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7-10-2015, 13:48

Mary Jaeger

In Book 40 of his history Livy tells how Philip of Macedon climbed Mt. Haemus in order to see the lie of the land as he planned his war against Rome. Philip led his army into Maedica and from there sent his younger son, Demetrius, back to Macedon with Didas, a Maedican commander, as escort. Accompanied by a select party including his elder son Perseus, Philip climbed the mountain over three days, sacrificed to Jupiter and the Sun at the summit, and returned to his base camp in two. Finding it hard to feed his army on the return trip, he raided allied villages for supplies. He also captured the city of Petra.

Listed here in chronological sequence these events form a simple story of journey and return. Yet Livy does not tell it simply. My plot summary has not only rearranged the narrative, it has also left out the motives involved, for Philip, says Livy, marched into Maedica in order to exercise his army, avert Roman suspicion that he was planning war, and further plans for that very war by climbing Mt. Haemus; Philip sent Demetrius back ostensibly to keep one son safe, but Demetrius knew that this really was to exclude him from the council of war; Demetrius obeyed his father because a son must and to lay to rest his father’s suspicion that he was conspiring with Rome (see also 40.20.6). Perseus, the only character with a simple motive (to destroy the innocent Demetrius, his rival for succession, 40.5.3), took care that Philip’s suspicion be increased. Early in Book 40 Perseus accused Demetrius of attempted murder and conspiracy with Rome, and Demetrius defended himself (40.8.7-15.16). Suspicious, yet unwilling to judge hastily, Philip said that he would watch for signs of disloyalty in either son. Suspicion, or the desire to avoid or create it, motivates the characters in this drama and moves events along.

The Mt. Haemus story is an act in what has been called the ‘‘tragedy’’ of Philip, which opens early in Book 40 with his atrocities against his own people, culminates in Demetrius’ murder, Philip’s own death, and Perseus’ ascent to the throne, and leads in the fullness of time (and five more books of Livy) to Rome’s conquest of the Greek east. The very war that Philip promotes by this journey destroys his kingdom (Gouillart 1986: xvi-xvii; Walbank, HCP III.229-235; Walsh 1996: 1-4). Livy’s readers already know that Philip has been cursed and that the angry gods have driven him mad (40.5.1, 6.14; Levene 1993: 101). The ascent of Mt. Haemus intertwines the mad king’s literal attempt to achieve a clear view with his inability to perceive clearly the developing conspiracy, a failure that contributes to the episode’s tragic sensibilities. At the same time, the Livian overlap, of narrator moving through history, readers moving through text, and characters moving through landscape, invites us to compare and contrast their sometimes similar, sometimes very different points of view (Kraus 1994b; Jaeger 1997, 1999; Morello 2003). Philip’s journey was, according to Livy, completely futile, because fog ( nebula) on the mountain obscured the view. This futility makes the narrative all the more interesting, for in such accounts of failure, Livy’s text meditates on ways - and sometime the impossibility - of achieving a clear view of the truth (Jaeger 1997: 167-172; Marincola 1997: 102 n. 198).

Before attempting the ascent, Philip asks the locals about the route to the summit. There is no way up for an army, they say, although a few lightly equipped men can make it by an approach that is ‘‘very hard’’ (difficillimum). The climb is, in fact, very hard. Not only does Philip learn this before the event by thoroughly questioning experienced sources (percunctatus regionis peritos), he also learns it through personal suffering: ‘‘all were afflicted by the hardship (difficultate) of the journey, and above all the king himself, inasmuch as he was more burdened by age’’; he and his men were ‘‘ravaged by many hardships’’ (difficultatibus). Repeating difficultasin the narrator’s own voice, the text endorses the kind of learning that comes from consulting experienced sources and personally confirming the information they give. Such learning produces the power to stand behind a claim, a kind of authority (Galinsky 1996; Marincola 1997: 133-148). But for Philip this education is tautological: the hard journey should teach something beyond that the journey is hard (compare Odysseus and his experience of‘‘the minds of many men,’’ Od. 1.1-3).

