Imperial Latin epic has seen a renaissance of scholarly interest. This book illuminates the work of the poet Lucan, a contemporary of the emperor Nero who as nephew of the imperial adviser Seneca moved in the upper echelons of Neronian society. This young and maverick poet, whom Nero commanded to commit suicide at the age of 26, left an epic poem on the civil war between Caesar and Pompey that epitomizes the exuberance and stylistic experimentation of Neronian culture. This study focuses on Lucan's epic technique and traces his influence through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Martin T. Dinter's newest volume engages with Lucan's use of body imagery, sententiae, Fama (rumor), and open-endedness throughout his civil war epic. Although Lucan's Bellum Civile is frequently decried as a fragmented as well as fragmentary epic, this study demonstrates how Lucan uses devices other than teleology and cohesive narrative structure to bind together the many parts of his epic body.
Anatomizing Civil War places at center stage characteristics of Lucan's work that have so far been interpreted as excessive, or as symptoms of an overly rhetorical culture indicating a lack of substance. By demonstrating that they all contribute to Lucan's poetic technique, Martin T. Dinter shows how they play a fundamental role in shaping and connecting the many episodes of the Bellum Civile that constitute Lucan's epic body. This important volume will be of interest to students of classics and comparative literature as well as literary scholars. All Greek and Latin passages have been translated.
Latin epics such as Virgil’s Aeneid, Lucan’s Civil War, and Statius’s Thebaid addressed Roman aristocrats whose dealings in gifts, favors, and payments defined their conceptions of social order. In The Commerce of War, Neil Coffee argues that these exchanges play a central yet overlooked role in epic depictions of Roman society.
Tracing the collapse of an aristocratic worldview across all three poems, Coffee highlights the distinction they draw between reciprocal gift giving among elites and the more problematic behaviors of buying and selling. In the Aeneid, customary gift and favor exchanges are undermined by characters who view human interaction as short-term and commodity-driven. The Civil War takes the next logical step, illuminating how Romans cope once commercial greed has supplanted traditional values. Concluding with the Thebaid, which focuses on the problems of excessive consumption rather than exchange, Coffee closes his powerful case that these poems constitute far-reaching critiques of Roman society during its transition from republic to empire.
FeelingHistory is a study of apostrophe (i.e., the rhetorical device in which the narrator talks directly to his characters) in Lucan’s Bellum Civile. Through the narrator’s direct addresses, irony, and grotesque imagery, Lucan appears not as a nihilist, but as a character deeply concerned about ethics. The purpose of this book is to demonstrate how Lucan’s style represents a criticism of the Roman approach to history, epic, ethics, and aesthetics. The book’s chief interest lies in the ethical and moral stance that the poet-narrator takes toward his characters and his audience. To this end, Francesca D’Alessandro Behr studies the ways in which the narrator communicates ethical and moral judgments. Lucan’s retelling of this central historical epic triggers in the mind of the reader questions about the validity of the Roman imperial project as a whole.
An analysis of selected apostrophes from the Bellum Civile allows us to confront issues that are behind Lucan’s disquieting imagery: how can we square the poet’s Stoic perspectives with his poetically conveyed emotional urgency? Lucan’s approach seems inspired by Aristotle, especially his Poetics, as much as by Stoic philosophy. In Lucan’s aesthetic project, participation and alienation work as phases through which the narrator leads the reader to a desired understanding of his work of art. At the same time, the reader is confronted with the ends and limits of the aesthetic enterprise in general.
Lucan’s long-acknowledged political engagement must therefore be connected to his philosophical and aesthetic stance. In the same way that Lucan is unable to break free from the Virgilian model, neither can he develop a defense of morality outside of the Stoic mold. His philosophy is not a crystal ball to read the future or a numbing drug imposing acceptance. The philosophical vision that Lucan finds intellectually and aesthetically compelling does not insulate his characters (and readers) from suffering, nor does it excuse them from wrongdoing. Rather, it obligates them to confront the responsibilities and limits of acting morally in a chaotic world.
Ideology in Cold Blood
Shadi BARTSCH Harvard University Press, 1997 Library of Congress PA6480.B374 1997 | Dewey Decimal 873.01
Is Lucan's brilliant and grotesque epic Civil War an example of ideological poetry at its most flagrant, or is it a work that despairingly proclaims the meaninglessness of ideology? Shadi Bartsch offers a startlingly new answer to this split debate on the Roman poet's magnum opus.
