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Tue, 11 Aug 2009 14:37:59 -0500
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A Lucan Reader: Selections from “Civil War.” Edited by SUSANNA BRAUND. 
Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy–Carducci Publishers, 2009. Pp. xxxiv + 134. 
Paper, $19.00. ISBN 978–0–86516–661–5.

Order this text for $19.00 from Amazon.com using this link and benefit 
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Previously published CJ Online reviews are at 

CJ Online 2009.08.03

Though scholarly interest in Lucan has flourished over the last 35 years, 
the task of bringing his poem to the collegiate classroom has gotten few 
takers. [[1]] Braund’s (B.) reader marks a significant step forward, and 
will be welcomed by all who wish to introduce the Bellum Civile to 
undergraduate students.

This is the first to be published in a series of Latin readers (edited by 
Ronnie Ancona) intended “for intermediate or advanced college Latin 
study.” According to the inside front cover, the series aims to keep the 
selected passages at 500–600 lines in order to be “ideal to use in 
combination.” So perhaps the greatest challenge for the editor of this 
volume is selecting from Lucan’s epic of over 8,000 lines a small set of 
passages that reflect the character of the poem. On this count, as I 
discuss below, B. has chosen fitting excerpts, though she seems to 
conspicuously avoid some of the poem’s more problematic and thus 
thought-provoking passages.

Accompanying B.’s selections, which in toto add up to 620 lines, are a 
wide-ranging introduction, a detailed commentary on the selections, a full 
vocabulary for the passages, and a map of the Eastern Mediterranean in 
Caesar’s day.

The introduction (pp. ix–xxxiv) has 16 sections on the context of the 
Bellum Civile and on aspects of the poem itself. [[2]] Most substantial are 
the thorough discussion of Lucan’s life and times (pp. ix–xii), an 
historical contextualization and recap of the war between Caesar and Pompey 
(pp. xiii–xvi), and a section on the hallmarks of Lucan’s Latin—his 
frequent use of sententiae and paradox, and the horrific realism of his 
diction (pp. xxx–xxxii). In the introduction B. also addresses important 
literary issues such as Lucan’s (not uncommon) choice of epic for this 
historical topic (pp. xvi–xvii); the influence of Stoicism on the poem 
(p. xxiv); Lucan’s unique incorporation of the supernatural (pp. 
xxiv–xxv); and his diverse but famously hero-less cast (pp. 
xxv–xxviii). An up-to-date list of suggested reading (pp. xxxii–xxxiv) 
offers ample resources for further inquiry. Absent is a section on meter; 
teachers will need to supplement the volume with separate material on 
dactylic hexameter.

Of great use in the introduction is a detailed outline of the poem (pp. 
xvii–xxii), which serves to contextualize the excerpts and helpfully 
summarize the contents of each book, including those (namely Books 2, 4, 5 
and 10) that are not represented in the reader. B. concludes the outline by 
writing that in Book 10 “our text breaks off, curiously at the same point 
as Caesar’s narrative of the civil war in his commentaries” (p. xxii); 
then in her section on the scope of the poem (pp. xxii–xxiii) she 
considers only that the poem might have been unfinished at the time of 
Lucan’s death, or that the remaining text was lost. The curious end of 
the Bellum Civile has been the subject of much debate, with ramifications 
for our understanding of the poem. Though this volume is no place for a 
full engagement in the discussion, B. might have directed the reader to 
Jamie Masters’ influential argument for the poem being finished as it is, 
and so for a deliberate “endlessness” to Lucan’s civil war. [[3]] 
Masters’ argument is in fact in tune with the reading of Lucan as a 
convention-bucking, “perversive” epic poet that B. emphasizes 
throughout her introduction and commentary.

The passages B. has selected allot equal coverage to Lucan’s two main 
characters, Caesar and Pompey. After the presentation of the war’s causes 
and the initial portrait of the two men (Book 1.67–157), we are given 
Caesar at the Rubicon (1.183–227), chopping down the sacred grove in 
Massilia (3.399–445), on the battlefield after Pharsalia (7.728–46, 
760–811), and visiting the ruins of Troy (9.961–99), a passage also 
important for its programmatic assertions about Caesar’s, and Lucan’s 
own, fama. For Pompey, we have the visit of the ghost of Julia (3.8–35), 
his departure from Pharsalia (7.647–82), his death and final words in 
Egypt (8.542–636, 663–88), and Cato’s funeral oration (9.190–217). 
Caesar’s assault on the sacred grove (which B. at 59 neatly brands a 
locus horridus, an inversion of the topos of the locus amoenus) and the 
account of Erichtho’s preparations for a necromancy (6.624–53) serve as 
nice representative slices of Lucan’s interest in the mysterious and 

