- Magistracy and the Historiography of the Roman Republic: Politics in Prose by Ayelet Haimson Lushkov
Lushkov’s subject, the importance of magistracy for the thematization of historical memory in historiographic texts, is ideally chosen to consolidate and advance three important elements of “the literary turn” in Livian scholarship over the last decades. The first is a general shift in focus from what historiography represents to what it does: Livy’s innovative conceptualization of the effects of his works on “you and your republic” more than anything else makes him part of an Augustan literary revolution founded on exploring the agency of texts. Second, Lushkov’s book sharpens our understanding of the “content of the form” of annalistic historiography: it is not just that the recurrence of omens and elections or the division into domestic and military spheres derive from, and inculcate, the distinctive practices of the Republic; the magistrates who preside over this republic themselves owe their authority to constructing persuasive representations of the past. Lushkov’s greatest contribution is to illuminate and explore the special place of magistrates in the recycling of historiography into history.
Finally, Lushkov’s treatment of magistracy involves the larger question of exemplarity. Indeed, it highlights, and perhaps even reconciles, the striking differences in perspective between two influential recent models for understanding exemplarity in Livy and beyond, those of Matthew Roller and Jane Chaplin. For Roller, exemplarity is grounded in historical social practice—the affirmation of a behavior as effective and therefore praiseworthy ultimately “licenses” its reproduction in a variety of media, and the work of exemplarity in historiographic texts can be understood within this larger frame. Chaplin, by contrast, begins with the manifestations of exempla within one such text, and emphasizes the surprising flexibility of the practice as different speakers in Livy deploy the same exempla to “exemplify” very divergent courses of action. In Roller’s scheme, a magistrate’s articulation of public approval (or disapproval) plays an essential role in establishing what deeds count as exemplary, while in Chaplin’s the representation of magistrates’ appropriation of these exempla within Livy’s work [End Page 268] models the openness of their, and perhaps its, reception. Hence the programmatically marked position of magistrates between the historical reality they figure and its effect as literary representation.
After an introduction setting out the significance of her topic, Lushkov presents four aspects of Livy’s presentation of magistrates. The first chapter treats the paradigmatic exemplum that begins the Republic itself, the consul Brutus’ execution of his sons. Lushkov stresses that Brutus’ magistracy is essential to the force of the exemplum (i.e., this is not merely about parenting strategies) and shows how the tensions between public duty and affective bonds “reflect[s] upon and invite[s] the reader to consider the state of the republic itself” (27). The second chapter examines how the failures and successes of magistrates to fulfill the basic functions of their office occupy a central place in Livy’s treatment of the Roman disaster at the Caudine Forks, and of the Republic’s subsequent recovery. The final two chapters form a pair: together they move from the significance of magistracy in key moments of the foundation and recovery of the Republic, from magistrates as exempla, to individuals’ deployment of exempla to establish magisterial authority during elections. The first considers moments when external crises compelled speakers to ask what kind of consul circumstances demanded, and so to mobilize exempla in defending a particular conception of magistracy itself. The last chapter moves beyond these self-referential situations to demonstrate more broadly that the capacity to make history as a magistrate is won by the ability to represent it as a candidate.
The commonplace that “this summary cannot do justice to the author’s analyses” is particularly apposite here. In a relatively short book, Lushkov draws imaginatively on a remarkable range of theoretical and quite specific approaches to Latin literature and Roman culture, from Simon Goldhill on the deconstructive power of exempla to...