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The War with Hannibal
on 3 May 2005
There is no better way of learning about Ancient Rome than to go the historians who lived in it. It will be very surprising to those not accustomed to reading ancient authors how approachable Livy's books are. Livy had a knack for telling a good story, and the ancient practice of re-creating, and in some cases, inventing speeches for key characters to deliver at key moments, is surprisingly effective. In fact, there is much wisdom in such a practice, for through such speeches we get the more subjective, emotional reality behind events. We could use some of that in our contemporary historical writing, which tends be very fact-based and yet missing the very important emotional context. Take the Iraqi war, for example. No doubt the history books will be full of data about its causes, but will future readers really understand the emotional context of the US response to 9-11? Would a speech encapsulating the misdirected rage not be helpful in this regard?
Anyway, this book would make a particularly good introduction to the classics, with the grandness of the story being told: This is the one that contains Hannibal's invasion of Italy, crossing the Alps with an international army of mercenaries and a few African elephants. It's a story full of suspense, with the Romans being shoved against the wall of their own home, suffering disaster after disaster, and then overcoming the odds through sheer grit and composure. On the moral side of things, it is difficult not to feel inspired in one personal's life after reading this until the memory of it all fades away--a good reason for getting the prior or next instalment of Livy.