Reflecting on the disintegration of the Roman republic in the wake of the civil war that began in 49 B.C., Lucan (writing during the grim tyranny of Nero's Rome) recounts that fateful conflict with a strangely ambiguous portrayal of his republican hero, Pompey. Although the story is one of a tragic defeat, the language of his epic is more often violent and nihilistic than heroic and tragic. And Lucan is oddly fascinated by the graphic destruction of lives, the violation of human bodies--an interest paralleled in his deviant syntax and fragmented poetry. In an analysis that draws on contemporary political thought ranging from Hannah Arendt and Richard Rorty to the poetry of Vietnam veterans, as well as on literary theory and ancient sources, Bartsch finds in the paradoxes of Lucan's poetry both a political irony that responds to the universally perceived need for, yet suspicion of, ideology, and a recourse to the redemptive power of storytelling. This shrewd and lively book contributes substantially to our understanding of Roman civilization and of poetry as a means of political expression.
Table of Contents:
The Subject under Siege Paradox, Doubling, and Despair Pompey as Pivot The Will to Believe History without Banisters
Notes Bibliography Index
Reviews of this book: The problem of Lucan's stance is notorious, and it is the focus of Bartsch's book...She makes her own gripping contribution to the dossier of Lucanian despair in her first two chapters; but she believes that ultimately such interpretations sell the poet short, as an artist and a person. Her Lucan, both inside and outside his poem, is a Sartrean existentialist or a Rortyan moral ironist, who accepts the evanescence of traditional moral and political verities but who behaves as if his ideology matters anyhow and makes his choice regardless. Hence the "ideology in cold blood" of her title: Lucan knows, and spellbindingly demonstrates, that Liberty is a cipher, but he commits himself to it none the less. Bartsch has put her finger on a key issue, and her passionate book is a useful check to the establishment of a new orthodoxy on Lucan. --Denis Feeney, Times Literary Supplement
Reviews of this book: This could be that elusive creature, an Important Book. --Gideon Nisbet, Bryn Mawr Classical Review
Reviews of this book: This is a stimulating work, which I find has provoked many questions about Lucan's poem, about liberal irony, and about history...The strengths of this book lie in its brevity, in its integration of detailed analyses with broader theoretical issues, and in its accessibility. It addresses a question which is of relevance to not only Lucanians, or Latinists, or classicists, but anyone who thinks about the politics of literature. --Ellen O'Gorman, Classical World
Reviews of this book: Bartsch goes far beyond the boundaries of Lucan's Civil War itself. Readers interested in Latin literature in general, in the civil wars that ended the Republic, in the political context of the first centuries B.C.E. and C.E., in questions of human response to political repression long after Lucan, and those interested in Lucan himself as poet and conspirator, will want to read Ideology in Cold Blood. Bartsch has taken two prevailing camps of criticism--Lucan as "nihilist" and Lucan as "partisan"--and proposed an elegantly argued third alternative: Lucan as "political ironist." --Choice
Reviews of this book: Ideology in Cold Blood provides a strikingly dissident approach to Lucan in that it aims to weld together a text-oriented focus, a political reading of the Civil War and a discussion of Lucan's political activities, i.e. his involvement in the Pisonian conspiracy. Bartsch's decision to include a biographical approach in her analysis should not be taken for bland naivety coming at a time when influential scholars on Lucan have come to reject this approach for the blatant fallacies that it entails. Bartsch offers something completely novel in this area, for it is entirely obvious that her sympathies do not lie with forms of historical reconstructionism in which the biographical data are simply made to correlate with the presumed political message of the poem...[Bartsch's book] will surely be ranked among the best works on the poet and I strongly recommend it to scholars interested in the literature of the Principate and in the role of Roman political epic. --Marc Kleijwegt, Scholia
Lucan, the young and doomed epic poet of the Age of Nero, is represented by only one surviving work, the Bellum Civile, which takes as its theme the civil war that destroyed the Roman Republic. An epic unlike any other, it rejects point by point the aesthetics of Vergil's Aeneid and describes a society and a cosmos plunged into anarchy. Language was a casualty of this anarchy. All terminological certitudes were lost, including those that traditionally attach to the Latin word virtus: heroism on the battlefield, rectitude in the conduct of life.
The Taste for Nothingness traces Lucan's own analytical method by showing how virtus and related concepts operate--or rather, fail to operate--in Lucan's appropriations and distortions of the traditional epic-battle narrative; in the philosophical commitment of Cato the Younger; and in the personalities of the two antagonists, Pompey and Caesar. Much recent scholarship has reached a consensus that Lucan's literary method is mimetic, that his belief in a chaotic cosmos produces a poetics of chaos. While accepting many of the recent findings about Lucan's view of language and the universe, The Taste for Nothingness also allows an even bolder Lucan to emerge: a committed aesthete who regards art as the only realm in which order is possible.
Robert Sklenár is Visiting Assistant Professor of Classical Studies, Tulane University.