Yet, just as Philip cannot profit from experience, so too his ability to communicate experience goes awry, and 40.21-22 links his inability to teach to his failure to transmit his kingdom to a worthy heir (Chaplin 2000: 80-82; on education and cultural transmission see Habinek 1989: 223-255). Philip invokes hardship again when, having decided to send Demetrius back, he tries to appease him with ‘‘intimate conversation’’ (sermone familiari), and asks him to make a crucial decision: ‘‘given the journey’s such great hardship, ought one press on with one’s undertaking, or leave off?’’ (cum tanta difficultas itineris proponatur utrum perseverandum si in incepto an abstinendum). Philip presents this dilemma as an impersonal, theoretical question, which would require a positive answer from any youth of determined character, but Demetrius does not even have the chance to reply, for Philip goes on to outline the consequences of this choice:

If, however, he proceeded to go, he [Philip] could not forget (non posse oblivisci se) Antigonus in a similar situation, when, with his entire family in the same ship with him, he was tossed by a fierce storm. Antigonus was said to have instructed (praecepisse) his children to remember, themselves (ut et ipsi meminissent), and, likewise, pass on to their offspring (et ita posteris proderent), that no one should dare risk himself together with his entire family in a hazardous situation. Remembering, therefore, this lesson (memorem ergo se praecepti eius), he would not endanger both sons at once.

Prominent here are the methods and language of education: the intimate father-son conversation; the question posed as a Herculean choice between two paths (cf. Morello 2003: 301-305); the historical exemplum; the emphasis on memory, on lessons, on the educational process of teaching, remembering, and transmitting knowledge. The pedagogical language draws attention to the degree to which Philip’s teaching is misapplied, for the mad king is trying to operate in a world with whose workings he is no longer synchronized. Although he asks Demetrius to decide from what is, after all, good information about the rigors of the journey, the decision whether or not to persevere is not Demetrius’ to make, for Philip has himself already decided (and this from bad information, the suspicion fostered by Perseus) to go on but to send Demetrius back.

Demetrius obeys his father’s authority, although he perceives his concealed intent. Readers now learn what neither Philip nor Demetrius knows: Didas, the Maedican commander sent by Philip as a protective escort for Demetrius, works for Perseus. And Perseus, interested in his own inquiry, has instructed Didas ‘‘to wend his way’’ ( ut... insinuaret se) into close intimacy with Demetrius, in order to draw out all his secrets, and ‘‘search out his hidden feelings’’ (specularique abditos eius sensus). The metaphors for exploration of interior space suggest that Didas will make his own journey, into Demetrius’ mind, as the two return to Macedon. And this journey, in contrast to Philip’s, is effective, for at the end of his miserable journey, Philip has not kept his soldiers fit and, instead of averting Roman suspicion (the Romans know perfectly well what is up: 40.3.1-2), he has become more suspicious of his innocent son. Progress has come from Demetrius’ return to Macedon, progress not towards Philip’s goal but towards that of Perseus.

The futility of Philip’s expedition stems from his misplaced belief. Philip enters Maedica, says Livy, because ‘‘the desire had seized him of climbing to the peak of Mt. Haemus, for he had trusted the common belief (quia volgatae opinioni credi-derat) that from it the Pontic and Adriatic seas, the river Ister and the Alps could be seen all together; lying before his eyes they would be of great import to him in planning the war against Rome.’’

The narrator knows Philip’s desires, beliefs, and intentions so well, and enters so deeply into his thoughts, that he focalizes the imagined panorama through Philip (on reported thoughts, Oakley, CL I.120-121). And readers carry Philip’s imagined view in their minds through the climb that follows. The narrative draws attention to the stages in the journey (Oakley, CL I.126-127): ‘‘Having crossed first (primum) Maedica, then (deinde) the wastelands lying between Maedica and Mt. Haemus, finally, after seven nights’ camping (septimis demum castris) Philip arrived at the base of the mountain.’’ Philip pauses, and once again the narrative draws attention to the stages of the trip: ‘‘Having spent one day there to choose those whom he would take along, he set forth on the third day.’’ The narrative continues, breaking three days of climbing into five clauses that relate deteriorating conditions to the increase in altitude (40.22.2-4):

1) At first the foothills required only moderate effort (modicus primo labor in imis collibus fuit). 2) The higher they climbed, the more and more did wooded and generally pathless places receive them (quantum in altitudinem egrediebantur, magis magisque silvestria et pleraque invia loca excipiebant). 3) They came then (deinde) into so shaded a way that (tam opacum iter ut), for the thickness of the forest and the branches interlaced among one another, the sky could scarce be seen (perspici caelum vix posset). 4) Indeed as they drew near the crests... (ut vero iugis appropinquabant), all was so covered over by fog (nebula) - an unusal thing in high places - that they were hampered almost as if they were traveling by night. 5) Finally (demum) on the third day, they reached the summit.

