Publius Valerius vs. the Inconstant Mob; Livy, 2.7

Publius Valerius Publicola defends himself:

“‘As the mind of the rabble is readily changed, there arose against the surviving consul not only envy, but also suspicion mixed with savage imputation. Rumor had it that he was set upon becoming king, because he had not found a colleague to replace Brutus, and was even building a house at the top of the Velian Hill, in which high and well-defended place a citadel would be rather difficult of conquest. These rumors and beliefs circulating among the people distressed the mind of the consul, and so, he called an assembly, and went to his place with his fasces turned down. This was a pleasing spectacle to the crowd, to see that the ensigns of power were submitted to them, and to see it confessed that the majesty and power of the people were greater than those of the consul. The people were entreated to listen, and the consul then began to praise the fortune of his late colleague because he died in a recently liberated republic, in the height of public esteem, fighting for his country, and with his glory not yet converted to the envy of his countrymen. Publius Valerius lamented that he himself had survived his own glory and that it had turned to his discredit; that he had gone from being the liberator of his country to an enemy no better than the Aqulii or Vitellii. He said, “Has no virtue ever been so displayed to you that it could later be violated by suspicion? Should I fear that I, that most implacable enemy of monarchy, should now be subject to the charge of aspiring to kingship? If I lived in the citadel and the Capitoline itself, could I believe that I was feared by my countrymen? Does my reputation among you hang by such a thin thread? Is my trust among you so lightly founded that where I am is a matter of greater importance than who I am? Quirites, the house of Publius Valerius will not stand in the way of your liberty: the Velian will remain preserved for you. I will bring it down not just to the plain, but I will even build it at the very bottom of the hill, so that you may live at me – looked down upon – from above. Let those live on the Velian Hill who can be more readily trusted with liberty.’ Immediately all of the material was brought down to the bottom of the Velian Hill, and the house was built at the Hill’s lowest point, where the house of Vica Pota now stands.”

Consuli deinde qui superfuerat, ut sunt mutabiles volgi animi, ex favore non invidia modo sed suspicio etiam cum atroci crimine orta. Regnum eum adfectare fama ferebat, quia nec collegam subrogaverat in locum Bruti et aedificabat in summa Velia: ibi alto atque munito loco arcem inexpugnabilem fieri. Haec dicta volgo creditaque cum indignitate angerent consulis animum, vocato ad concilium populo submissis fascibus in contionem escendit. Gratum multitudini spectaculum fuit, submissa sibi esse imperii insignia confessionemque factam populi quam consulis maiestatem vimque maiorem esse. Ibi audire iussis consul laudare fortunam collegae, quod liberata patria, in summo honore, pro re publica dimicans, matura gloria necdum se vertente in invidiam, mortem occubuisset: se superstitem gloriae suae ad crimen atque invidiam superesse; ex liberatore patriae ad Aquilios se Vitelliosque recidisse. “Nunquamne ergo” inquit, “ulla adeo vobis spectata virtus erit, ut suspicione violari nequeat? Ego me, illum acerrimum regum hostem, ipsum cupiditatis regni crimen subiturum timerem? Ego si in ipsa arce Capitolioque habitarem, metui me crederem posse a civibus meis? Tam levi momento mea apud vos fama pendet? Adeone est fundata leviter fides ut ubi sim quam qui sim magis referat? Non obstabunt Publi Valeri aedes libertati vestrae, Quirites; tuta erit vobis Velia; deferam non in planum modo aedes sed colli etiam subiciam, ut vos supra suspectum me civem habitetis; in Velia aedificent quibus melius quam P. Valerio creditur libertas.” Delata confestim materia omnis infra Veliam et, ubi nunc Vicae Potae est, domus in infimo clivo aedificata.

What Should One Learn from Early Histories? (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, Praefatio 9)

In previous weeks we have posted the beginning to Livy’s impressive Ab Urbe Condita

“But these tales and those like them—whether to ponder them or how to weigh them—I don’t emphasize greatly. Let anyone who reads these instead pay attention to what life was like, what the customs were, through which men and by which skills the empire was born and increased. And, when discipline bit by bit deteriorated, how at first customs degraded with desire, then they collapsed more and more, then they began to fall headlong until we came to our own time when we can endure neither our sins nor their remedies.”

ad haec tempora quibus nec vitia nostra nec remedia pati possumus. Sed haec et his similia utcumque animaduersa aut existimata erunt haud in magno equidem ponam discrimine: ad illa mihi pro se quisque acriter intendat animum, quae vita, qui mores fuerint, per quos viros quibusque artibus domi militiaeque et partum et auctum imperium sit; labente deinde paulatim disciplina velut desidentes primo mores sequatur animo, deinde ut magis magisque lapsi sint, tum ire coeperint praecipites, donec ad haec tempora quibus nec vitia nostra nec remedia pati possumus perventum est.

