University of Tasmania
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Lucan's Bellum Ciuile and the Epic Genre

posted on 2023-05-26, 04:41 authored by Alexis, F
This thesis demonstrates that Lucan's Bellum Ciuile takes epic to a new level, testing the generic paradigm, because Rome's civil war is a new subject for epic poetry. Lucan's epic presents civil war as the self-destruction of republican Rome, and close reading reveals the poem's intricate relationship with Homeric, Virgilian and Ovidian epic. We see that it changes and exaggerates characteristic tropes of the genre, by techniques such as delay, digression and frequent intervention by a complex narrator / persona, whose dramatic intrusions are like the speeches of characters in a tragedy. Such a politically risky subject, a type of impious war where Romans fight against and kill Romans, necessitates a long preamble and an insistent narrator's voice to justify poetic commemoration of such a crime. Unlike earlier epic where civil war is rare or treated only as an unfortunate but necessary prelude to peace, Lucan's poem is wholly taken up with this type of internecine war, the civil war between Caesar and Pompey. It also includes the civil wars of Marius and Sulla, introduced as a mise en abyme to intensify this subject, which suggests the predictability of recurring civil war and ideas of persistent political instability. Lucan's poem offers a detailed portrayal of the sea-battle at Massilia, and paradoxically, this inventive battle is the most 'epic' of its civil war battles, because many conventions of epic land battles are applied to this conflict on ships. Lucan's sea-battle re-presents and revitalises epic topoi by their new location, the sea. The episode concerning Hercules and Antaeus is also an example of a mise en abyme, reflecting the focus of Lucan's poem, the idea that civil war degrades both sides equally. It argues that the wrestling match between Hercules and Antaeus illustrates how participants in combat become similar and assume corresponding characteristics. This episode shows how the poem interacts with its own past battle narrative, relates to accounts of conflict in earlier epic, and reflects Roman gladiatorial spectacle. Lucan's paradoxical poem presents the battle at Pharsalus more symbolically than a typical epic battle narrative. Rhetorical praeteritio of the unspeakable wounds, weapons and forms of death in civil war draws a parallel between the human body and the state of Rome. Lucan's epic stretches the limits of the genre to overcome the difficulty of recounting Romans fighting against fellow Romans in civil war and demonstrates that there is more to this type of war than blood and guts and gruesome mutilation. Lucan's poem is evidence for how much has been and how much more can be articulated through the language and tropes of epic.


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