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Politicizing Citation: Livy’s Cossus Digression and Augustan Literary Culture

Ayelet Haimson Lushkov

University of Texas at Austin

This paper explores some aspects of the politics of citation in Livy’s Cossus Digression (4.20.5-11) against the background of Augustan literary practice more broadly. Although Livy explicitly cites only one source, the historian Licinius Macer, the digression constructs a complex interplay among multiple sources: Macer, the tradition from which he diverges, and most important, the emperor Augustus himself. Despite being one of the most famous passages in Livy, previous work on the Digression (e.g. Sailor 2006, Miles 2005, Flower 2000, Burton 2000, Luce 1965), largely neglects the distinctive rhetoric of source-citation, whether as a matter of literary history or as a way of situating Livy within his own cultural milieu. This paper begins to correct this scholarly neglect, focusing on the single instance of the Cossus Digression as an exemplum of a broader phenomenon in the AUC.

The Cossus Digression revolves around a correction to the historical record, famously brought about by Octavian’s discovery of a linen corselet in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius. This corselet, which specified that Cossus dedicated the spolia opima as consul rather than tribune, solved a long-standing inconsistency, but also meant that Livy was now required to adjudicate the authority of the princeps against that of the received historical tradition. In other words, Livy is required to discriminate between sources as a direct political act: the emperor becomes a source for Livy’s history, just as Livy’s sources acquire the power to resist the authority of the emperor. The main tension in the digression, therefore, resides in Livy’s counterpoise between the emperor and the archive (Miles 2005: cf. Rich 2011), and in his pointed, topical and tendentious construction of that archive. This construction involves the selection of a specific source, that is Licinius Macer (FRHist 1.320-1, cf. Frier 1975); the focus on a distinctive medium, that is the linen books, which parallel Cossus’ linen corselet; and the consequent curation of Macer’s presence in the AUC as a historian of magistracies dependent on the linen books, a view of Macer which is at best selective, as the fragments of Macer external to Livy demonstrate.

This tension, I argue, maps onto a programmatic tension between archival research and autopsy, a problem that recurs in Livy whenever he confront contemporary evidence from powerful figures as source material (e.g., the Scipionic Trials (38. 56. 8 alia tota serenda fabula est Gracchi orationi conueniens) or Hannibal’s Lacinian inscription (Livy 28.46.16, cf. P. 3.33.14-18, Livy 21.38.1-5). I therefore conclude the paper by situating these dynamics against the background of Augustan literary culture on the one hand, and of historiography’s generic self-awareness on the other. Freudenburg 2014 has recently shown that the Augustan poets take on Augustus as both interlocutor and imitative model: poet and emperor both use the recusatio to perform and construct important dimension of their respective identities. The Cossus Digression, too, can be seen along similar lines, especially as the sole extant instance in the AUC where we can imagine (together with Syme 1959, Luce 1965, contra Badian 1963) Livy interacting directly with the emperor: the marshalling of sources as rhetorical strategy allows both emperor and historian to assert themselves on the historical record, establishing a shared project of renovation (Kraus 1994). In so doing, however, Livy’s source-citation reveals him as offering a historiographical articulation of what Hinds 1998 already recognized as constitutive to the literary histories created by allusion and intertext (which is one of the main functions of any citation): that it was tendentious and manufactured to suit by the alluding author.

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Augustus and After

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