23. Fabula and History in Livy's Narrative of the Capture of Veii
Christina Kraus [+]
Livy’s fifth book narrates the years from 400 to 386 BC, from the third year of the 10-year siege of the Etruscan city, Veii, to the sack of Rome by the Gauls and their subsequent defeat. One theme that structures the book is the reliability and correct reading of signs, with its concomitant implications of who holds, or usurps, authority. This chapter concentrates on this broad theme, reading (primarily) chapters 15–22. The author focuses on the pattern of alternative possibilities raised by prodigies and forecasts, which invite historiographical choices operating explicitly both on the level of story (what’s being narrated) and discourse (how it is narrated). In the incident of the praeda Veientana (Veian booty), Livy investigates how political motives give rise to varying interpretations of signs. In the stories of the Alban Lake and the capture of Veii, he concentrates more overtly on the status of auctores (authors/authorities). To a certain extent, the first half of Book 5 can be said to be ‘about’ the question of political and religious authority, reaching necessarily beyond the story, to a meta-narrative level, when one is dealing with—as here—plural versions of a story. The author concludes by suggesting that one writes history only when there is a question of right and wrong versions, where there is more than one possible narrative of events. If there is no need to choose and evaluate, no contestation of the record, no chance for the historical memory to take a wrong turn, as it were—then historians are hardly needed.