Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Paolo Esposito, Christine Walde (ed.), Letture e lettori di Lucano: Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studi, Fisciano, 27-29 marzo 2012. Testi e studi di cultura classica, 62. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2015. Pp. 406. ISBN 9788846742544. €35.00 (pb). Contributors: Additional editors, Nicola Lanzarone and Christian Stoffel

Reviewed by Annemarie Ambühl​, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz​ (ambuehl@uni-mainz.de)

Version at BMCR home site


The present volume originates in a congress held at Fisciano in 2012 and has been expanded for publication. It is the product of a fruitful collaboration by Lucan scholars at Salerno and Mainz, as stated in the introduction by the main editors Paolo Esposito and Christine Walde.1 Its scope illustrates the international character of contemporary Lucan scholarship, for the contributors come from several European countries as well as from the US and Argentina, and the papers are in Italian, German, and English.2 The fifteen essays, which vary considerably in length, are organized in roughly chronological order without subsections, but falling in two almost equal parts, the first part dealing with Lucan's epic and its intertexts, the second with the history of its reception from antiquity through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to the early modern age.

As indicated by the title, the common thread that runs through most of the papers are the readers and readings of Lucan's epic through the ages up to ourselves as modern scholars, but Lucan himself as a reader of his predecessors also plays an important part. This is of course a very broad agenda, but even if in some of the papers the focus on readings and reader responses remains rather implicit, a linear reading often suggests associative links between separate papers. Still, one might regret it as a missed chance that there are no explicit cross-references, although several contributions in the first part cluster around books 7 to 9 (e.g., controversial readings of Lucan's Cato are presented by Baier, Fratantuono, Tola, and Stürner, all of them without acknowledging the others; the exception being Maes, who refers to Baier on p. 389 n. 17); in some cases, bibliography can be supplemented from corresponding papers.

The volume starts with a technical piece by Lucio Ceccarelli on the positioning of Lucan's hexameter between Virgil and the Flavian poets, with detailed statistics illustrating the distribution of dactyls and spondees, caesurae, clausule, and synaloephae. His results are restricted to the metrical plane, but the observation that Lucan adapts some characteristics from Virgil and Ovid, while introducing innovations of his own that in turn were taken up by Statius and Valerius Flaccus, might be interesting in combination with an intertextual approach.

Next come two 'faunal' essays on snakes and bees in Lucan. After a rather traditional Stoic interpretation of Lucan's Cato, Thomas Baier interestingly proposes to read the catalogue of snakes against an Epicurean background, with particular attention to the role of epilogism in Epicurean epistemology; in his rationalizing approach to myth, Lucan appears as a champion of enlightenment in the tradition of Epicurus and Lucretius. Again, the paper opens up wider perspectives on Lucretius as an intertext, which could be explored further. Lee Fratantuono's paper compares the structural and political impact of bees and bee similes in Lucan and Virgil that in his view frame Aeneid 7 to 12 and Lucan's Pharsalus with ambivalent Trojan and Homeric associations; however, the importance of the bee similes for the structure of the Aeneid seems somewhat overstated, and in the ancient imagination, bees are led by kings, not by queens.3

Another underrated intertext is taken on by Daniela Galli, who convincingly demonstrates that Lucan's reworking of ideas and phrases from Cicero's speeches and epistles is much more prominent than has been assumed in scholarship. The next two papers present close readings of the excursus on Medusa from book 9 (by Eleonora Tola) and of the Gallic excursus from book 1 (by Giulia Caramico). Both combine a stylistic analysis of the respective passages with wider cultural issues, on the one hand Lucan's mythologizing of history and the language of violence that turns Medusa into a figure for the monstrosity of the civil war, on the other hand Lucan's geopoetics and his pictorial description of landscapes that can be associated with maps and particularly with triumphal imagery.

In a methodologically ambitious paper, Christian Stoffel tries to tackle the issue of metapoetic and deconstructivist readings of Lucan's epic, especially with regard to the imagery of water/liquids and seafaring. His sweeping overview demonstrates the importance of this multifaceted phenomenon for Lucan's epic and the pitfalls involved in its interpretation as a political allegory or a self-referential sign, so that in the end also the attractive reading of the Bellum Ciuile itself as a shipwrecked epic stands on shaky ground.

The subsequent papers redress the balance again in favor of the later books. Nicola Lanzarone briefly expounds the topos of the delayed punishment by Fortune in the lament for Pompey from book 8, tracing its history in Greek and Latin literature, and identifies a passage from Seneca's De prouidentia as Lucan's point of departure. Ferdinand Stürner undertakes an extensive intertextual study of the visits to the oracle at Siwah (evoking Alexander's visit) by Cato in the ninth book of the Bellum Ciuile and by Hannibal in the third book of the Punica (via his confidant Bostar, possibly developing a historical nucleus) in order to define Silius' relationship to his predecessor Lucan as well as both epics' antiphrastic reworkings of the Aeneid's teleological vision of Roman history, not least through their contrasting uses of the Alexander paradigm (with footnotes 29 and 48 qualifying to some extent the more straightforward ideological interpretations in the main text).

