Patrick J. Burns

Postdoc at the Quantitative Criticism Lab | Formerly ISAW Library | Fordham PhD, Classics | CLTK contributor

Caesar Captivus: Elegiac Enrichment in Lucan’s Bellum civile

Classical Association of the Atlantic States Annual Meeting Session: The Flowering and Reception of Flavian Epic October 9, 2015


In the final book of Bellum civile, Caesar arrives in the court of Cleopatra where, as Lucan describes in condemnatory language, he abandons his immediate military responsibilities to engage in an adulterous affair (10.72-81). In this paper, I argue that this episode is the culmination of a running theme of love as a destructive force in the Bellum civile. Lucan uses elegiac diction and topics throughout his epic to offer a critique of the theme of militia amoris and the commitment to a “life of love” (Lyne 1980) which allows it. Lucan’s transvaluation of elegiac amor adopts the generic conceit while applying it to the literal circumstances of the characters. Characters in the Bellum civile are motivated by amor, but it is not the “virtual pacificism” (Lyne 1980, 75) that the Augustan settlement of the civil wars permitted. Whereas the elegists could speak through the metaphor of war, for Lucan’s characters, war is reality not escapist fantasy. Viewed in these terms, the programmatic statement of Rome’s amor belli (1.21) appears to be an inversion of the militia amoris (McCune 2014). This argument extends the logic of the Bellum civile as an anti-Aeneid (Narducci 1979, 2002) in that I argue that Lucan’s challenge is not only to his epic predecessor but more generally to the Augustan conditions which produced the Aeneid as well as the work of Tibullus and Propertius. Lucan’s antiphrastic use of elegiac material thus offers a compelling example of generic enrichment (Harrison 2007; Papanghelis 2013). For this discussion of elegiac amor in the Bellum civile, I will concentrate on Lucan’s description of Caesar captivus (10.65). In this brief scene, Lucan portrays Caesar (anachronistically) as an elegiac lover, subject to Cleopatra (described later in the book with the elegiac keyword domina, 10.357) in a kind of servitium amoris, and willing to sacrifice his militaristic momentum following Pharsalia and the death of Pompey. While critics have noted the importance of Lucan’s intertexts with Aeneas at Carthage (e.g., Zwierlein 1974), the scene can be seen as also engaged with the themes of Latin love elegy. Lucan’s narrative proves the absurdity of elegiac priorities during civil war.

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