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Marcus Annaeus Lucanus

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Pharsalia, The Civil War


By Marcus Annaeus Lucanus
Poetry

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Marcus Annaeus Lucanus

  

Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (November 3, 39 AD – April 30, 65 AD), better known in English as Lucan, was a Roman poet, born in Corduba (modern-day Córdoba), in the Hispania Baetica. Despite his short life, he is regarded one of the outstanding figures of the Silver Latin period.

He found success under Nero, and won a prize for poetry in 60. His epic poem, Pharsalia (but labelled Bellum civile in the manuscripts), which told the story of the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey, was much acclaimed. However, he soon fell out of favor, and was alleged to have been lured into the conspiracy of Gaius Calpurnius Piso. His alleged treason having been discovered, he was obliged to commit suicide by opening a vein at the age of 25, but not before incriminating his mother (among others) in hopes of a pardon.

His father was involved in the proscription, his mother escaped, and his widow Polla Argentaria survived to receive the homage of Statius under Domitian. The birthday of Lucan was kept as a festival after his death, and a poem addressed to his widow upon one of these occasions and containing information on the poet's work and career is still extant (Statius's Silvae, ii.7, entitled Genethliacon Lucani).

As with Virgil's masterpiece, Lucan's epic poem was unfinished at the time of his death, and its untidy condition is reflected in its 400 complete and partial copies. As A.E. Housman stated in the preface to his edition of 1926, "the manuscripts group themselves not in families but in factions; their dissidences and agreements are temporary and transient ... and the true line of division is between the variants themselves, not between the manuscripts which offer them."

Pharsalia was celebrated during the Middle Ages; Dante mentions him twice:




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