While the reference to the ‘‘moderate effort’’ required in the foothills suggests initially that the general demands of the terrain increase as the party climbs, the narrative as it progresses emphasizes that it is vision that is increasingly blocked. When the party finally reaches the top, the narrative too reaches a climax, and readers expect a revelation, that the fog will clear and they, with Philip, will see from sea to sea. This does not happen. The narrative goes on immediately to say that the party descends (40.22.5): ‘‘having descended, they said nothing in disparagement of the common opinion (vulgata opinio), I more believe (magis credo), lest the futility of the journey be a source of ridicule ( ludibrium) than because seas, mountains and rivers so divided could all be seen at the same time from one place.’’ Livy later says that the party sacrificed on the summit to Jupiter and the Sun. But the first impression readers receive is that, having reached the summit, the party simply went back down.

It seems a small detail that the narrator speaks in the first person (credo) at the anticlimax of this futile journey, where Philip can neither see the alleged view, nor see if it is there to be seen. Yet this is the first time in Book 40 that the otherwise omniscient narrator, who has named no sources for the story, has spoken in the first person (a shift that a performance of the passage would amplify - and Book 40 begs for a dramatic reading; on recitationes, see Dalzell; Dupont; Habinek 1998, with bibliography).

This intrusion has some effects on readers. First, it makes them aware of the narrator as one in whom they have placed trust. Palace intrigue, attempted murder, conspiracy - readers have been asked to trust him for an entire story about the disastrous results of misplacing belief. Yet the narrator seems believable. Notice how he has led readers along. The precise accounting for each step of the journey has made his recital credible, as if he himself were along on the trip. He has drawn attention to the increasing difficulty of seeing, to the obstacles that block vision: the woods with branches intertwined, the unusual fog. Every sentence correlates movement upward with increasing difficulty, first of movement, then of sight. When Livy says ‘‘they arrived at the summit,’’ readers are, so to speak, following blindly.

Philip is not the only one who has been misguided. Livy has led readers through the narrative of the climb only to reveal, not the anticipated panorama, but the first-person narrator, and with him a glimpse of the production of the story We have seen the overlap between Philip’s climb and the readers’ experience of suspense; in the greater narrative there is also the overlap of the roles of Philip and narrating historian, both of whom are faced with responding to variant versions of reality, both of whom, moreover, are concerned with transmitting an inheritance (a kingdom, a people’s history) to posterity. The repetition of credere ( crediderat/credo) draws attention to this overlap and invites contemplation of the contrast between Philip’s trust and the narrator’s. The important contrast is not the expected one, between belief and autopsy, because the fog makes autopsy impossible, but between two kinds of belief: Philip’s blind trust in common opinion, and the narrator’s considered opinion as to which of two explanations is preferable.

This story invokes a variety of sources: common opinion, knowledgeable locals, the remembered past, autopsy, and personal experience. The episode also offers a variety of occasions where one finds or expects to find invocations of authority: the locals’ experience, their general agreement, father teaching son via precepts and examples, the narrator choosing an explanation he prefers. Their prominence at multiple levels of the narrative should alert readers to the messages the story conveys at multiple levels about the transmission of knowledge and authority.

Livy’s source for events in the Greek east was Polybius, whose account of Philip and Mt. Haemus is largely lost. Strabo, however, preserves one, possibly two, references to what Polybius says about the view (Str. 7.5.1, tr. Jones):

Now the mountain called Haemus is near the Pontus; it is the largest and highest of all the mountains in that part ofthe world, and cleaves Thrace almost in the centre. Polybius says that both seas are visible from the mountain, but this is untrue, for the distance to the Adrias is great and the things that obscure the view are many.

What Polybius said is not completely clear, because Strabo says a little later that Polybius castigates another writer for believing in such an extensive view - but from an unnamed mountain (Walbank, HCP III.256-257). We cannot know precisely what Livy read in Polybius. But the apparent controversy over the view underscores how independent our narrator is, in that he states his own considered belief: Philip and his men say nothing for fear of ridicule rather than because both seas are visible from one point. Our narrator has led readers through story after story about leaders keeping up appearances (e. g., lulius Proclus after Romulus’ death, 1.16.5-8; Tullus Hostilius, 1.27.8; Tanaquil, 1.51.4-6). In Livy ridicule (ludibrium) is an affront to authority (e. g., 1.7.2; 24.6.4). Were Philip to let the expedition’s futility be known, the resulting ridicule would destroy his increasingly tenuous grasp on his kingship.

