Lucan: An Introduction

Volume: 39
Copyright Date: 1976
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 380
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This study of the Roman poet Lucan (A.D. 39-65) treats the merits and meaning of Pharsalia, Lucan's epic and his only surviving work. "Since my chief concern is to establish what Lucan's vision is, not to quarrel with it," writes Frederick M. Ahl, "I have tried to represent his perspectives as accurately and objectively as I can." After describing the political milieu of Neronian Rome, Ahl illuminates the major themes of the epic, which, he believes, has been obscured by recent scholarship. Through close reading, he renders the poem more accessible to modern-day readers and reestablishes Lucan as a significant poet of the post-Augustan era.

    "Ahl's book constitutes a major contribution to the study of Lucan and his surviving epic. . . . He has written from the standpoint that Lucan was a committed foe of Caesarism and that he designed his poem to move in a contrary direction to that of the Aeneid, analyzing the disintegration and collapse, not the developing promise and potential, of Rome's ideals. The reader discovers the thesis amply supported and the arguments skillfully marshaled and persuasively presented. In his endeavor to give an objective presentation of Lucan's perspective, Ahl has in a very lucid and precise account concentrated on the man himself, his relationship with Nero, and the political milieu in which he wrote. . . . This volume fulfills a very real need in Lucanian studies. "-Classical Outlook

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6679-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Preface
    (pp. 7-10)
    Frederick M. Ahl
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. 11-12)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. 13-16)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Introduction to the Poet and His Age
    (pp. 17-61)

    The majority of Roman writers of the first and early second centuries A.D. take a cynical view of the world in which they live. The attacks on the abuse of power, wealth, and human life in Petronius, Persius, Martial, Tacitus, Juvenal, and Suetonius are familiar enough to even the casual reader of the classics. Often neglected, however, is the degree to which this cynicism is found, in one form or another, in writers less frequently read by the modern reader. Valerius Flaccus informs us in the first book of his Argonautica that people of his day have little use for...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Necessary Revolution
    (pp. 62-81)

    Plato’s decision to banish poetry from his ideal city is, as he himself admits, a chapter in an “old antagonism between philosophy and poetry” (Republic 607B). The claim that “poets understand all the arts, and everything human that pertains to virtue and vice—not to mention the divine” (ibid. 598E) is not just extravagant, but fundamentally and inexcusably wrong. Poetry, he argues, is so far removed from reality that it is capable of dealing only with illusions. It subverts the intellect by bewitching the senses and is, consequently, an obstacle to understanding and virtue. Love of poetry, however, is so...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Sangre y Arena
    (pp. 82-115)

    A Roman surveying the events of the two hundred years preceding the Pax Augusta can be excused for concluding that history was exploiting his city as an object lesson in irony. In 216 B.C. Rome stood on the very brink of catastrophe, her armies crushed by Hannibal. Less than a century later she controlled most of the Mediterranean world. Carthage was leveled; the rest of civilization seemed within her grasp. Yet, no sooner was Carthage destroyed than Rome fell prey, not to a foreign enemy, but to herself. Internal dissent grew steadily and violently as Rome showed herself more capable...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Some Minor Characters of the Pharsalia
    (pp. 116-149)

    The Pharsalia is an epic rich in the multiplicity and variety of its minor characters. Indeed, the first six books (especially 3 through 6) are divided fairly evenly between the minor characters and the three protagonists, Pompey, Caesar, and Cato. Lucan has a genius for capturing the moods and faces of the civil wars in brief, colorful sketches of some of its less famous participants. Some are not even names, but merely voices: an old woman lamenting for her sons, an old man recalling the terrible days of Marius and Sulla. They do not require individual personification, for their grief...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Pompey
    (pp. 150-189)

    So far we have made only passing reference to the three major characters of the Pharsalia: Caesar, Cato, and Pompey; this delay is surely justified since Lucan’s primary focus in the first six books is not on them at all. As we have seen in Chapters 3 and 4, our attention is occupied by a number of diverse characters and situations. Pharsalia 1 through 6 is a texture of which Caesar, Cato, and Pompey are a part, but which they do not dominate. Only with the beginning of 7 do the minor characters fall into the background: Pompey dominates 7...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Caesar
    (pp. 190-230)

    Lucan faces a much larger problem with Caesar than with Pompey. In the first place, Caesar had left his own version of the history of the civil wars. Compared with other major works of Roman history, it is plain and unextravagant, calculated to give the impression of impartial objectivity and almost autistic self-detachment. Caesar knew the art of conceding just enough credit to his foes to suggest that his account was composed without anger or partisanship. It is propaganda at its most plausible. This low-key approach suited his behavior during the war. The might of his Gallic veterans and his...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Cato
    (pp. 231-279)

    Caesar and Pompey are introduced early in the first book of the Pharsalia. Cato, though mentioned in book 1, does not enter the action until book 2. The most obvious reason for this delay is that introduction of a third major figure would destroy the symmetry of Lucan’s antithesis between Caesar and Pompey. But not only is Cato introduced later than the other protagonists, he is presented in an altogether different way. While Lucan gives brief thumbnail sketches of Caesar and Pompey, highlighted by metaphor and simile, he painstakingly prepares for Cato’s entrance. Further, he uses allegory rather than more...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Aspects of the Divine
    (pp. 280-305)

    In Aeneid 2.604–620, Venus tells Aeneas that he must not blame Helen or Paris for the fall of Troy but rather the inclemency of the gods: “divom inclementia” (ibid. 602). The Olympians are using their massive powers to annihilate a city and its people. They have rejected clemency, the most sublime of divine and kingly virtues, in favor of a callous ruthlessness.

    [It would not be hard to view the fall of the Roman republic in a similar way. Indeed, one would not have to resort to assertions of divine inclemency.] Lucan’s Rome is not, like Vergil’s Troy, a...

  13. CHAPTER 9 The Scope and Title of the Epic
    (pp. 306-332)

    When we turn from examination of what Lucan wrote to speculation as to what he might have written we walk on very treacherous ground. Indeed, it can be argued that such speculation is both presumptuous and futile, for, to a large extent, it is. Lucan’s attitude to history and politics were surely intensified and perhaps radically altered by his experiences in late 64 and early 65. There is evidence of this within the books we have. Book 7, as we have seen, shows the poet in a gloomy and satirical mood, despairing of all possibility of restoring freedom to Rome.¹...

  14. APPENDIX Lucan and Nero’s Ban
    (pp. 333-354)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 355-364)
  16. General Index
    (pp. 365-374)
  17. Index of Passages
    (pp. 375-379)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 380-381)