Bryn Mawr Classical Review 3.5.1


Susan Braund (trans.), Lucan. Civil War. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992. Pp. lvi + 335. ISBN 0-19-814485-7. $95.00.

Reviewed by Edward T. Weston, Bryn Mawr College.

Susan Braund's verse translation of Lucan's difficult epic combines the virtues of J.D. Duff's prose translation (1928) and the verse translation of P.F. Widdows (1988).

Braund describes herself (p. liii) as belonging to the "literalist school of translation": "My translation is not intended to be evaluated as an original artistic creation, nor as an interpretation only loosely based on the Latin. Rather, I have attempted to reproduce as accurately as possible both the content and the 'feel' of Lucan's poem... [W]here the language of the original is difficult or obscure or compressed, it is the translator's duty to convey that." She has, I think, succeeded: her translation is literal yet readable, and does an admirable job in trying to convey the spirit of Lucan.

Her translation is often similar to Duff's, as may be seen from the opening two lines of the poem:

Bella per Emathios plus quam civilia campos,
Iusque datum sceleri canimus, ...
Duff translates "Of war I sing, war worse than civil, waged over the plains of Emathia, and of legality conferred on crime..." Braund's version reads "Of wars across Emathian plains, worse than civil wars, / and of legality conferred on crime we sing, ..." Where she differs from Duff, her version is more literal, despite the difficulties of working within the constraints of verse. Lucan's "Quis furor, o cives, quae tanta licentia ferri" (B.C. 1.8) becomes in Duff: "What madness was this, my countrymen, what fierce orgy of slaughter?" Braund more literally, and yet idiomatically, translates: "What madness was this, O citizens? What this excessive freedom with the sword ... ?" Braund has, moreover, unlike Duff, retained every instance of Lucan's apostrophe, and has faithfully (with a few exceptions) preserved the troublesome distinction between Lucan's fortuna and fata. This is a real problem with Duff's version, which obscures the problem by translating these words far too freely, sometimes even rendering fata by "fortune" and fortuna by "fate."

She is also much closer to the text than P. F. Widdows, as may be illustrated by his translation of the lines above: "War, civil war and worse, fought out on the plains of Thessalia, / Times when injustice reigned and a crime was legally sanctioned.... This is my theme." Widdows' translation is in dactylic hexameter; Braund's medium is iambic free verse, with lines of varying length. With its close affinity to the English heroic verse, Braund's meter conveys the solemnity of epic. Braund has also, unlike Widdows, retained a line-to-line correspondence to the original, a practice that will save time and effort for the reader who wishes to make a comparison to the original text.

Braund supplies the reader with a useful thirty-six-page introduction (much longer than Duff's or Widdows'), which discusses Lucan's life, the contents of the poem and some general characteristics of Lucanian style. Her view of the meaning of the poem is traditional, and unfortunately ignores the very interesting ideas of a growing number of scholars who question whether Lucan may be characterized as a card-carrying Stoic (see, e.g., D.C. Feeney, The Gods in Epic (Oxford, 1991) 284; W.R. Johnson, Momentary Monsters: Lucan and his Heroes (Ithaca, 1987) 35-66, and passim; and O.S. Due, "Lucain et la philosophie," in Lucain, ed. M. Durry, Entretiens Fondation Hardt XV (Vandoeuvres-Genève, 1968) 203-32. Her notes at the end of the book (regrettably not cross referenced within the text) give much helpful information on the many geographical and historical references made by Lucan, and occasionally refer to other classical poetry, but are not so lengthy so as to deter the general reader. She has also included a glossary and index of names at the end of the book that will no doubt prove useful for classicist and general reader alike.