victory of their troops – first by various rumours, then by official notice. Velleius’ ita Paulus regem in triumpho duxit is juxtaposed by Livy’s account in which the victory is not introduced as a given, authoritatively presented as such by a strong narrator, but as a rumour not yet confirmed and thus, as information fraught with hermeneutic uncertainty (45.1.1-5):

  • 4 Livy’s statement that the Romans were as happy about the actual victory as they were about the ‘pro (...)

Victoriae nuntii, Q. Fabius et L. Lentulus et Q. Metellus, quanta potuit adhiberi festinatio celeriter Romam cum uenissent, praeceptam tamen eius rei laetitiam inuenerunt. quarto post die quam cum rege est pugnatum, cum in circo ludi fierent, murmur repente populi tota spectacula peruasit pugnatum in Macedonia et deuictum regem esse; dein fremitus increuit; postremo clamor plausus uelut certo nuntio uictoriae allato est exortus. mirari magistratus et quaerere auctores repentinae laetitiae; qui postquam nullus erat, euanuit quidem tamquam certae rei gaudium, omen tamen laetum insidebat animis. quod postquam uerius nuntiis Fabi Lentulique et Metelli aduentu firmatum est, cum uictoria ipsa tum augurio animorum suorum laetabantur.
The messengers of victory, Quintus Fabius, Lucius Lentulus, and Quintus Metellus, picked up the utmost possible pace, and although they arrived in Rome quickly, they still found that the joy of their announcement had been anticipated. On the fourth day after the battle with the king, while games were being held in the circus, a murmur suddenly rose over the ranks of the people that a battle had been fought in Macedonia and that the kings had been beaten; then the babel of voices increased; eventually, there arose shouting and clapping as if a definite report of victory had been brought. The magistrates were astonished and looked for the sources of the sudden rejoicing; after no such person was found, the joy as if for a certain fact vanished, but the happy omen remained in their minds. When this omen was finally confirmed by the arrival of the messengers Fabius, Lentulus, and Metellus, people took as much joy in the actual victory as in the divinatory power4 of their spirits.

14When the messengers arrive in Rome to announce the victory, they find people already celebrating because of a rumour spread before in the circus. The magistrates have to make an interpretive effort and look for the sources of the rumour and the celebrations. Finding none, they have to downgrade the news to a mere ‘omen’. Paulus’ triumphant victory is thus at the same time a murmur and clamor velut certo nuntio, an omen laetum and an augurium. It is presented as the ambiguous and uncertain experience of the characters, as open to and in need of interpretation, evaluation, and efforts of fact checking.

15This hermeneutic compulsion is all the more pervasive, given the fact that Livy’s reader at this point already knows about the outcome of the war – not only because of his or her historical knowledge, but because of the very fact that it has already been narrated out in detail in book 44. As a result, there is not only the hermeneutic uncertainty attributed to the characters in the story-world. There is also an interpretive tension for Livy’s reader, who has to negotiate between his or her knowledge of Roman history and Livy’s previous account on the one hand, and the destabilization of this account through a detailed enactment of the character’s ‘hermeneutic bewilderment’ on the other. Even an event already ‘freed’ from hermeneutic uncertainty by being spelled out in a book-long narrative is in Livy presented as fraught with uncertainty, as still open and still in need of exegesis and contextualization.

16While history in Velleius appears as pre-selected and put together only in hindsight, Livy confronts us with history as the ambiguous present of the historical agents, thus flaunting uncertainty at the very point where Velleius systematically eliminates it. Livy’s history is open to sudden change and focusses on the dynamics between the characters pasts present and futures present. At the same time, it is open to vagueness and torn between different possible truths, while flashing out the circumstance that a definite decision and the ‘right’ way of knowing and ordering the world is a matter of perspective and time.

5.2 Push and Pull

17The previous chapters, just as this last example, have mostly focussed on close readings of exemplary passages of the two historians. But their respective tendencies towards openness and closure can also be traced on the macrostructure of their narratives and in the position they attribute to beginning and end.

  • 5 For an analogous examination of ‘Roman space’ as an organizing device of the Ab urbe condita, see e (...)
  • 6 On the title of Livy’s work, see Horsfall (1981) 105-6; see also ibid. 112, n. 50.
  • 7 See also Serres (2015) 33 and passim on the connections Livy draws between the destruction of one c (...)
  • 8 For a similar thought, see also Walter (forthcoming) on aetia, including one chapter on the aetiolo (...)
  • 9 Hdt. 1.1-5.
  • 10 Thuc. 1.1-19.
  • 11 Polyb. 1.2.1-8 and Sall. Cat. 2.1-6.

