Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.07.33

Paolo Esposito, Enrico M. Ariemma, Lucano e la tradizione epica latina. Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studi, Fisciano-Salerno, 19-20 ottobre 2001. Università degli Studi di Salerno, Quaderni del Dipartimento di Scienze dell'Antichità.   Naples:  Alfredo Guida Editore, 2004.  Pp. 203.  ISBN 88-7188-834-0.  €16.70.  

Contributors: Emanuele Narducci, Andrew Zissos, Paolo Esposito, Johannes J.L. Smolenaars, Alessandro Perutelli, Emanuele Berti, Laura Micozzi, Enrico M. Ariemma

Reviewed by Paolo Asso, Kenyon College (
Word count: 3070 words

Lucano e la tradizione dell'epica latina collects the eight papers presented on 19 October 2001 at the international conference on Lucan hosted by the University of Salerno (7-191). Two indexes, of ancient loci and modern authors, end the volume (193-203). The editors regret that neither the discussion after each paper nor the round-table debate held the following day could be included in the volume.

As the editors auspicate in the Premessa (5-6), the present collection continues and complements the volume Interpretare Lucano, edited by Paolo Esposito and Luciano Nicastri in 1999 and reviewed by Antonios Augoustakis in BMCR 2002.02.01. Since Interpretare Lucano has also appeared in the same series of Quaderni del Dipartimento di Scienze dell'Antichità under the editorship of Paolo Esposito, the lack of an introduction in this later volume should not surprise us. After the brief editorial remarks, Lucano e la tradizione dell'epica latina claims to print the eight papers in the order in which the original talks were delivered. Posterior adjustments were presumably made in the footnotes and in the separate lists of bibliographical references appended to each essay. Along with the collected volume edited by Esposito and Nicastri in 1999, the present collection covers much recent bibliography of Lucan and represents several current literary readings of the poem. Always aware of the text (whether Lucan, his models, or his imitators), the approaches covered (thematic, formalist, conceptual, semiotic, and historicist) recall those of the 1999 volume.

In line with the unity of its topic, this collection is distinctive for internal coherence, balanced between the intertextual readings on the one hand and the thematic variety on the other. Five papers focus on Lucan's texts, whereas three explore Lucanian intertexts in subsequent Flavian poetry, notably Valerius Flaccus' Argonautica, Statius' Thebaid and Silius Italicus' Punica. But all of the essays show remarkable awareness of the importance of Virgil, Ovid, and Seneca in Lucan's style, poetic form, and epic content.

What follows offers a summary of each paper.

In analyzing Lucan's proem as an essay of cosmological poetry, Narducci's "Lo sfondo cosmico della Pharsalia" (7-19) opens the collection, as it were, from a universal perspective. The essay illustrates Lucan's poetic language and rhetorical technique with references to Seneca's essays and tragedies, as well as to Horace, Cicero, and even Aeschylus' Seven against Thebes. In elucidating how Lucan narrates the internecine strife that lacerates Rome, Narducci rightly emphasizes the hyperbolic frame of cosmic ruin on the background of which the poet casts his Civil War narrative. Narducci proceeds to show the force of such rhetorical devices as Lucan's polyptoton sidera sideribus (1.75) in its rendering the idea of parts that turn against themselves. As Narducci notes, Lucan's vision of cosmic decadence assumes that the social and cosmic orders mirror one another. This vision constitutes a further development of Cicero's comparison of the destruction of the state with cosmic ruin (De re publica 3.34). It is on the background of this vision that the whole narrative of the poem -- as well as Lucan's tragic view of Roman history -- unfolds.1

