Woman, says the author of this entertaining volume, although she passed from the tyranny of father to the tyranny of husband at the age of fourteen, had her part in the making of Rome as well as in its unmaking. So great a part in both, indeed, it is a pity that the stage of Gibbon and of Merivale is too crowded for the empresses to disentangle themselves from the mighty panorama. No other work puts them in the foreground except an old French one which sacrifices accuracy to piquancy. Mr. McCabe is compelled to discard much of this latter along with many of the more romantic adventures narrated by usually trustworthy historians, but in general he makes no change in the current estimate of the ladies who file before us in a long procession.
It is in the continuity of his story, and in his study of separate character and type by a cool presentation of conflicting evidence, that the author has best succeeded. Though he leaves the ladies fundamentally where he found them, however, he accepts none of the customary historical platitudes about the unmitigated blackness of Rome's darkest eras. The periods of rapid recovery throughout its long history are not sufficiently appreciated by the rhetorical censors of the morals of Rome. Nor indeed does he prattle any moral nonsense about the necessary decay of states within an appointed round. Egypt, he points out, had no difficulty in maintaining its vigour for close on eight thousand years.
But to return to the ladies. The line of empresses does not begin until the horizon of women as well as that of men had been rolled outward by the hew culture of Greece and the conquest of the East. By the time Livia, the wife of Octavius, came along, the Roman lady had forever departed from her pristine simplicity-she had even a debating club.
Livia was the first empress of Rome. She had lived through the early tempestuous days of her first husband with no whisper of slander. Octavius had married twice for political reasons, but when he met Livia he sent a letter of divorce to his wife (whose great-grandchild became the Empress Agrippina) and intimated to Livia's husband that he must" do likewise. He not only did so in a quite friendly way, but made Octavius at his death the guardian of his two sons, Tiberius and Drusus. Octavius and Livia were content with a prudent adaptation of the old Roman ideal to the new age; and both led sober, ascetic lives. Her wise and humane counsels contributed much to the peace and prosperity of Rome's golden era, which, it must not be lost sight of, was a time when hundreds of thousands of the citizens were parasites upon the state. When Octavius died, worn out with his struggle against dissolute Rome, his last words were for her; and their union had lasted fifty-two years in a town where matrimonial transfers were of no moment whatever.
Yet to a man, historians have charged Livia not only with a career of crime, but with an entire absence of self-restraint, which finally caused her husband -who for many years had been curiously blind to her excesses-to banish her. The accusation that she murdered the sons of her step-daughter Julia seems to be largely founded on the undoubted fact that their deaths were very opportune; and the same historians charge her with murdering her second son in the interest of Tiberius, which is somewhat absurd. This step-daughter married the son of Antony and Octavia, her first cousin, and the marriage of two direct descendants of Caesar is supposed to mark the beginning of Livia's downward career, since she herself had borne no heir to Octavius. The other daughter of Octavia, her uncle married to his ablest general, Agrippa, and then on the death of Julia's first husband the Emperor had him divorce her and marry her sister....
-The Bookman, Vol. 35 
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