Ok I admit that everything I know about Livia I learned from I Claudius. The entire point of this book seemed to be that everything in I Claudius was WRONG. As a historian I can understand how frustrating it must be to be a professor and have to explain to your students again and again that you shouldn't get your history from television (even BBC dramas from back in the day). But unfortunatley the author seemed to be so intenet on dis-proving popular conceptions of Livia he lacked any other thesis or further information.
It's always interesting to go and read books, particularly academic press books, on other subjects other than my speciality to see how historians in other fields are writing, what techniques they use etc. Unfortuantely the author of this book didn't seem to have done any of that. He seemed not to have read any books on women's history and different interpretations of history but seemed soley intent on writing "what really happened" looking for an absoulte truth where none was obtainable. He was very critical of the Roman historical sources, he would refer to them as "literary" sources not historical as they didn't fit his idea of what "proper history" was. He would dismiss huge sections of the sources saying how he couldn't believe something like that could be true while taking their word on other topics. Later in the appendix he goes through the different writer and gives his impressions of them and what they wrote and his opinion on what was fact and what wasn't. But for me he totally missed the bigger picture of WHY they were writing what they wrote. The most critical historian of Livia was also the one who said how the senate heaped rewards and offerings on her and made her a goddess. A very interesting dichotomy. Whose opinions were the writer's reflecting? If it didn't happen why did people say it did? What were the similarities? Did they write based on different representations of her or were they purely the writers own invention? It would have told us so much more to learn why these different discussions were taking place rather than simply dismissing them out of hand as "not actually true".
The book was split into two parts, the first a dry account of Livia's life, but mostly that of her relatives and what they did while Livia was alive. The secound half tries and put in more of a social context but I felt like I only got glimpses into what she as like and what people thought of her. I know she likes a specific type of wine and drank it every day, she liked herbal medicines, she was a reputed to be a match for Augustus, she had a reputation for being chaste (despite being married twice). The Senate loved her (despite all the rumours that spread about her). She was worshipped as a goddess for at least two centuries after her death.
The best thing about this book was in the appendix it gave a list of all the sources that mention her, and a brief overview of what they said about her.
I was quite disappointed in this book. I know that two biographies of Livia came out close to each other. I thought the academic press would be much better than the popular history but I was quite disappointed. I did learn things, and particularly in the appendix I learned the most but I feel like this work needs to be re-done in the hands of a good expert in woman's history. That way you'd be able to see where Livia fit into the bigger scheme of things. How represenatitve she was and all the ways that she wasn't and all the things that made her special and interesting. The author actually didn't seem to like her much. He mentioned how she'd stayed married to August for over 40 years without a child, when he was busy passing reforms saying women should give birth or divorce, saying how they stayed together and how people wrote very highly of her. But he seemed totally baffled as to why this was. In many ways it was a worse treatment than the Roman historians who accused her of many crimes. At least they saw her as capable and powerful and interesting. I'm glad I got this book from the library though I think I will copy out some of the references before I hand it back....Continua