Reformulating Giorgio Pasquali's phrase Arte Allusiva, Andrew Zissos' engaging study on "L'Ironia Allusiva: Lucan's Bellum Ciuile and the Argonautica of Valerius Flaccus" (21-38) is distinctive in its emphasis on Lucan's text as an inspiring model to emulate. The essay unfolds in four sections: 1) Introduction (21-3); 2) Intertextual Irony (23-5); 3) Vatic Dissonance (25-35); and 4) a Conclusion (35-6). As stated in the introductory paragraphs, Zissos' reading of Lucan in Valerius focuses on Valerius' deviation from Virgil. In particular, Zissos examines Valerius' use of irony 'to create effects of "doubling" and disjunction' (22). Relying on Italian neo-classical philosopher G.B. Vico's insight that irony is one of the four overarching tropes (along with synecdoche, metonymy, and metaphor), Zissos follows a twentieth-century interpretation of Vico's theory according to which irony is the most sophisticated of literary tropes:2 'Valerius adds the fourth and final master trope -- irony -- to an inherited Virgilian poetic language that is, to a large extent, constellated around the first three' (23). Practicing 'intertextual irony,' Valerius affirms 'on the referential or intertextual level the contrary of what is asserted on the literal level' (24). For example, Jason's exhortation reads literally as praise to the Argonauts for opening the sea to mankind, whereas on the referential or intertextual level it recalls their involvement in an episode of civil war between the Colchian brothers Aeetes and Perses (Val. Fl. 1.168-9 o quantum terrae, quantum cognoscere caeli / permissum est, pelagus quantos aperimus in usus! ~ Lucan. 1.13-14 heu, quantum terrae potuit pelagique parari / hoc quem ciuiles hauserunt sanguine dextrae). In detecting this slight similarity, Zissos relies on Eva Pollini's essay "Il motivo della visendi cupido nel Giasone di Valerio Flacco" (Maia 36: 51-61). Though limited to the use of the term pelagus and the phrase quantum terrae introduced by an interjection (o in Valerius and heu in Lucan), Zissos uses this similarity to illustrate how, by incorporating Lucan's theme of civil war, Valerius duplicates his literal meaning and produces an ideological crevice, as it were, a rupture whereby Valerius' allusive irony undermines and contains the ideological influence of the Virgilian model by compromising the positive message of discovery (25). Zissos' absorbing piece culminates with the critique of Mopsus' and Idmon's contradictory prophecies. Foreseeing Medea's infanticide, Mopsus predicts the disastrous outcome of the Argo enterprise, while Idmon emphasizes the all-conquering and therefore positive aspects of Argo's mission. Zissos shows that while the intertextual referent to Mopsus' negative prophecy lies in the authentic oracle delivered by the Pythia in Book V of Lucan, Idmon's reassuring prophecy uses as referent the false utterance of Lucan's Pythia. The double force of the intertext lies in Lucan's double prophecy, but as Zissos rightly notes, Jason's exhortation to his men purposefully ignores the truthful complexity of Mopsus' prophecy and chooses to emphasize the 'historically' positive effects of their enterprise: 'Jupiter himself has wanted these commercia for the world' (ipse suo voluit commercia mundo / Iuppiter 1.246-7). Jason's persuasiveness ultimately (and somewhat cruelly) depends on his failure to comprehend the prophetic message in its duplicitous totality. Jason fails to control the meaning of his own words, for the phrase commercia mundo, as it turns out, echoes Lucan's reference to shipwrecks as a form of international trade (Bellum Ciuile 9.443)3 and thereby the 'allusion injects a subtle element of intertextual irony into Jason's remarks' (34). This reviewer hopes to have conveyed how Zissos' key terms of 'disjunction' and 'ironic doubling' effectively describe Valerius' use of Lucanian intertexts as part of 'an on-going strategy of containment,' -- as Zissos concludes (36) -- aimed at counteracting the stylistic and ideological influence of the Aeneid on Valerius' poem. With its focus on the semiotics of irony as the master trope, Zissos' study explores a promising path of enquiry into the ways in which Lucan's Bellum Ciuile has influenced subsequent literature.4