18In Livian scholarship it has often been noticed that for Livy, time is almost exclusively Roman time.5 What is more, it is exactly the beginning of this Roman time that acts as the major structuring device in the Ab urbe condita, as already suggested by the title.6 Livy starts his historiographical project from the direct aftermath of the Trojan War, and he immediately links it to a new beginning, namely the foundation of cities by Aeneas and Antenor.7 Unlike outstanding models in the field of historical writing, Livy accordingly does not spell out the larger mythical or world-historical background, but starts with a close-up of Roman time – it is Rome’s foundation that is conceptualized as the initial spark of history.8 Herodotus anchors his narrative within the remote mythological origins of the Persian War,9 Thucydides evokes the archaeology of the Peloponnesian War,10 and both Polybius and Sallust gesture towards the growth and decay of world empires.11

  • 12 Note how Livy also configures this initial spark of Roman history as the initial spark of his voice (...)

19While Livy’s Ab urbe condita starts with the beginning of a distinctly Roman time, Velleius follows the route sketched above and begins his history by anchoring it within the larger context of world history. This observation can be advanced if we take into account the strong position given to Tiberius’ reign by Velleius as the telos of history. His and Livy’s takes on time and temporal uncertainty are hence, also on a macro level, at loggerheads with each other. While Livy presents history as Roman history and configures its origins as an initial spark12 that opens up Roman time into an ever open future, Velleius embeds Rome’s origins within the ‘primordial soup’ of world history and the progression of empires and conceives of it as being magnetically pulled towards his own present. While Livy’s narrative pushes history into an open future, Velleius’ presents history as being pulled towards its own telos.

  • 13 See Pausch (2011), esp. 83-4, who describes the annalistic scheme as the ‘backbone’ of Roman time t (...)

20These structural characteristics can also be traced in the annalistic and ‘quasiannalistic’ set-up of their narratives. Livy’s Ab urbe condita follows in the steps of the annalistic tradition, renders Roman history chronologically from year to year, moving into an open future, and thus configures historical time as a relentless movement from past to present to future.13 Velleius superficially follows this tradition, but twists it with far-reaching consequences: the eponymous consuls are always introduced in combination with a ‘before present’. As a result, we do not only face a huge number of references to the narrator’s own time per se; due to the explicit juxtaposition of the eponymous consuls and the ‘before presents’, we are also directly confronted with a paradigm shift in the construction of historical time: the narrative no longer takes as its starting point the past, developing into an open future as common in Republican notions of history, but is rather organized backwards from its anticipated telos. While Livy’s focus is on the beginning, Velleius’ stress lies on the end.

5.3 Grappling with Uncertainty: Narrative, Closure and Openness

  • 14 See Jauß (1982) 85.

21Twofold uncertainty is a shared characteristic of narrative and the human condition. Hence, narrative as a medium is a particularly well-suited coping mechanism when it comes to dealing with uncertainty since it allows us playfully to engage with it in the safe space of aesthetics and of the ‘as-if’ of the story-world. When we understand narrative, with Hans-Robert Jauß, as a form of play that allows us to experience ourselves in the experience of the other,14 Livy’s and Velleius’ historiography can be read as configurations of uncertainty that allow their readers to experience uncertainty without being subjected to the confinements of everyday life.

22While Livy’s readers may re-experience a dramatically staged uncertainty of the characters in the story-world, Velleius’ readers are confronted with a universe in which uncertainty is hardly noticeable. Narrative thus can help us grapple with uncertainty by letting us live through it by means of identification with characters living through profound uncertainty. Or, on the other hand, narrative can make uncertainty manageable by letting us immerse ourselves into a story-world, following rules that are different from those in the life-world and thus, by giving us a break from the uncertainty of our everyday lives and switching it with a clear-cut, closed outlook on history and, by extension, human life.

23Engaging with uncertainty in either of these ways means also playfully to grapple with it in a constant oscillation between testing participation and disinterested contemplation, or, in other words, between immersion into the (lack of) uncertainty in the story-world and reflection about uncertainty as it is artificially constructed within the safe boundaries of a literary work of art. Both the paradigms of closure and openness, condensed into narrative form, can be read as ways and means to come to terms with the uncertainty that characterizes our being in the world and the way in which we make sense of it.

