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Death by a Thousand Sources: Biographical Fragmentation and Authorial Inventio in Livy’s AUC

Ayelet Haimson Lushkov

The death of great characters in Livy’s AUC is typically accompanied by a narrative fragmentation into a multiplicity of sources. Perhaps the most spectacular of these instances is the confusion surrounding the death of Scipio Africanus in 38.53.8, but the phenomenon recurs with some regularity from Romulus onwards. In this paper, I build on the work of e.g., Pelling 1997, Fowler 1997, Pomeroy 1998 and 1991 to argue that heroic deaths in Livy open a posthumous space in which source citations work both constructively and destructively to end the biographical narrative of the deceased, and to reassert authorial control over the mass of sources. The moment of death, therefore, functions as a meta-literary device, in which the narrative both mimics the death by shattering into conflicting, fragmentary sources, and affirms the authority of Livy himself by exposing the scholarly underpinnings of his work.
The paper begins by laying out my two main examples – the death of Ti. Sempronius Gracchus in 212 B.C. (Livy 25.16.1-17.7) and of M. Marcellus in 209 B.C. (Livy 27.27.1-14) - both of which are taken from Livy’s third decade and are related by a structural similarity: both consuls die in an ambush, attention is paid to the fate of their physical remains, and the narrative resolves into a mass of conflicting sources, which Livy highlights as alternatives to the supposedly definitive preceding narrative. These similarities as well as the episodes’ position in the text - on either side of the pivotal book 26 - suggest that the two death scenes ought to be read as a pair which share a similar concern: how the pressures of war impact the fabric of the narrative.
Focusing in particular on the rhetorical impact of the source citations, I argue that the elaborate reportage of alternative versions creates a significant narrative pause at the moment of the consular death. As Pelling 1997 has shown for Plutarch’s Lives, and as can be seen clearly at the end of Plutarch’s own Life of Marcellus (30), the death of the subject is not itself sufficient to halt the story of his life, but it does open a posthumous space and invite alternative strategies of closure. In Livy, I argue, the source citations produce much the same effect: they create a posthumous space for reflection on the deceased and they invite – indeed are themselves - alternative methods of closure. Above all, however, they assert Livy’s own authorial presence as a dominant force in the creation of the narrative. In particular, by showing both the resources available to Livy as author, and in revealing the number of alternative scenarios Livy might have narrated, the citations also emphasize Livy’s capacities for constructing and manipulating the narrative, that is, his capacity for rhetorical inventio at a crucial biographical point.
I conclude by suggesting that Livy’s narrative presentation here passes explicit commentary on methods of biographical narrating. The case of Marcellus is especially pointed, since Livy, along with his source Coelius Antipater, dismisses the account given in Marcellus’ eulogy, the only one of the available sources attributed to an eye-witness. Plutarch in turn (Marc. 30.4) reports Livy as a source for Hannibal’s giving the body funeral honors, in contrast with Nepos or Valerius Maximus, who report the opposite. The eulogy, which underlies biographical writing in Rome, is here displaced by the elaborated and expansive historiographical narrative, which is in turn embedded within a broader narrative still - the AUC itself - whose unique topic is the life of the Roman state. The heroic death thus engages the biographical components of historiography, and
exposes as well the tremendous scope afforded the author in shaping the narrative to suit his ends, over and above the demands of his sources.

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Between Fact and Fiction in Ancient Biographical Writing

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