Livy's Account of Cincinnatus

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Michael Parsley
“After saluting him they bade him to put on his toga and listen to the commands of the Senate. He was greatly astonished and – asking repeatedly “if everything was safe?” - called to his wife Racilia, “to bring his toga from the hut.” When he had put it on, and wiped off some of his sweat and dust, he presented himself; and the envoys at once congratulated him and saluted him as dictator;” An analysis of Livy’s text “History” book III, chapters 26-29, reveals and exalts the greatest virtue of a Roman whether a citizen, general, or politician; that is nobility, the humility, simplicity, and loyalty of such this quality. During the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire men would rise to seats of power and thrones of rule becoming great in time and through history. Although based on the accounts of written ancient text, in the words of Roman and Greek historians, philosophers, and writers; many great men would become victims to the idea and quest of absolute power and supreme prestige and lose sight of duty and nobility. Composed in the chapters mentioned is Livy’s account of Cincinnatus; his rise to dictatorship, his victory in war against the Aequians, and his willingness to step down as dictator after time served. Cincinnatus was a Roman citizen whom devoted his life to civic service for the greater good of the Roman Republic. Cincinnatus was a consul, farmer, general, and dictator, giving up only the pursuit of personal ambition in politics and self gratification of power; never losing sight of his duty to serve. In order to better realize the reason for Livy’s dramatic and honorable insertion of the story of Cincinnatus into his account of Rome’s history; it’s good to first understand who Cincinnatus was and maybe gain more identifiable insight into why he is described as acting in the manner in which Livy writes. L. Quinctius Cincinnatus was described as politically active; having a firm stand opposing plebian rights and legal status. Cincinnatus had a son named Caeso (Livy. 3 11) who was also politically active and like his father opposed senators and others who supported the plebeians, and according to some sources “often drove the tribunes of the plebeians from the forum, preventing them from reaching a formal decision” Eventually around 461 BC Caeso was arrested (Livy. 3 12) on a capitol charge for doing such things and acting out in the way previously mentioned. Caeso would go on to make bail and flee Rome to the Tuscans (Livy. 3 13), and in his absentia would be condemned to death; leaving Cincinnatus to pay a massive fine and forcing Cincinnatus to sell most of his land and wealth then moving his family onto a small farm. Cincinnatus would later be elected suffect consul alongside Appius Claudius, and once more Cincinnatus would be involved again with opposing plebeian reforms. A more notable act of Cincinnatus’ stand for the patrician order is his bold resistance “to the proposal of Terentilius Arsa or Harsa to draw up a code of written laws applicable equally to patricians and plebeians.” Soon after all this in 458BC Cincinnatus would be called upon to act as dictator. Cincinnatus was an influential patrician who found support throughout the senate and with senators.

Cincinnatus through the history told by Livy was not merely an innocent farmer but was a powerful man; a noble patrician and “a hammer of the plebs we might say- and a punctilious man for legal precedent and obligation.” “Livy was unique among Roman historians in that he played no part in politics.” Livy wrote this tall tale of Roman civic service closely during the time of Augustus, not so long after the fall of the Roman Republic and the start of the reigning of Caesars. Livy might have been targeting the very virtues and characters of these men seeking power and authority; those who would try to obtain it and those who would. Livy told this story in an attempt to uncover the Rome’s progressive removal of noble virtue and...
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