24My readings of Velleius and Livy have, however, also revealed that, while they may come down on either end of the spectrum between closure and openness, their narratives are in fact negotiating the extremes. There is closure in Livy just as there is openness in Velleius. Understanding narrative’s capacity to let us grapple with uncertainty, and having demonstrated in detail how Livy’s and Velleius’ narratives negotiate the poles of closure and openness qua narrative, I would go so far as to conclude that it is exactly this balancing of the two that is constitutive of the way in which narrative unfolds and realizes this capacity. A significant anthropological ‘Wirkungspotential’ of narrative thus lies in its ability to allow us to engage with uncertainty through uncertainty, and in its ability to let us re-enact the temporality and ambiguity of our lives in the secure space of the ‘as-if’ and tamed by a narrative balancing of closure and openness.

5.4 Origins and Functions of Narrative and the Role of Uncertainty

  • 15 See White (1980) 5.
  • 16 See Ricoeur (1984-88) [Vol. 2] 28, a statement quoted frequently in scholarship on narrative and na (...)

25Hayden White has described narrative as a ‘panglobal fact of culture’.15 Similarly, in his study on Temps et Récit, Paul Ricoeur asserted that ‘we have no idea of what a culture would be where no one any longer knew what it meant to narrate things’.16 There is, it seems, no life without storytelling.

26Apart from the most isolationist theories of a ‘l’art pour l’art’, scholars agree that there is a mutual interdependence between narrative as a medium and our life-world. The idea that literature possesses the power to provide insights about the world and that there is some form of ethical, didactic, socio-political or even existential ‘value’ or ‘meaning’ to it, is not only part of academic discourse, but also, it appears, an intuitive truth to anyone who reads books. How exactly this ‘value’ has to be understood, how it can be grasped and how it comes into being is, however, subject to lively debates – debates that are pursued across a variety of academic fields not limited to literary studies in the narrow sense, but ranging from cognitive to evolutionary science, from psychology to anthropology, and from philosophy to linguistics.

27With this book, I also hope to have contributed to these discussions by offering a perspective onto the nature and potential of narrative in a way which attempts to bridge the gap between comprehensive conceptual ideas on the ‘sense of an ending’ (Kermode), the ‘dissemination of meaning’ (Derrida), and the ‘experience of oneself in the experience of the other’ (Jauß) on the one hand and specific narratives on the other. I am convinced that it is exactly a combination of a thorough textual analysis, historical and theoretical contextualization and a systematic approach that lays open its conceptual presuppositions which allows us to shed light on these questions in a way that cuts across the perspectives commonly assumed, while at the same time incorporating their many valuable insights. By demonstrating how narrative qua narrative configures uncertainty through a balancing of closure and openness, we can approach the anthropology of narrative also via a bottom-up, and not only by a top-down, approach. As a result, the potential power of narrative vis-à-vis the challenges of our lives is not grasped by means of an abstract conceptual umbrella, but can be found in and understood by a close reading of the very structures of narrative.

  • 17 Please note that the following account is by no means intended to grasp the respective fields in th (...)

28When we take a closer look at the deep structures and the underlying assumptions of some of the most influential approaches to origins and functions of storytelling, building an argument about narrative’s anthropological potential on the concept of ‘uncertainty’ may also prove particularly fruitful on a meta-level. For, with all differences, nuances and conceptual shades, several of these theories appear to share a common core and a common interest that is often unvoiced, but can be grasped and described as an implicit idea of uncertainty.17

  • 18 In ethics and in social and developmental psychology scholars have understood narrative and especia (...)

29Proponents of the so called empathy-theory, for instance, would argue that narrative puts us into the shoes of others and thus trains the empathic skills we need in our everyday lives whenever we interact with other people and whenever we engage with the world.18 As soon as we leave the house we have to interpret gestures, facial expressions, and actions, and every time we interact with others, we have to reconcile their outer behaviour with their presumable intentions, thoughts, fears, or desires, and we have to infer one from the other. In other words, when empathy theory understands narrative as a training camp for empathy, it does in fact zero in on the idea that human interaction is riddled with hermeneutic uncertainty and that storytelling assists us in dealing with it in the isolated realm of ‘fiction’.

  • 19 The theory of mind was originally developed by researchers in the field of behavioural science and (...)
  • 20 See Palmer (2010) 10.

30A similar observation may also hold true for the theory of mind.19 Alan Palmer, one of the protagonists of this branch of cognitive narratology, has argued that we access story-worlds by creating ‘embedded narratives’. When we read, he explains, we take references to a character in the text and ‘attach it to a presumed consciousness that exists continuously within the story-world between the various, more or less intermittent references to that character’.20 We thus comprehend story-worlds by reading together the total of the character’s viewpoints, worldviews, memories, desires, intentions, and plans – an activity, that according to Palmer and others, acts back upon the way in which we ‘read’ others in our life-world. In helping us to understand another person’s mind as distinct from our own narrative as a medium is thus, once more, built on the unvoiced idea of uncertainty. It is the tension between the parts and the whole, between surface and inner constitution that produces both interpretive tensions and the need to grapple with it. Again, narrative is thus implicitly conceived of as a means of dealing with hermeneutic uncertainty.