The narrator, then, draws attention to his own independent and considered opinion, as opinion, the credibility of which depends on forty books’ worth of accumulated authority, and he does so at the very point where Philip’s authority is most at risk because of his belief in opinion. This juxtaposition invites further contemplation of the contrast between the narrator’s project and Philip’s, his position and Philip’s.

Striving to see the lie of the land, Philip fails to comprehend the conspiracy threatening his kingdom. The fog on the mountain is a correlative of both the king’s incomprehension and the intrigue surrounding him. It also expresses divine anger. (Livy does not say explicitly that the gods caused the mist, he does say that it is unusual; readers know the gods are angry; they may know, too, that gods can cause concealing fog, e. g., II. 14.350-351; Aen. 1.412, 439; 10.82.) Livy paints Philip as trying to achieve a position from which to share the omniscience of the gods (cf. Jupiter in Aen. 1.223-226, with Feeney 1991: 137, 147, 150). In this tragic context it is an act of hubris, in contrast to which the narrator’s denial of complete omniscience seems all the more prudent and respectful: he knows that he cannot share Jupiter’s point of view.

This careful modesty is not surprising, because Livy’s text repeatedly relates respect for the gods to the endurance of empire (on the complexity of the religious subtext, see Levene 1993: 241 and passim). This meditation on authority and transmission forms part of a greater drama with Rome cast as the ‘‘legitimate’’ heir to Philip. By defeating the older, yet, according to Livy, illegitimate Perseus, who represents the old regime, the younger Rome both vindicates and stands in for the lost Demetrius. Making Rome once again a morally legitimate heir to empire, one which holds it respectfully and hands it down intact, is the goal of Livy’s work. His achieving this goal depends on his successfully conveying a morally rejuvenating account of the past (Miles 1995). Thus the Mt. Haemus episode dramatizes two acts of transmission, Philip’s and Livy’s. Philip’s thwarted attempt to achieve omniscience helps ruin his chance to hand his kingdom to a worthy successor. The narrator’s denial that complete omniscience is possible paradoxically makes him a more secure possessor of what he aims to hand down. His ignorance at the summit is both a statement of an authorial independence of judgment and an exemplary gesture of piety, the fog on the mountain his own acknowledgment that the transmission of empire relies on keeping peace with the gods.


The interrelation of space, narrative, and cognition in Latin prose received extensive treatment in Vasaly 1993 (on Cicero). Since then several articles and monographs on Livy have discussed his use of space. Representative are Kraus 1994b; Jaeger 1997, 1999; and Morello 2003.

Walsh’s edition of Book 40 (1996), with introduction, translation, and notes, gives the story’s historical context and discusses its distortions of truth, which Livy probably adopted from Polybius (e. g., Philip’s motive for the climb may have been simply religious). Walbank, HCP III (with extensive bibliography) is invaluable for events leading to the Third Macedonian War, including the intrigue within the house of Macedon and the ‘‘tragic’’ treatment of Philip’s story.

I have learned a great deal from the essays on Livy’s methods and style in Oakley, CL I, as well as from the remarks on the narrator’s persona and relationship with his audience in Kraus 1994a. On religion in Livy, see especially Levene 1993, also Linderski 1993. For extensive treatment of Livy’s use of exempla, see Chaplin 2000.

On recitationes see Dalzell 1955; Dupont 1997; and Habinek 1998 (with bibliography). I have been influenced by the discussions of education and cultural transmission in the late republic in Habinek 1989 and 1998. On the authority claimed by ancient historians, see especially Marincola 1997. Galinsky 1996 has a perceptive discussion (with bibliography) of the related concept of auctoritas that has influenced my views on authority, including narrative authority.

Finally, the account of Philip’s climb is famous, not because so many people read Livy 40, but because one acute reader, the fourteenth-century Italian poet and scholar Petrarch, claimed that it inspired his even more famous ascent, of Mt. Ventoux (ad Familiares 4.1).

I would like very much to thank David Levene and Christina Kraus for their comments on earlier drafts of this chapter. For what error and extravagance remains, I alone am responsible.