Starting from the results published by H. Nowak in his 1955 Vienna dissertation Lukansstudien, Paolo Esposito's "Lucano e la negazione per antitesi" (39-67) offers a survey of sixteen loci that exemplify Lucan's fondness for a rhetorical device called 'negative enumeration.' This device is tagged by the repeated use in any combination of the adverbs non and numquam and especially the conjunction nec. This feature consists in listing all or most of the reasonably expected characteristics of a scene only to stress their absence. In his preliminary statement on methodology (39-41), Esposito begins with reassessing the centrality of the paradox as Lucan's privileged form of discourse. In subsequent sections, Esposito offers his selection of instances: Cato's non-marriage (2.354-80); an 'uninhabited' grove (3.399-425); a father's 'un-ritual' behavior (3.726-51); the uselessness of luxury 4.378-81; unusual boats (4.415-26); a mass suicide (4.558-66); fighters' 'inaction' (4.749-64); a simulated prophecy (5.148-57); the terrifying immobility of the elements (5.430-5; 442-6); new rites (6.423-34; 507-25); half-eaten corpses (7.834-44); the military incompetence of the Parthians (8.368-88); uncommon luxury (10.111-19); Pothinus' punishment (10.515-19); no escape (10.537-41). For example, Esposito shows how in 3.726-51 a father witnesses the brutal wounding of his son but omits all the acts that would be expected in such an instance; he neither weeps nor beats his chest but instead remains unmoved as if paralyzed. Finally, with a coup de theatre, the father kills himself in time not to survive his own son. The force of the paradox resides in the unexpectedness of this father's behavior. While the scene might have ended with the son's death and the subsequent suicide of his father, Esposito shows how everything in Lucan unfolds in antithesis to any behavioral code. While Lucan appropriates the paradox of the negative enumeration in an original way, namely as a necessary consequence of the perverse logic of the civil war, Esposito traces this rhetorical feature back to the cosmological and geo-ethnographic narratives already available to Livy but which find their immediate poetic precedent in some of Seneca's tragedies. In particular, Esposito shows how, as a stock scene, Lucan's description of the locus horridus owes much to analogous descriptions in Seneca's Thyestes and Hercules Furens.

In "La sfinge in Stat. Theb. 2, 496-523: Un'analisi intertestuale" (70-84), Johannes Smolenaars composes a 'handbook' to analyze Statius' intertextual references within certain self-sustained narrative units. In Smolenaars' opinion, Statius' 'combined imitation' (imitazione combinatoria, 69-70), combines a primary source with one or more secondary sources. The primary source would provide content and narrative structure, whereas the secondary sources make available the stylistic and conceptual elements that will replace (some or all of) those found in the primary source. This seems to mean that while some episodes can be easily configured as 'stock scenes', e.g. 'divine intervention,' 'catalog,' etc., the additional elements that the poet derives from elsewhere would thwart the critic's straightforward identification of the primary source as the exclusive referent model. Statius' manipulation of his borrowings is so extensive -- writes Smolenaars -- that they elude database search (70). To put his assumptions at work, Smolenaars concentrates on the brief narrative of the Theban expedition wanted by Eteocles to attract Tydeus in an ambush. In practicing his exercise in Quellenforschung, Smolenaars enunciates five 'rules' that should guide us in identifying sources as primary and secondary. As the author himself points out, the nature of his study, which relies on the Packard Humanities Institute database of Greek and Latin texts on CD-ROM, provides evidence in cumulative form (70), and the rich repertoire of parallels Smolenaars offers for Statius' ecphrasis of the locus horridus as inhabited by his Sphinx ranges from Homer to Valerius Flaccus through Virgil, Ovid, Seneca and Lucan. Smolenaars achieves his goal of showing how abundantly informed Statius' imitation of his predecessors is.

After Smolenaars' omnicomprehensive list of parallels for Statius' Sphinx episode, Alessandro Perutelli brings us back to Lucan. Echoes from Sallust, Livy, and Virgil's Georgics inform Perutelli's reading of post-battle scenes as spectacle, a typical theme of historical narratives that resurfaces in Tacitus, as indicated in Perutelli's appendix and mentioned in his title: 'Dopo la battaglia: La poetica delle rovine in Lucano (con un'appendice su Tacito)' (85-108). As Perutelli argues, the sight of ruins evokes complex emotional responses in the reader as well as the characters in the narrative: memory, regret, joy, grief, worship, spite. Perutelli's point of departure is the spectacle that offers itself to an irate Caesar after the battle of Pharsalus. Parallels from historiography, notably from Sallust's words of praise for the valor displayed at Pistoia by the dead conspirators in his De Coniuratione Catilinae, and Livy's gruesome description of a corpse mutilation scene after Cannae, allow Perutelli to highlight Lucan's manipulative intervention on the historiographical tradition about Caesar's behavior after Pharsalus. While the historical sources emphasize the dictator's clemency, Lucan's poetic rendering of the scene dwells on Caesar's insatiable thirst for blood, and, in one of his hyperboles, the poet notes how even the vultures are satiated, for they depart the carnage leaving half-eaten limbs on the field, whereas for Perutelli the cruelty of Lucan's Caesar knows no limits (97). Later on, notes Perutelli, when Caesar will visit the ruins of Troy, his attitude has a different mark. Troy's ideological allure lives on, preserved as it is in the very sacredness of the site where each tombstone speaks to the entire world (nullum est sine nomine saxum, 9.973).5 For Perutelli the post-Pharsalus scene in Lucan resonates with references not only to poetry but also to historiography, and his essay is followed by a useful appendix that shows how the motif resurfaces in Tacitus' Histories.

