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How Dependable was Livy?

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TeralynPilgrim
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How Dependable was Livy?

Post by TeralynPilgrim » Fri July 8th, 2011, 9:10 pm

Livy was a famous historian from Ancient Rome who wrote many stories of the Vestal Virgins, so he's the primary source for my book.

He wrote one story that's so remarkable, it's hard to believe it really happened. He's the only source of this event, which happened 300 years before Livy's birth. I'm wondering how much of his history of Rome might be legend. Do historians consider everything he wrote to be fact?
A Writer's Journey http://teralynpilgrim.blogspot.com/
Querying Sacred Fire,a novel of the Vestal Virgins of Ancient Rome.

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fljustice
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Post by fljustice » Sat July 9th, 2011, 5:34 pm

I can't comment on Livy personally, but you always have to evaluate the ancient historians; did they have an axe to grind, who were they flattering, who were they writing for? Just because they wrote "histories" doesn't mean they had the strict standards of scholarship or reported "truth." That's why modern historians have to corroborate these reports with other evidence.

Having said that, you're writing fiction. If the story fits your plot, furthers your story, develops your characters and is plausible in that context; use it!
Faith L. Justice, Author Website
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TeralynPilgrim
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Post by TeralynPilgrim » Sat July 9th, 2011, 10:22 pm

Hi Faith! I dunno if you remember me; Kris introduced us at the HNS conference. I'm glad you're on this forum!

I plan on using the story, of course, but people are going to ask me, "Did this really happen?" I'd like to have an intelligence response.

I guess questioning his reliability wasn't the right way to go about this... I believe he reliably told a 3-century old story that he heard growing up, but was the story true or legend? Hmm....
A Writer's Journey http://teralynpilgrim.blogspot.com/
Querying Sacred Fire,a novel of the Vestal Virgins of Ancient Rome.

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fljustice
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Post by fljustice » Sun July 10th, 2011, 6:04 pm

Hi Teralyn! Yeah, I recognized you from your signature blog link. Great to have you here. Haven't talked to Kris since I got back, but will soon.

As to what to tell people who ask about the "truth," I think you nailed it. Livy tells the 300-year-old tale, but we don't know for sure. In your opinion, based on recent scholarship, is it likely? That's what "Author Notes" are good for. :D

Best of luck with your book!
Faith L. Justice, Author Website
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parthianbow
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Post by parthianbow » Mon July 11th, 2011, 6:21 am

Hi Teralyn, and welcome to HFO.

I'd like to second what Faith has said. If you heard a story/legend/"fact" today from the 1700s, and wrote it down again now, what basis in fact might it have?

It might have no basis in fact whatsoever, or it might have lots, but let's say that you (as a putative modern historian) choose not to write down, because you assume that everyone who's reading your textbook will know those things anyway.

2000 years from now, how will anyone know the difference in your text, unless there's other evidence to back it up? It's very frustrating...
Ben Kane
Bestselling author of Roman military fiction.
Spartacus - UK release 19 Jan. 2012. US release June 2012.

http://www.benkane.net
Twitter: @benkaneauthor

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