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14.4.Welch

In his Facta et dicta memorabilia, Valerius Maximus relies heavily on Livy and Cicero for material and wording but rarely mentions them as sources. Valerius calls such unflagged referentiality “tradition,” both in defining the source material he uses (1.8.7, tradita repetuntur) and in describing what he does with it (Praef., traditurum se sperauerit). I argue that in this generically odd text – not quite history, not quite rhetorical handbook – “tradition” operates as “anti-intertextuality” in that it minimizes the authorial presence and the integrity of the source text and emphasizes instead universal authorship and univocality.

I examine two instances in which Valerius draws from recognizable textual sources (Livy, Cicero) but obscures their textuality in favor of consensus.At 8.7.ext.15 on industry, Themistocles is praised for memorizing fellow citizens’ names – a detail mentioned in similar words by Cicero at Sen. 21 (Valerius: Themistocles…cura destrictus omnium tamen civium suorum nomina memoria comprehendit; Cicero: Themistocles omnium civium perceperat nomina). Cicero’s Cato connects Themistocles’ skill to his political savvy and uses it to valorize own practices of memory. Valerius instead dwells on Themistocles’ memory despite political adversity, emphasizing the transcendence (rather than utility) of the moral. Valerius underscores the industry with the adversative tamen, the more thorough comprehendit, and the removal of effort’s utility until a different example. Valerius’ readers recall Cicero’s Themistocles, but not as Cicero’s Themistocles, for Cicero’s presence in Valerius’ text would muddy Valerius’ purpose.

At 9.6.1, Valerius copies almost word for word Livy’s narrative about Tarpeia (1.11), Rome’s legendary traitoress. Valerius omits Livy’s name and creates the illusion of consensus in a narrative otherwise troubled by variants in Livy’s account. Livy mentions a completely different version of events (sunt qui dicunt)and casts as a common tale (additur fabula volgo) the means and manner of her death. Valerius ignores the former and treats the latter as fact. Finally, where Livy hypothesizes about Tatius’ motive for killing Tarpeia, Valerius includes only one possible motive (the transcendent guilt of a traitor) and neglects pragmatics. Ironically, Valerius here makes monolithic a story that Livy, by referring to anonymous and collectiveauthors (volgo, sunt qui), had sought to render as complex and multi-vocal.

As Bloomer says, Valerius presents his readers with “precedents not arguments” (Chapel Hill 1992: 257). I take this to mean that, by keeping stories but not texts, Valerius understands tradition to be the opposite of intertextuality: not a dialogue between texts (or their authors) but a chorus of unanimity. I conclude by considering Valerius traditurum. What does he hand down to his readers and to us? The thirst for consensus and the erasure of variants in his examples takes the moral lesson out of the hands or mouths of individuals and places them in the mouths of the collective ideas of past Romans. Yet, despite his claim to have condensed the vast output of famous authors for the convenience of the busy reader (Praef.), his readers would surely recognize Livy and Cicero behind Valerius’ words. The resulting tension between the integrity of the individual voice (the author: Livy, Cicero) and the comfort of the collective voice (traditio) is a hallmark of rhetorical education, and here it is flipped on its head: by putting Livy and Cicero in the shadows, Valerius traditurum gets, for his moment, to be an auctor.

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