While Perutelli's interest in morals centers on post-battle scenes, in "Aspetti del moralismo nell'epica di Lucano" (109-35) Emanuele Berti relies on S. Citroni Marchetti's formulation to examine the moral aspects of Lucan's language as the 'necessary and normal instrument of expression in describing reality.'6 Like Perutelli, Berti finds that Lucan could have been inspired by Sallust's De Coniuratione Catilinae. Having explored Lucan's moralizing language in his commentary on Book X (Florence, 2000), Berti begins to illustrate how Lucan's explanation of the publica belli semina (1.158ff.) is modeled on chapters 10-13 of Sallust's De Coniuratione Catilinae, where Sallust expresses his moralizing conception of history, according to which luxury and greed have determined the current decay in Roman morals with the resulting civic disorders. Further aspects of Lucan's moralizing language emerge in the first half of Book IV during Caesar's campaign against the Pompeians Afranius and Petreius in Spain. Pardoned by Caesar, Afranius' soldiers may finally relieve their thirst with simple water, which prompts the poet's reflections on frugality. Cast as an apostrophe to luxury, Lucan's authorial remark reflects on the uselessness of wine and gold to those who suffer from lack of bread and water (4.374-81, esp. 4.396f. ~ Georgics 2. 458ff., 472, 523f.). Berti acknowledges the triteness of Lucan's remarks and traces the cliché as far back as Euripides frg. 892 Nauck. In particular, Lucan's expression satis est populis fluviusque Ceresque would echo Euripides saying that 'nothing is dearer to mortals than Demeter's corn (Δήμητρος ἀκτής) or a fresh water draught (πώματος θ' ὑδρηχόου).' Berti corroborates his history of this Euripidean fragment with copious references to ancient and modern sources in his footnotes. Berti notes how Gellius attests to Chrysippus' repeated usage of Euripides' quote in his ethico-political writings. Appealing to the Stoic philosophers and the other critics of human morals, Euripides' quote eventually found its way into the popular genre of the philosophical diatribe through Chrysippus' contemporary Teles, a 3rd-century-BCE author of diatribes, whose fragments are preserved in Stobaeus' 4th-century-CE anthology. Expanding his sample of Lucan's philosophical antecedents to include Varro, Horace, Musonius, and Seneca, Berti successfully documents the fascinating richness of Lucan's language in its complex ties with the rhetorical and philosophical debates that originated in the Hellenistic schools of thought but found their new home at Rome.

As she herself states at the outset, Laura Micozzi in "Memoria diffusa di luoghi lucanei nella Tebaide di Stazio" continues her previously published work on Statius and Lucan.7 Micozzi coins the phrase 'memoria diffusa' (roughly, 'diffused memory') to signify the repetition of recurrent motifs in antithesis to Virgil's principle of selecting episodes from Homer and then emphasizing and/or developing certain aspects. Unlike Virgil who concentrates two or more Homeric scenes in one, Statius returns to the same locus in Lucan in different loci of his Thebaid. Micozzi's notion of 'memoria diffusa' aims at describing the Flavian poets' taste for hyperbole, after the manner of Lucan, or in Lucanian vein, as a way of expressing pathos. Micozzi shows how Lucan's imitators sometimes echo more than once some of Lucan's verbal formulations. Micozzi agrees with Smolenaars in acknowledging Statius' amplification of a certain motif, but while Smolenaars shows Statius' capacity to narrate, as it were, the history of a single motif through as many parallels as the intertext-savvy reader/critic can recognize, Micozzi emphasizes a further aspect of Statius' poetic technique by showing that Lucan's intertext allows Statius to amplify a motif and exploit it to capacity. Lucan's ideological outlook, for example, as expressed in the long speech on the previous civil wars by the nameless old man in Book II, allows Statius to reflect on how the memory of the past forestalls the tragic events to follow (Lucan 2.166ff. ~ Stat. Theb. 3.191ff.). As Micozzi notes, Statius has already featured this particular aspect of Lucan's ideological outlook at Thebaid 1.171ff., where he also reproposes the motif of the nameless narrator as featured in Book II of Lucan's Bellum Ciuile.