  • 21 See e.g. Boyd (2009) 176 who argued that ‘narrative arises from the advantages of communication in (...)

31What is more, an analogous case can also be made for evolutionary studies. Evolutionists understand narrative as a form of play that helps us to anticipate and prepare for future challenges by training our imaginative and scenario-making skills.21 Narrative from their point of view thus pragmatically serves us to develop the flexibility, the imagination and the adaptability that is necessary to react efficiently and successfully to new environments or sudden danger – and, hence, to survive. In other words, when narrative is thought to assist us in grappling with an uncertain future by challenging us with a variety of potential dangers and threats in a mode of ‘make-believe’, it is again the idea of man being thrown into an uncertain world and of narrative assisting us in dealing with this condition that forms the conceptual core around which this theory develops.

  • 22 The possible-worlds theory has been developed in the second half of the twentieth century and is cl (...)

32Yet another example is the so-called possible-world-theory. Proponents of this approach have argued that by engaging in narrative we adopt a new ontological perspective, since immersion into a story-world prompts us to adapt to its own distinct laws, regularities, values, possibilities, and outlooks on the human condition.22 By conceptualizing the engagement with literature as an act of exposure to a fictional cosmos which is both distinct in itself and different from our own, possible-world-theory links narrative to the idea of grappling with worldviews, causalities and value-systems that defy the experiences from our own lives. In this sense, narrative becomes the ultimate medium in which to experience and reflect upon uncertainty. Narrative relies on the fact that things could always be different, and that neither our hermeneutic grids nor our ways of integrating experience and expectation constitute the only possible way of dealing with the world. In other words, narrative is in all these approaches conceived as a means to grapple with the circumstance that things could be different or interpreted differently, and rendered meaningful in a different way.

33Uncertainty in its temporal and hermeneutic dimension thus appears indeed to be a shared conceptual core of contemporary approaches to the anthropology of narrative – an observation that bolsters the conceptual grid put forward in this book which, as I hope, enables us to engage with these questions systematically.

34In the introduction I have stressed that any approach to a set of data that does not want to result in a conglomeration of isolated details needs to adopt a certain conceptual lens through which to assess the material available to us. However, writing a book is of course always a hermeneutic process in which exegeses of individual parts and readings towards an overarching idea of the whole constantly cross-fertilize each other. Reading Livy, Velleius and questions about the anthropology of narrative through the lens of uncertainty thus has also been a process of constant oscillation between textual analysis, contextualization, and theory. Whether or not this conceptual lens has proven fruitful I would like to leave – in the spirit of uncertainty – for the reader to decide.


1 On the lacuna and the content which was presumably covered, as well as on reconstructions of the original scope of Velleius’ history, see esp. Rich (2011b) 76-80.

2 See Rich (2011b) 79. The reconstruction of the missing text portions is complicated by the fact that the conventional book division of the History is post-Velleian. Attempts to reconstruct the text have often been built upon deliberations about book length. In this context, Rich (2011b) 79 is right to point out that, given the wide variety of ancient book lengths, ‘it cannot be assumed that the two books were of comparable length’. See also Rich (2011b) 90, n. 38 for further bibliography.

3 Book 44 breaks off during the description of Perseus’ flight to Samothrace. On books 41 to 45 forming a thematically coherent pentad, see Luce (1977) 114-38.

4 Livy’s statement that the Romans were as happy about the actual victory as they were about the ‘prophetic power of their spirits’ also draws attention to the fact that both empirical knowledge and knowledge through divination and intuitive, or spiritual guidance are shown as legitimate ways of knowing the world. Two divergent epistemological systems are shown to coexist here.

5 For an analogous examination of ‘Roman space’ as an organizing device of the Ab urbe condita, see esp. Jaeger (1997).

6 On the title of Livy’s work, see Horsfall (1981) 105-6; see also ibid. 112, n. 50.

7 See also Serres (2015) 33 and passim on the connections Livy draws between the destruction of one city and the foundation of another at the beginning of his work. On the topos of foundation and re-foundation in Livy’s book 5, see also Kraus (1994b) 267-89. On Livy’s depiction of Rome’s founders and ‘second founders’, see also Miles (1995) 103-8 and again 223-4.

