Was there any basis for an optimistic view of Rome in Livy and Ovid?

Livy and Ovid were Roman writers who wrote in the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD. Livy was a historian and Ovid was a full-time poet. Livy was pro-republic and wrote about the time when Octavian became Augustus Caesar. He was not, however, anti-Augustan in his writings because that could get him in serious trouble. Ovid (full name Publius Ovidus Naso), was banished to the Black Sea area for his writings by the emperor Augustus for some of his writings. Ovid did, however, try to get back by putting good things about Augustus in his writings. Unfortunately for him, he never did return to Rome and died in banishment.

In Livy’s History of Rome, book 1, Livy writes about many of the old tales regarding Rome. He said that he did not know if they were really true, but he would present them anyway without trying to prove or disprove them. Livy believed that wealth lead to degeneration over time, and that early Rome was greater than the present Rome because it did not have as much wealth. He seems to have had a certain degree of pessimism regarding wealth and saw that Rome was not headed in the right direction according to his views.

But, it seems like there is at least some basis for optimism in his writings regarding Rome under certain conditions. You can infer from Livy that if Rome does not attain wealth, then there is hope that Rome will stop degenerating and return to its former standards of morality. One of his tales said that Rome was the heir to a covenant between King Evander, the son of a god, and Hercules, a future god. If Livy thought this had any significance, then perhaps he thought that the gods may help Rome move in the right direction as well.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which he wrote in the same year he was banished, Ovid tells many stories about things that change form in classical mythology. Ovid tells the widely believed tale of the four races of men. The first race, according to Ovid, was a race of gold. They had good lives and they did not have work, but just gathered what the ground produced for them. Next came the race of silver, then bronze, and finally iron. We are in the race of iron, and we have to work hard and the world is full of evil. Hesiod presents a similar tale in his poem Works and Days. This account shows deterioration over time, with man getting worse and worse with each succeeding age. There isn’t a whole lot of optimism here, obviously.

But, in his story of Deucalion and Pyrra, the gods didn’t completely give up on mankind, and through them mankind was populated after a worldwide flood sent by Jupiter and his brother Neptune. The reason that they did this is because they wanted to be worshiped, and without man there was no one to worship them. Because he thought that the gods were in control of Rome as well as the world, he may have had hope that the gods would spare Rome like he had spared mankind.


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