Patrick J. Burns

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

From amicitia to amor: Lucan’s Elegiac Turn

Paper delivered at Boston University Graduate Student Conference 2015, ‘Love and Friendship in Greek and Roman Antiquity’ October 9, 2015


Lucan’s Bellum civile has long been read as an anti-Aeneid (Casali 2011; Narducci 1979), but the poem also shows an antagonistic relationship with other literature of the period, namely Latin love elegy (McCune 2014; Caston 2011). In this paper I look at Lucan’s development of an important elegiac topic, amor, and argue that he uses this term to present a double critique of both Republican amicitia and elegiac love. Lucan uses (amor 32 times in the Bellum Civile, almost entirely in a negative sense (e.g., amor belli, 1.21; amor ferri, 1.355; amor auri, 3.119; amor mortis, 6.246). In my reading, Lucan presents amicitia, the social currency of interpersonal relationships during the late Roman Republic (Brunt 1965), as broken in time of civil war and replaced by an amor compulsively directed toward inappropriate goals. I argue that this negative amor is elegiac in origin, specifically in that it represents devotion to an object of desire to the exclusion of all others and with the concomitant rejection of traditional values.

The origin of this play on the proper roles of amicitia and amor can be found in Catullus’s Lesbia poems where the poet speaks of his love in political terms. (Ross 1969) Lucan reverses Catullus’s innovation—itself an important influence on the development of elegiac amor (Gibson 1996)—by speaking of Republican politics in erotic terms. Lucan’s belated position as a poet writing about the Roman Republic but writing after the literary efflorescence of Latin love elegy under the early principate makes him uniquely qualified to offer such a critique of Republic social collapse. Lucan reimagines the Republic as a world without amicitia, or more precisely, a world where his transvaluation of elegiac amor has displaced the customary social bonds. For this discussion of elegiac amor in the Bellum civile, I will concentrate on Lucan’s description of the Battle of Ilerda in book 4. This scene offers the highest concentration of instances of amor (4.146, 175, 191, 205, 236). It also includes a moment, namely the near reconciliation of the warring armies, in which something close to genuinely positive amor is manifest and the recovery of amicitia becomes a momentary possibility. By way of conclusion, I will explore how my reading of amor in the Bellum civile helps to understand better the role of salus concordia (4.190) and Lucan’s treatment of related, ostensibly positive Roman values such as pietas and virtus.

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