This paper compares and contrasts the use of tenses in Vergil's Aeneid and Ab Urbe Condita (AUC), Livy's history of Rome. The tense usage in these works is analysed by means of two parameters: discourse mode and base. Discourse modes that occur in the Aeneid and AUC are the narrative mode, the reporting mode, the description mode and the registering mode. These modes are, both in the Aeneid and in AUC, used from a base in the time of narration, and from a shifted base, the reference time of the story. All interpretations of Latin (narrative) tenses found in this corpus are arranged according to discourse mode and base, resulting in seven 'sets' of interpretations of tenses. These sets each represent a specific way of presentation and are, so to speak, Vergil's and Livy's 'building blocks'. The way in which they use these building blocks, and, thus, the Latin narrative tenses, differs. As such, the analysis of the use of tense by means of discourse modes and bases turns out to be a fruitful tool to describe differences between texts of different genres on a text linguistic level. © John Benjamins Publishing Company.