Review of @degruyter_TRS Lucan’s “Bellum Civile” – Between Epic Tradition and Aesthetic Innovation

The current trend in Lucanian scholarship began with Frederick Ahl’s aptly named Lucan: An Introduction. Other names are now added to the list of Lucanian scholars — and now, Nicola Hömke and Christiane Reitz, the editors of this volume are included, along with those in the volume, as a must read for any Lucanian student. Hömke and Reitz have assembled a collection of essays based on papers given at a 2007 conference. Each author presents a specific topic, without rejoinder, nor a central point of the volume. Simply, the essays are all regarding Lucan, but without a focus unifying the whole. And this is acceptable, as there are other books focused on one aspect of Lucan. Here, we are invited to attend the conference even today, where we may hear different angles on our favorite Latin epicist.

The first essay, by Frederick Ahl, examines Lucan’s reception by the first imperial chair of rhetoric in Rome, Quintilian. Lucan is mentioned by name once in the educator’s handbook, but given a prominent place — a rather puzzling incident given Quintilian’s purposed style. Ahl attempts dig deep into Quintilian’s reasoning, suggesting a rather unique goal, although some may see this as more Ahl than Lucan. I would agree with Ahl, myself, but given the length of the essay, it is not difficult to see why Ahl might face criticism for his suggestion. As always, having Ahl in the book raises the merit of such volumes. Ahl’s essay alone examines Lucan’s reception.

I have feebly attempted to divide the rest of the essays into three rough categories, with such division accompanied by a recognizable violence. Ambühl, Fantham, De Moura and Hömke respectively examine Lucan’s rhetorical aesthetics. While Ambühl explores the use of Greek tragedy (via Iliupersis) in Lucan, a form of imtatio, Fantham explores the rhetoric of Caesar’s engagement via speeches throughout the poem. Hömke focuses on Scaeva’s aristeia. Death, speech, and preserved texts figure heavily in Lucan, as exemplified by scholars and scholarship not mentioned in these articles (such as Shadi Bartsch who is mentioned once — p122). This is not to say the essays are too lacking in engagement to find worth, indeed, the opposite, but an engagement with other scholars would have helped, especially in Hömke’s case.

Lowe and Wiener fit forcefully into a category of outside impulses. Lowe has Lucan replace Caesar with Libya via personification of the Caesarian attributes. The role Africa plays in Lucan is a wonderful discussion taking place among Lucanian scholars, but Lowe condenses it rather succinctly to suggest various different Libyas and what they might mean for the Poet. Here, we see the separation between the poem and history and given the essayists hypothesis of the “why.” Wiener, instead of Africa or other geographical oddities, examines Stoicism in Bellum Civili. She sees more stoicism in Lucan than most — than I — and attempts to defend her position. Here again, engagement with other viewpoints may have helped the essay along. Wiener does not engage with Behr who I feel offers more of a realistic viewpoint on Lucan’s Stoicism. This is not to say Wiener is amiss, but I feel her emphasis is misplaced and thus does not allow the full rhetorical flair Lucan flexes to shine forth.

Finally, Sannicandro, Bexley and Dinter leave us with the essays under the nearly impossible category of image. Sannicandro explores the role Caesar’s daughter plays in the poem. Like Ambühl, Sannicandro utilizes Euripides’ tragedy as a comparison, focusing on Jocasta. After Ahl, this essay is perhaps the most rewarding of the volume. Bexley compares Medusa and Cato, following Narducci. The final essay recounts in graphic detail the role the unlimbered body parts play in the poem and the powerful image these represent.

This volume represents a well-done collection of scholars and their work on the present study of Lucan, the classicist’s most underrated epicist. Each essay contains valuable insight and research into the reception of the poem that is not be missed.


For a review by Paul Roche, see here.

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