O Livia, the places you will go…

I mentioned in my last post that my research is in the literary reception of Livia Drusilla, the first imperial consort of Rome (and yes, I know that this is debated, but that’s a different post!). Looking in various Latin databases for references to this figure has led me to some weird and wonderful texts.

Livia pops up, naturally, in histories of the Roman empire and biographies of Augustus and Tiberius. But she is also present in biographies and commentaries on the poet Ovid, where she is the cause of his exile – because of an affair or because he simply saw her naked. This may well have been the inspiration of Faustus Andrelini, at the end of the 15th century CE, who used Livia as a pseudonym for the woman he addresses in his erotic poems.

Livia is also used in political philosophies, as a voice of reason. In the reign of Henry VIII of England, the story of Livia urging Augustus to clemency and mercy for those who betrayed him was immensely popular. This is picked up by a French diplomat in the Elizabethan period, who claims to have offered the same story to Elizabeth I when urging her to let Mary Stuart live.

But perhaps the most surprising places that Livia pops up is in medical texts. In the late 4th century CE, a Gallic author by the name Marcellus Empiricus, or Marcellus Burdigalensis, composed a medical encyclopedia of cures. He presents three herbal concoctions whose efficacy is based on their use by Livia. For example, of his cure for angina and synache he claims “Livia Augusta always had prepared and kept in a small container of glass” (Marc. Emp. Medi. 15.6). John Parkinson, in the early 17th century CE also draws on the authority of this imperial consort in his book on botanical cures to recommend enula, because Livia “let no day passe without eating some of the rootes of Enula condited, which it may be shee did to helpe digestion, to expell melancholy and sorrow, and to cause mirth, and to move the belly downewards, for all which they are also effectuall” (Park. TB, 5.83).


Publi Fausti Andrelini, Amores sive Livia, ed. G. Tournoy-Thoen. Paleis der Academiën-Hertogsstraat, I, 1982.
Marcellus Empiricus, Über Heilmittel, Volume 1-2. Edited by M. Niedermann and E. Liechtenhan. Translated by J. Kollesch and D. Nickel. Akademie-Verlag, 1968.
John Parkinson, Theatrum Botanicum: The Theater of Plants or, An Herball of a Large Extent. London: The Cotes, 1640.