8 For a similar thought, see also Walter (forthcoming) on aetia, including one chapter on the aetiology of Livy’s Ab urbe condita which she kindly shared with me prior to publication.

9 Hdt. 1.1-5.

10 Thuc. 1.1-19.

11 Polyb. 1.2.1-8 and Sall. Cat. 2.1-6.

12 Note how Livy also configures this initial spark of Roman history as the initial spark of his voice and authority as a historian. The place where Antenor, fleeing from Troy, first landed in Italy – ‘the inmost bay of the Adriatic’ – is, according to Livy called Troy, ‘while the people as a whole were called the Veneti’ (1.1.3: et in quem primum egressi sunt locum Troia vocatur, pagoque inde Troiano nomen est: gens universa Veneti appellati). The Veneti are the native gens of Livy himself: see Kraus (1994a) 1-2. Walter (forthcoming) argues that, as a result, the beginning of Livy’s Ab urbe condita is also a story of its own origin. In this context, see also Pausch (2011) 131-2 on the significance of this reference to Padua and the Veneti for Livy’s Paduan identity.

13 See Pausch (2011), esp. 83-4, who describes the annalistic scheme as the ‘backbone’ of Roman time that allows Livy’s reader to compare different stages of history. Pausch, however, does not acknowledge the fact that Livy’s composition also includes the idea of the open future and of the circle of res gestae and memoria rerum gestarum living on after his own days and his own writing, as is particularly apparent in the preface when he asserts that his memory might be buried underneath the masses of alternative versions of Roman history penned by the turba tanta scriptorum.

14 See Jauß (1982) 85.

15 See White (1980) 5.

16 See Ricoeur (1984-88) [Vol. 2] 28, a statement quoted frequently in scholarship on narrative and narrativity; see e.g. Schneider and Flor (2014) 13.

17 Please note that the following account is by no means intended to grasp the respective fields in their entirety which is neither possible in this context, nor, in fact, necessary to illustrate the point I would like to make here. The following summaries are supposed to sketch a necessarily broad brush picture of the ‘deep structures’ of the most influential takes on narrative anthropology in order to extract a fundamental shared characteristic that has, to my knowledge, been largely unnoticed so far.

18 In ethics and in social and developmental psychology scholars have understood narrative and especially the reading of fiction as a training camp for empathy. See esp. Keen (2007) who both describes and debunks the common presumptions on which the empathy-altruism hypothesis vis-à-vis the function of narrative is built. Laconically summarizing these hypotheses in her preface – ‘Read Henry James and live well […]; become a better world citizen through canonical novels […]. Discover compassion through “The Lion and the Mouse”’ (vii) – Keen deconstructs the idea of ‘fiction making the reader a better human being’ and stresses that the line separating the story-world from the life-world should not be underestimated.

19 The theory of mind was originally developed by researchers in the field of behavioural science and was intended to describe to which degree primates are able to ascribe mental states to others, going back as early as the 1970s with a seminal publication by Premack and Woodruff (1978). Defined as the human capacity to explain the behaviour of others, the theory of mind is now widely used in cognitive narratology as an alleged key to the reader’s engagement with narrative. The most prominent proponents of this strand of contemporary narratology are Palmer, with his idea of the ‘fictional’ (2004) or ‘social mind’ (2010), and Zunshine (2006) who understands narrative as a training camp for the theory of mind and argues that it provides the ‘grist for the mills of our mind-reading adaptations that have evolved to deal with real people’ (16-7). For a response to and critique of Palmer and Zunshine from a phenomenological point of view stressing temporality as the key to understand the significance of narrative, see Grethlein (2015) 257-84.

20 See Palmer (2010) 10.

21 See e.g. Boyd (2009) 176 who argued that ‘narrative arises from the advantages of communication in social species’ and that the ‘combination of benefits, for the teller and the told, […] explain why narrative has become so central to human life’. As a form of play, narrative according to Boyd ‘develops our capacity to see from different perspectives, and this capacity in turn both arises from and aids the evolution of cooperation and the growth of human mental flexibility’.

22 The possible-worlds theory has been developed in the second half of the twentieth century and is closely related to concepts of virtual reality as first and foremost represented by Ryan (2001). For a conceptual overview, see Ryan (20132) on ‘Possible worlds’ in the Living Handbook. The first scholar to introduce the theory to the study of narrative and literature was Pavel (1986), who, in Ryan’s words (20132), argued that ‘the literary text establishes for the reader a new actual world which imposes its own laws on the surrounding system, thereby defining its own horizon of possibilities’ and sees the possible-worlds approach as a way to put an end to the structuralist moratorium on questions of reference.

© C.H.Beck, 2018

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