If Any People Can Claim to Be Descended from Gods…(Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, Praefatio 7-9)

“What conditions existed before the founding of the city or when it was being built are passed down as the fanciful tales of poets rather than the tested truths of history; and it is not my plan to confirm or refute them. It is the license of the ancient past to make the city more prominent by mixing human origins with the divine. And if it is permitted for any people to claim their own origins as sacred and to make their founders gods, then the glory of the Roman people in war is so great that, when they claim that most powerful Mars is the father of their own founder, surely the races of man can endure it as easily as they do Roman empire.”

Quae ante conditam condendamve urbem poeticis magis decora fabulis quam incorruptis rerum gestarum monumentis traduntur, ea nec adfirmare nec refellere in animo est. Datur haec venia antiquitati ut miscendo humana divinis primordia urbium augustiora faciat; et si cui populo licere oportet consecrare origines suas et ad deos referre auctores, ea belli gloria est populo Romano ut cum suum conditorisque sui parentem Martem potissimum ferat, tam et hoc gentes humanae patiantur aequo animo quam imperium patiuntur

The Usefulness of History: Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, Praefatio 10-12

“This is what is especially constructive and profitable in the contemplation of history: that you behold evidence of every kind of situation set out as a clear monument to the past. From these examples, you can choose some for you and for your state to imitate; from these you can identify what you should avoid as shameful in design or shameful in outcome. For what remains, either the love of the work I have assumed seduces me or it is true that no state was ever greater; no state was ever more righteous or abundant in good examples; there was no state where luxury and greed arrived on the scene so late; nor any state where respect for restraint and humble property lasted so long. The less there was to have, the less desire there was to have it. Recent riches have induced greed; endless pleasures have increased our need to pursue indulgence and desire approaching all-encompassing destruction.”

Hoc illud est praecipue in cognitione rerum salubre ac frugiferum, omnis te exempli documenta in inlustri posita monmento intueri; inde tibi tuaeque rei publicae quod imitere capias, inde foedum inceptu foedum exitu quod vites. Ceterum aut me amor negotii suscepti fallit, aut nulla unquam res publica nec maior nec sanctior nec bonis exemplis ditior fuit, nec in quam [civitatem] tam serae avaritia luxuriaque immigraverint, nec ubi tantus ac tam diu paupertati ac parsimoniae honos fuerit. Adeo quanto rerum minus, tanto minus cupiditatis erat: nuper divitiae avaritiam et abundantes voluptates desiderium per luxum atque libidinem pereundi perdendique omnia invexere.

The Consolation of Ancient History (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, Praefatio 1)

“If I am going to complete something worth its effort as I record the tale of the Roman people from the beginning I do not know clearly; if I knew, I would not dare to say—since I have observed that this subject is of some antiquity and well-worn thanks to every new generation of authors who believe that they can establish something more certain in the events themselves or that they can improve upon rough antiquity by their skill in writing. However this turns out, it will be sufficient for me to have used my strength to make a record of the deeds of the planet’s foremost people. If my repute fades into obscurity among such a crowd of writers, I will be consoled by the nobility and greatness of those whose names precede me.

The subject, furthermore, is a tremendous undertaking, one that must be traced back over seven hundred years and which, though based in rather modest beginnings, has increased to such a size that it strains under its own weight. I also doubt that, for most readers, the first periods and the times near them will offer much in the way of pleasure; instead readers will rush to recent affairs during which a people who have long been powerful are bringing themselves to ruin. In contrast, I seek out a somewhat different reward for my labor: whenever I can turn my mind to these ancient affairs, I distract it from all the troubles which our age has been witnessing for years for as long as I contemplate the bygone days. Even if I cannot hide from the truth, since the mind of the historian mulls over every concern, it nevertheless brings some solace.”


Facturusne operae pretium sim si a primordio urbis res populi Romani perscripserim nec satis scio nec, si sciam, dicere ausim, quippe qui cum veterem tum volgatam esse rem videam, dum novi semper scriptores aut in rebus certius aliquid allaturos se aut scribendi arte rudem vetustatem superaturos credunt. Utcumque erit, iuvabit tamen rerum gestarum memoriae principis terrarum populi pro virili parte et ipsum consuluisse; et si in tanta scriptorum turba mea fama in obscuro sit, nobilitate ac magnitudine eorum me qui nomini officient meo consoler. Res est praeterea et immensi operis, ut quae supra septingentesimum annum repetatur et quae ab exiguis profecta initiis eo creverit ut iam magnitudine laboret sua; et legentium plerisque haud dubito quin primae origines proximaque originibus minus praebitura voluptatis sint, festinantibus ad haec nova quibus iam pridem praevalentis populi vires se ipsae conficiunt: ego contra hoc quoque laboris praemium petam, ut me a conspectu malorum quae nostra tot per annos vidit aetas, tantisper certe dum prisca [tota] illa mente repeto, avertam, omnis expers curae quae scribentis animum, etsi non flectere a uero, sollicitum tamen efficere posset.