Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Christine Walde (ed.), Lucans Bellum Civile. Studien zum Spektrum seiner Rezeption von der Antike bis ins 19. Jahrhundert. Bochumer Altertumswissenschaftliches Colloquium, 78. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2009. Pp. 574. ISBN 9783868211702. €54.50 (pb).

Reviewed by Martin T. Dinter, King's College London; University of Sao Paulo (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Walde has done us all a favour – Lucan above all. Not only has she assembled a vast and immensely detailed online Lucan Gesamtbibliographie (Forum Lucaneum), and published the proceedings of a Lucan conference in 2005 (BMCR 2006.08.18). She has also convened a Lucan reception volume, the wide coverage and indexed research bibliography of which will make it an indispensable tool for those interested in Lucan's Nachleben.

The volume under review offers seventeen essays (thirteen in German, two in English and two in Italian), which range chronologically from Prudentius to Nietzsche. Whilst many of these provide literary examples of Lucan's influence on his poetic successors – think Lucan's Erictho in Spanish siglo de oro literature (Finiello) – Walde also provides a refreshing array of contributions dealing with other aspects of reception from the fields of music, manuscript studies, translation studies, and history of ideas. Naturally I will only be able to cover a selection of the contributions in this review but the volume clearly puts emphasis on providing a wealth of material and inspiration for further research.

Murgatroyd's chapter looks to rehabilitate Arnulf of Orleans' late twelfth-century Lucan commentary (Glosule super Lucanum), a work about half the length of Servius' commentary on the Aeneid, which has generally been thought to be "of greater interest to medievalists than to classical scholars" (p.69). Murgatroyd points out that many of the interpretative problems Arnulf faced still face today's classicists and exemplifies this by discussing a selection of Arnulf's comments on the epic's first lines, the invocation of Nero (1.33-66) and Cato's 'panegyric' of Pompey (9.190- 214). All these passages showcase the reading strategies Arnulf employs to arrive at a strongly pro-Pompeian reading of the poem, and Murgatroyd cunningly juxtaposes them with present day scholarship to demonstrate their relevance to the contemporary reader. Murgatroyd's chapter is complemented by Ambühl's detailed examination and interpretation of a so far unpublished medieval commentary from the University Library Basel, which occasionally makes use of Arnulf's commentary and other Lucan scholia but frequently offers an independent interpretation of Lucan.

Bobeth provides insight in an unexpected but fascinating aspect of Lucan reception when discussing medieval manuscripts with added musical notation (neums) that allow a sung rendering of some passages from the Bellum Civile not unlike that of Gregorian chant. Most frequently we find the lament of Pompey's wife Cornelia (BC 8.88-105) or parts thereof annotated in such a way. This exemplary contribution also provides numerous illustrations and tables all Lucan manuscripts which contain neums and lists the annotated passages in each of them.

Gropper's contribution leads us to medieval Iceland where around 1180 the author/translator of the Romverja saga ingeniously combined Sallust's Bellum Iugurthinum, Coniuratio Catilinae and a somewhat condensed version of Lucan's epic into one continuous Icelandic prose narrative. Gropper examines the workings of this creative translation process in detail, which treats the Latin text not as a sacrosanct authority but rather as a point of departure from which to venture more or less independently.

Finiello's substantial forty-five pages piece on Spanish literature of the Siglo de Oro provides a detailed and well-informed survey of Erictho figures in the epic poem Laberinto de Fortuna of Juan de Mena (1411-56) and the epos La Auracana about Spain's subjugation of Chile by Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga (1533-94), which features the warlock Fiton who has been modeled on Lucan's Erictho. In addition Finiello also discusses two tragedies: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's El cerco de Numancia (ca. 1581-83) featuring the magus Marquino and Cristobal de Mesa's Tragedia el Pompeyo(1608) which stars Erictho herself.

In the following well-structured contribution Glei introduces us to theory and praxis of cento poems. Most classicists will be aware of Ausonius' amusing patchwork Cento Nuptialiswhich mixes and matches Virgilian fragments of no more than one and a half lines to create a new poem. While Ausonius' poem constitutes a cento-parody there is also a serious subgenre that simply mines its model and conveys, for example, the Christian message of salvation. Glei proceeds to discuss the cento of Pierre Chretien, which deals with the failed uprising of the Spanish-Habsburg Netherlands against the Spanish King Philip II (1566-85) and draws its inspiration from Lucan's Bellum Civile.

Backhaus traces the figure of Cleopatra in Thomas May's Supplementum Lucani published in English in 1630 and ten years later in Latin. May complements Lucan's epic with a further seven books and lets it end with the murder of Caesar. Backhaus points out significant differences in the way Lucan and May draw their main characters. May's protagonists appear more human and display a wider range of emotions than Lucan's Caesar or Cato. Furthermore, May does not follow up narratological seeds planted by Lucan's characterization of Cleopatra.

Fantham's lively tour de force contrasts the use of Lucan as model for Corneille's play Mort de Pompée and Bussani's libretto Giulio Cesare for an opera by Antonio Sartorio – recycled by Handel for his own Giulio Cesare in Egitto.

Walde's stimulating contribution examines aspects of Lucan's seemingly incongruent characterization of Caesar by means of a poem by the Swiss nineteenth-century poet C.F. Meyer that narrates the grove of Massilia episode from Bellum Civile III. In Meyer's poem Caesar emerges as a cultivating founding figure overcoming Celtic superstition, a model of enlightenment. Projecting these finding back into Lucan's epic Walde plausibly highlights Caesar's godlike characteristics, which she contrasts with readings in modern scholarship of Caesar as arch-villain.

An indexed research bibliography by Finiello with more than 850 bibliographical items concludes this successful volume. The consistently high standard of the contributions makes it a joy to read and will provide food for thought and inspiration for further inquiries into Lucan's legacy.1


1.   For recent publications in English on the reception of Lucan see the chapters of Hardie, Braund and d'Alessandro Behr in Asso's Brill's Companion to Lucan, 2010, Maes' contribution to Buckley's and Dinter's A Companion to the Neronian Age, 2013 and the chapter on Veit Ludwig von Seckendorff in Dinter Anatomizing Civil War, 2013. In French see Nobili-Savelli Vir Nemoris, Circinellu Ou l'Homme du Bois Sacre, 2008: "Un vibrant chant d'exil et un monument littéraire écrit pour un compagnon frère d'armes. Un chef-d'œuvre du XVIIIe siècle."

1 comment:

  1. Richard F HardinMay 9, 2013 at 1:13 PM

    I was glad to see this acknowledgement of Lucan's important influence, and would like to add the unmentioned case of Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost, as a Caesar-figure in the epic. This was almost utterly neglected until recently. See Charles Martindale, John Milton and the Transformation of Ancient Epic. (London: Croom Helm, 1986); David Norbrook, Writing the English Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric and Politics,1627-1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).


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