Amor belli: Elegiac Diction and the Theme of Love in Lucan’s Bellum civile
Directed by Matthew McGowan, Fordham University
This dissertation studies the influence of the three extant, canonical love elegists, Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid, on Lucan’s Bellum civile, and specifically how elegiac diction and topics are used in Lucan’s epic poetry. This approach addresses several contested areas of scholarship on Lucan, including the motivation of the poem’s characters, its ideas concerning heroism, the role of the poem’s erotic digressions, and the disposition of the narrator. In this respect, the study contributes to a more nuanced understanding of the generic status of Lucan’s poem and his relationship to poetic predecessors. Long understudied in Lucan scholarship, an elegiac reading of the epic Bellum civile offers fresh ways of reading both genres.
One topic stands out as especially important in discussing elegiac influence on the Bellum Civile, and as such receives particular attention in this study, namely love (amor). The term amor appears 32 times in the poem, often highly marked, as for example in pivotal scenes such as the fraternization of the soldiers during the Battle at Ilerda. Lucan’s amor is a consistently negative force, which is often connected to destructive tendencies in the characters who come into contact with it. The perverted logic of destructive love in Lucan’s portrayal of the late Republic is distilled into the programmatic “love of war” (1.21: amor belli) of the work’s proem. I argue here that Lucan’s definition of amor is more thematically central to Bellum civile than has been admitted in previous scholarship and derives in significant ways from the language of elegy.