μίμησις – Lucan’s Pharsalia and the inversion of Virgil’s Aeneid

Coin of Nero
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I am finding a few things dealing with μίμησις around the time of the Gospel writers. One of those things is the inversion of Virgil’s Aeneid – the mythic poem of the glorious founding of Rome – by Lucan in his poem, Pharsalia, which details the downfall of Roman due to the in-virtuous morals of her leaders.

Virgil’s poem opens with,

Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc’d by fate,
And haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate,
Expell’d and exil’d, left the Trojan shore.
Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Latian realm, and built the destin’d town;
His banish’d gods restor’d to rites divine,
And settled sure succession in his line,
From whence the race of Alban fathers come,
And the long glories of majestic Rome.

Lucan ups Virgil’s tale with a spiraling pattern of immorality, which is some ways aimed at Nero and all of the Caesars:

Wars worse than civil on Emathian plains,
and crime let loose we sing; how Rome’s high race
plunged in her vitals her victorious sword;
armies akin embattled, with the force
of all the shaken earth bent on the fray;
and burst asunder, to the common guilt,
a kingdom’s compact; eagle with eagle met,
standard to standard, spear opposed to spear.

There are other examples to be made, such as when the heroes of the poems are compared with one another and their various actions. Virgil presents a real hero while Lucan presents Rome at her lowest. Anyway, just some things I’m exploring. Essentially, during this time, it was become the rhetorical flare of a few writers to take a well known story and through μίμησις use it to tell a different story, perfecting that first one.

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