The first selected passage is, naturally, Lucan’s proem and exposition of 
his theme, followed by the beginning of the poet’s address to Nero 
(1.1–45). But B. does not include the section of the address (1.45–66, 
considering in detail which celestial seat will best suit the deified 
emperor) that is most extravagant (and peculiar) in its praise, and thus 
suspicious in the eyes of those who read the passage as ironic or even 
subversive. [[4]] In her introduction B. writes that “it is certainly 
possible to take Lucan’s praise of Nero as the expected tribute paid by a 
poet to the autocrat who held absolute power in the Roman state” (p. xi). 
But without seeing this passage in full, students will miss out on a debate 
suitable to—and stimulating for—readers of the poem at any level. 
Another problematic and thus important passage that suffers a curious 
omission is from Book 7. B. includes 7.617–37 (the conclusion of the 
Battle of Pharsalia) and 647–82 (Pompey’s flight), but leaves out the 
intervening verses. These nine lines, in which Lucan casts contemporary 
Romans as slaves living under a master, are perhaps his strongest 
condemnation of the principate that resulted from Caesar’s victory at 
Pharsalia. B. states in the introduction that “to my mind, there is no 
reason to posit any growing discontent with either Nero or the 
Principate” (p. xii). But passages such as this one (as well as e.g. 
7.440–59, 695–6—both also missing from this volume) invite us to read 
the Bellum Civile as a critique of the principate, and correspondingly to 
question the fulsome praise of the emperor at 1.33–66.

B. states in the preface that Lucan’s Latin “can be very difficult and 
the articulation of his ideas sometimes seems downright perverse” (p. 
vii). Few who have read the Bellum Civile would disagree. To this end, her 
commentary is at nearly every turn helpful to and appropriate for the 
student with only three or four years of Latin. Each excerpt is introduced 
in the commentary by a clear contextualization of the passage. The notes 
that follow address chiefly grammar, syntax and vocabulary, while also 
explaining relevant historical and cultural details, and noting some 
literary features. B. is especially helpful when reordering Lucan’s often 
terse and twisted sentences (such as 1.13–14 and 3.14–15) or unwinding 
his “tangled thoughts” (as she accurately describes 7.784–6). 
Thankfully, she also addresses a common classroom problem, by regularly 
encouraging students to translate ablative absolutes as separate clauses 
(on 1.501, 1.503 and elsewhere). And B. has a close eye for Lucan’s 
repeated use of paradox, as in his presentation at 1.486–504 of Rome as 
an urbs capta (though it has not in fact been sacked), and for important 
thematic words such as furor and nefas, whose presence and potency she 
notes throughout.

The commentary is perhaps too helpful in its discussion of morphology and 
syntax. For example, we read on 1.81–2 that hunc agrees with modum, when 
there are no other nouns in the accusative or singular in this sentence; 
and we are told on 7.617 that inpendisse is a perfect infinitive. These are 
forms an intermediate or advanced college student should be able to 
identify. Also, throughout the commentary (on 1.82, 1.129 and passim) B. 
notes that 3rd-person plural perfect active indicative forms ending in -ere 
should be read as -erunt. As in many Latin authors, in Lucan -ere is by far 
more common (e.g. 35 times in Book 1, vs. 12 appearances of -erunt; in Book 
7 the numbers are 25 and 5). Explaining every occurrence (even when the 
form cannot be confused with a homonym) may be counterproductive for a 
student adjusting to reading real Latin.

These are minor critiques of what will be an immensely valuable book in the 
collegiate Latin classroom. Though many teachers will want to supplement 
B.’s selections to better represent the poem’s complexities, on the 
whole this much-needed reader makes an excellent introduction to, and guide 
through, Lucan’s world. [[5]]

College of the Holy Cross

[[1]] Commentaries on single books that remain available and are suitable 
to undergraduates at various levels of experience are R.J. Getty on Book 1 
(London, [1940] 2007); Elaine Fantham on Book 2 (Cambridge, 1992); O. Dilke 
on Book 7 (London, [1960] 1998); Roland Mayer on Book 8 (Warminster, 1981); 
and David Kubiak on Book 9 (Bryn Mawr, 2001).

[[2]] The introduction is to a great extent a shortened version of B.’s 
introduction to her 1992 translation of the poem (Oxford, 1992) xiii–liv.

[[3]] Jamie Masters, Poetry and Civil War in Lucan’s Bellum Civile 
(Cambridge, 1992) 216–59.

[[4]] Discussing the range of interpretations of Lucan’s invocation of 
Nero, and referring to further scholarship, are Frederick Ahl, Lucan: An 
Introduction (Ithaca, 1976) 47–9, with n. 54; and Shadi Bartsch, Ideology 
in Cold Blood: A Reading of Lucan’s Civil War (Cambridge, MA, 1997) 
61–2 and 173 n. 46. A compelling ironic reading of Lucan’s panegyric is 
made by Stephen Hinds, “Generalising about Ovid,” Ramus 16: 4–31, at 

[[5]] I spotted just three typos: on p. 71 the word “from” belongs 
before “sticking and congealing”; on p. 77 read “Pompeians” for 
“Pompians”; and on p. 97 read “2.67–233” for “2.16–33.”

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