Along with Stürner's paper, Marco Fucecchi's essay on the repercussions of the civil war theme in Flavian epic (especially Silius' Cannae and Lucan's Pharsalus, Valerius Flaccus' combination of civil war and imperialist expansion, and Statius' Thebaid book 12 as a constructive rewriting of Lucan's 'Thebaid', that all sketch more or less 'positive' alternatives to Lucan's 'negativity' in order to actualize and surpass not only the Bellum Ciuile but also the Aeneid, thus representing a third stage of dealing with the civil war trauma after Virgil's 'removal' and Lucan's 'revival'/'reliving', which he defines as a 'metabolization') forms the bridge to the second part that looks at select cases of the reception of Lucan's epic.

Maria Chiara Scappaticcio's committed appeal to study the surviving papyri of Latin epic (including the late antique oriental P.Lit. Lond. 42 containing four lines of Lucan) not only for their textual evidence but as testimonies to the history of reception in different cultural and intellectual contexts resumes the focus on reading communities and reading practices. In the remainder of the volume this focus is applied to works that in their own times exhibited innovative approaches to Lucan and his epic but have not yet received the attention from modern scholarship they deserve.

Charmaine Lee introduces the early 13th century French prose compilation Faits des Romains, a work devoted to the biography of Caesar based mainly on Sallust, Suetonius, and Lucan, which positions itself between historiography and medieval epic, thus performing a translatio in both senses as a translation viz. rewriting and as a transfer of knowledge; she also identifies a possible historical context at the feudal court of Savari de Mauléon in Poitou with its close ties to Orléans, where Arnulfus composed his near contemporary Glosule super Lucanum that were known to the compilation's learned author. Fabio Stok demonstrates that the first 'real' humanist biography of Lucan by Sicco Polenton (1426/1437) uses almost exclusively classical sources and especially the recently discovered Tacitus in order to expand and dramatize (sometimes even fictionalize) the narrative in the style of ancient biography, departing from the erudite but dry biographies by his immediate predecessors. Elettra Camperlingo presents extracts from her doctoral thesis on the humanist Pomponio Leto's unpublished annotations on the first eight books of Lucan contained in his autograph dating from around 1470, illustrating with numerous examples his (sometimes idiosyncratic) use of sources and his didactic agenda for the benefit of his private pupil Fabio Mazzatosta.

The final essay by Yanick Maes rounds off the volume by emphatically bringing back the issue of reader response on several levels: trying to approach the experience of Lucan's original readers as well as of his early modern readers, reading Georges de Brébeuf's mid-17th century translation-cum-parody in its literary and historical context, and finally evaluating our reactions to all three of these texts. His inspiring discussion not only presents provocative thoughts on Lucan's epic as a specimen of a grotesque aesthetics in the context of Neronian literature and on its reception in early modern France during the civil-war period of the Fronde and the literary feud of the Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes, but also raises issues that seem highly relevant for the contemporary and future reception of Lucan's epic as well, e.g. choosing a suitable mode of translation for reaching a general reading public and adapting the complex content to different cultural milieux.

The volume has been produced carefully.4 Regrettably, there is no index of passages, and the fact that most of the Greek and Latin is not translated might prove an obstacle for reaching a wider audience. An especially commendable feature is the very affordable price, which even includes colored reproductions of the Parisian manuscript containing the Faits des Romains (pp. 295-300). Overall the volume offers a stimulating snapshot of recent Lucan scholarship that also sketches some directions future research may take, as quite a few of the contributors present work in progress that awaits publication (cf. also the list of new internet databases on p. 8-9). So it is to be hoped that the volume along with Lucan's epic itself will find many readers. ​


1.   Although Lucan always makes a good topic for animated discussions with my colleagues at Mainz, I was not involved in the production of the volume under review.
2.   In the overview of international Lucan scholarship on p. 8, the volume Lucain en débat: Rhétorique, poétique et histoire (ed. by O. Devillers and S. Franchet d'Espèrey, Paris/Bordeaux 2010) originating in the 2008 Bordeaux conference is missing; it has been taken into account in several contributions, though.
3.   Cf. p. 59: "The Aeneid is the epic of bees, and the poem is structured like a hive […]". Readers who might have expected a discussion of the bees from the Georgics are referred to a future paper (p. 67 n. 28); for the bee kings see e.g. Georgics 4.212-218 (p. 59 with n. 9).
4.   I noticed only a few errors: displaced umlauts on p. 8; in n. 165 on p. 219 "oft he" instead of "of the"; the bibliographical reference for Bessone 2011 (p. 247 n. 36) is missing; in n. 60 on p. 340 it should read 'secondo libro' in place of 'terzo libro'; on p. 389 there is a superfluous 'bare' ("In this scene Lucan lays bare the mechanisms of his trade bare."); on p. 404 in the bibliographical entry for Zeller it should read 'im' in place of 'in'. In Fratantuono's paper, the first paragraph on p. 60 seems to have been displaced from p. 58. The title of Tola's paper varies between 'Medusa o lo sguardo lucaneo sulla storia' (title) and 'Medusa e lo sguardo […]' (running titles and table of contents). In Stoffel's paper, there is a cross-reference to a subsection which however is not numbered (p. 146: III b); incidentally, Stoffel, too, erroneously refers several times to female scholars as males (p. 146 n. 51: [Ellen] O'Gorman; p. 151 n. 67: [Berthe Marie] Marti; p. 154 n. 84: [Prudence J.] Jones). ​

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