Thursday, February 18, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Martin Seewald, Studien zum 9. Buch von Lucans Bellum Civile mit einem Kommentar zu den Versen 1-733. Göttinger Forum für Altertumswissenschaft Bd. 2. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008. Pp. xiii, 507. ISBN 9783110203455. $157.00.
Reviewed by Martin T. Dinter, King's College London


This book is a work of pietas, published posthumously by friends and colleagues after the premature death of Martin Seewald in 2002. It contains a revised version of the author's 2001 PhD dissertation, 'A Commentary on Lucan Bellum Civile 9.1-604', extended by a commentary on Lucan Bellum Civile 9.604-733. Seewald thus covers book 9 up to the end of the snake catalogue. Death prevented Seewald from working on the remaining section (BC 9.734-1108), that includes the snake aristeia and Caesar's visit to Troy. In addition the editors of this volume, Gerrit Kloss and Jan Radicke, have included three studies on Lucan by Seewald, two of which have not previously been published. This book thus stands as monument to Seewald's life and work and is a valuable addition to the existing literature on Lucan.

Indeed, those working on Lucan nowadays live in happy times, blessed with an annual stream of secondary literature and commentaries. Lucan needs no apology any more. The last two years alone have yielded Monica Matthew's 2008 commentary on the über-storm scene in Lucan BC 5.476-721 (see "BMCR 2009.09.45"), and Paul Roche's 2009 full commentary on BC 1 whilst Paolo Asso's full commentary on BC 4 has been announced for spring 2010.1

The ninth book of Lucan's epic on the Roman civil war between Caesar and Pompey contains many of the epic's most famous scenes: Pompey's 'apotheosis', Cato's march through the Libyan desert featuring the Medusa excursus and the infamous snake catalogue, and finally Caesar's visit to the ruins of Troy. It is thus no wonder that S.'s is not the first but the third German commentary to appear on BC 9 in the last decade: it adds its weight to Raschle's 2001 work on Lucan's snake episode (BC 9.587-949) and Claudia Wick's 2004 two volume opus on the whole of book 9 ("BMCR 2005.09.71").2 Whilst Seewald was still able to incorporate Raschle's findings, his work also holds its ground when compared to Wick's lexicographical wealth. Wick's main strength lies in the author's experience as researcher for the Thesaurus linguae Latinae, manifested in her commentary's focus on lexicography and semantics. Since Lucan's syntax often stretches Latin to its breaking point -- the word at war, so to speak -- Wick illuminates it with countless enriching discussions of vocabulary and grammar. Seewald, however, puts emphasis on Lucan's rhetorical schemes, his clever use of pathos, and his epic innovations and thus complements Wick's wealth of material with his excellent observations. Seewald poses an often neglected question to each of Lucan's many scenes and episodes: what is this scene doing here and what is its function in the wider context of the plot? The reader/user thus never looses sight of the wider picture - never mind how fragmented and episodic the Bellum Civile appears from the outside. In addition Seewald seems particularly interested in and has much to say about the philosophical, historical, geographical and scientific background of Lucan's epos. S.'s comments thus not only cover syntax and grammar, point to cross references and related passages but also provide the background material necessary to make sense of Lucan's often rich, sometimes learned and frequently densely allusive style. Each section of S's commentary comes with a short introduction which provides an overview of the content and structure of the following passage. In addition a thirty-two page introduction outlines the place of Bellum Civile 9 within the wider web of the entire epic and then provides an excellent section by section examination of the sources and literary traditions that have informed Lucan's oeuvre. A final summary brings together these results according to their traditions: historical, epic, scientific and philosophical. This I found a particular useful dossier for those unacquainted with Lucan's work. A rich bibliography and detailed index locorum complete this successful volume.3

The first of Seewald's three papers (previously unpublished) 'Lucan 9,411-420 und die TO-Karte' investigates a schematic map (a circle, O, divided into three parts by a T), which splits the world into three continents and is found in Glosule super Lucanum ad 9.413. Seewald asks whether this so called TO-map (or Radkarte) goes back to Isidorus Origines 14.2.1-3, which processes Augustine civ. 16.17 and Orosius hist. 1.2.1-10. He suggests that the intellectual foundations for this kind of map might have been laid by Polybius in a geographical excursus (3.36-38).

The second also previously unpublished paper, 'Lucans Cato, die Antipoden und das römische Herrscherlob--Zur Verbindung von Physik und Ethik im neunten Buch des Bellum civile' aims to demonstrate that the learned material from the fields of astronomy, geography, cartography, ethnology and climatology Lucan offers up in book 9 serves to support Cato's and the narrator's moral and philosophical maxims. It thus helps to construct Cato as Stoic sage and cosmic triumphator. The scene of Pompey fleeing in BC 8.159-192 already introduces some of the motifs and material which book 9 elaborates. The third, previously published, paper 'Ein Anonymus der frühen Kaiserzeit--Zu Lucan 9,167-185 and Tac. ann. 3,1-2' suggests that the two scenes referred to in the title, Agrippina's arrival at Brundisium with the ashes of Germanicus and Cornelia's landing after the murder of Pompey, have taken inspiration from a shared but now lost source.4


1.   Monica Matthews (ed.), Caesar and the Storm: A Commentary on Lucan, De Bello Civili, Book 5, lines 476-721. Oxford/New York: Peter Lang 2008. P. Roche, Lucan, De Bello Ciuili 1: A Commentary. Oxford: OUP 2009. P. Asso, A Commentary on Lucan, "De bello civili IV". Berlin: de Gruyter 2009.
2.   Christian Raschle, Pestes Harenae, Die Schlangenepisode in Lucans Pharsalia (IX 587-949). Frankfurt am Main, 2001. Claudia Wick, Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, Bellum Civile, liber IX. I: Einleitung, Text und Übersetzung; II: Kommentar. München-Leipzig, 2004. The editors, however, rightly point out that there was no modern commentary on BC 9 when Seewald started his work in the late 90s.
3.   Only those seeking access to Seewald's textual choices will be disappointed, the volume does not seem to specify which of the textual editions Seewald lists in his bibliography his commentary is actually following nor does it provide a table of those lines in which Seewald's text would differ from any such edition.
4.   The two previously unpublished papers are slightly less polished and stringent than the previously published one, although all of them contain up to two and a half pages long non reader-friendly footnotes. This fact should not distract from the overall high standards and value of this volume and certainly has its explanation in the volume's production history.

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