Spectacle and Society in Livy’s History

ISBN: 0520210271
ISBN 13: 9780520210271
By: Andrew Feldherr

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About this book

Public spectacle—from the morning rituals of the Roman noble to triumphs and the shows of the Arena—formed a crucial component of the language of power in ancient Rome. The historian Livy (c. 60 B.C.E.-17 C.E.), who provides our fullest description of Rome's early history, presents his account of the growth of the Roman state itself as something to be seen—a visual monument and public spectacle. Through analysis of several episodes in Livy's History, Andrew Feldherr demonstrates the ways in which Livy uses specific visual imagery to make the reader not only an observer of certain key events in Roman history but also a participant in those events. This innovative study incorporates recent literary and cultural theory with detailed historical analysis to put an ancient text into dialogue with contemporary discussions of visual culture.In Spectacle and Society in Livy's History, Feldherr shows how Livy uses the literary representation of spectacles from the Roman past to construct a new sense of civic identity among his readers. He offers a new way of understanding how Livy's technique addressed the political and cultural needs of Roman citizens in Livy's day. In addition to renewing our understanding of Livy through modern scholarship, Feldherr provides a new assessment of the historian's aims and methods by asking what it means for the historian to make readers spectators of history.

Reader's Thoughts


This is a great introduction to Livy as well as the cultural milieu that produces Livy. This is incredibly well researched and clearly written, making it a great text to start from when delving into Livy. Feldherr sums up the basic thesis of his book best: "By combining close readings of particular episodes with a consideration of the social functions of spectacle in Roman culture, this study aims to show how the narrative strategies that Livy adopts to engage the gaze of his audience allow his text to reproduce the political effects of the events described and thus act upon the society of his own time" (3). In other words, Livy creates his own civic spectacle by recounting the civic spectacles of the past.

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