Livy on History (Tito Livio sobre la historia)

Titus Livius (59 BC – 17 AD)

Quote of the Week:

Hoc illud est praecipue in cognitione rerum salubre ac frugiferum, omnis te exempli documenta in inlustri posita monumento intueri; inde tibi tuaeque rei publicae quod imitere capias, inde foedum inceptu foedum exitu quod vites.

(Titus Livius: Ab Urbe Condita, Praefatio)


Livy on the Study of History

What chiefly makes the study of history wholesome and profitable is this, that you behold the lessons of every kind of experience set forth as on a conspicuous monument; from these you may choose for yourself and for your own state what to imitate, from these mark for avoidance what is shameful in the conception and shameful in the result.

(Livy: Preface to the History of Rome)


Tito Livio sobre el conocimiento de la historia

Lo principal y más saludable en el conocimiento de la historia es poner ante la vista, en luminoso momento, enseñanzas de todo género, que parecen decirnos: ‘esto debes evitar porque es vergonzoso pensarlo, y mucho más vergonzoso el hacerlo’.

(Tito Livio: Prólogo de Ab urbe condita)

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4 thoughts on “Livy on History (Tito Livio sobre la historia)

  1. Livy’s analogy of the student of history selecting what he desires from the facts of history embodied in a “conspicuous monument” is perhaps somewhat optimistic. The “facts” of history, such as are readily available to academic and student alike, can be sadly deficient. I am aware of instances where conclusions to be drawn from the readily-available facts can be very different from the conclusion one would arrive at when more information was made available. The mass of available data is so enormous that some selection must be made by the most unbiassed scholar – and how many can honestly claim to be unbiassed? Again, there are popular assumptions which only the bravest historian would challenge. There seems to be an underlying concept that history must be about “goodies”and “baddies” – society seems to classify people (and events) in this way. ” Tout comprendre – c’est tout pardonner” – If you understand all the facts, you can forgive them. Des.

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    1. I think it’s human nature to see things in terms of good and bad, right and wrong… and of course, we all see ourselves as good and in the right. 🙂 That’s why I find it so interesting to read about the same events/people in history from more than one point of view. It was very enlightening for example to read how the Spanish think about Trafalgar or the Invincible Armada!

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  2. George

    Perhaps Livy should be required reading for politicians. Might stop them making the same mistakes over and over. Though I suppose the trouble with history is that some much lies in its interpretation. As Simon Sharma says, history often tells us more about the time when it was written than the time it was written about. Ample scope then for some to pick and choose interpretations in order to justify imitating “what is shameful in the conception and shameful in the result”. Wonderful sentiment, perfectly expressed, all the same.

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    1. I think all people should study rhetorics in addition to history; it teaches you how to spot a politician’s lie! An extremely useful skill in any democracy.

      When I was at university – this was during communism – all first years had to study rhetorics, regardless of what course you were on. It was one of the thirteen (IIRC) ‘general studies’ subjects that you had to complete to graduate. My particular rhetorics teacher spent the entire course (half a year), in dissecting Mark Anthony’s speech from Julius Caesar. You know the one that begins, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…” He showed us how and why it worked and I’ve never been taken in by a politician since. (Not to mention that it was the finest subversion of communism I’ve ever witnessed! 🙂 )

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