Enrico Maria Ariemma's lucid essay "Lo spettro della fame, l'arsura della sete (Sil. II 461-474)" (153-88) concludes the volume with a close reading of the siege of Saguntum from Silius' Punica in its dynamic dialogue with the episode of Vulteius from Book IV of Lucan's Bellum Ciuile. Ariemma has arranged his argument in nine sections prefaced by an introduction. Ariemma most perceptively characterizes the Punica as a sort of 'retrospective anticipation' of Lucan's Bellum Ciuile. Far from following the sterile readings of those who measure Silius' levels of classicism, Ariemma forcefully admits that Lucan is fundamental in our reading of Silius (156-7). This approach is fruitful in the appreciation of both authors. Ariemma's Silio-centrism allows us to recognize Silius as an intelligent reader of Lucan. For example, by causing them to lose their city during the siege at 2.461-74, Silius' description of how hunger takes the Saguntines amplifies Livy's scant remarks about the Saguntines' sufferings (21.11 and 12) by inserting echoes from Ovid's Erysichthon and Seneca's Oedipus. Silius has cast his depiction of fames in the emaciated features of Ovid's Erysichthon, but the diction is Lucan's. On the one hand Ariemma recognizes the presence of the Virgilian model in Saguntum's hunger by acknowledging the precedent of the fall of Troy in Aeneid II. On the other he emphasizes how Silius' poetic memory of Ovid's ekphrasis of Fames is voiced in Lucanian diction by echoing the Vulteius passage from Book IV. In other words, Silius applies to hunger the words that Lucan refers to thirst. Other contexts of disease and human deprivation in Silius are clad in Lucanian diction. But as Ariemma abundantly shows, Silius' use of Lucan is not restricted to lexicon. With its retrospective on the second Punic war, the Punica narrates an episode of Rome's conquest with the hindsight themes and ideological outlooks found in Lucan's narrative of civil war.

The summaries offered above hopefully have shown that this deceptively slim volume is an excellent addition to the current scholarship on Lucan.


1.   A more detailed discussion is available in Narducci's own monograph on Lucan (Rome/Bari, 2002), reviewed in BMCR 2002.07.36 (Narducci's response in BMCR 2002.08.14); GIF 2002: 284-7; Orpheus 2002: 273-7; Prometheus 2002: 278-82. On Lucan's cosmologic theme and its Ovidian pedigree, see now R. Tarrant, "Chaos in Ovid's Metamorphoses and Its Neronian Influence, Arethusa 2002.3: 349-60; and S. Wheeler, "Lucan's Reception of Ovid's Metamorphoses," ibidem, 361-80.
2.   See Zissos' informative references to Hayden White's Metahistory and John Culler's work on semiotics.
3.   To interpret shipwrecks as a form of international trade is perhaps a bit of a stretch, even for Lucan. The context in Lucan Book IX is the geo-ethnographic interlude on the African Syrtes (prefaced to the narrative of Cato's doomed march through the African desert). Here Lucan mentions a curious habit of the Nasamones. Besides plowing in the nude the quasi-barren salty-wet sands of the Syrtes, the nomadic tribe of the Nasamones has learned how to make some occasional profit by plundering the vessels frequently shipwrecked in the Syrtes' treacherous shallows. If by trade we mean the voluntary exchange of goods with mutual profit for the parties involved, it is unclear in Lucan's text whether the shipwreck victims earned anything from the operation.
4.   Along these lines, the Lucan Conference hosted at Princeton University, October 3-5, 2003 (Politics, Violence and the Republican Imagination: Lucan and his Legacy), has brought together classicists and students of later literatures in exploring Lucan's representative influence from imperial Rome to seventeenth-century French drama and Venetian opera, from Tacitus to Corneille and Bussani through Petrarch, Marlowe and Shakespeare.
5.   For an insightful interpretation in which Caesar is seen as "writing" his own tale on the ruins of Troy, with the resulting conflation in Lucan's imagery of the cities of Troy and Rome, see now A. Rossi "Remapping the past: Caesar's tale of Troy (Lucan BC 9.964-999)," Phoenix 2001: 213-26.
6.   S. Citroni Marchetti, Plinio il Vecchio e la tradizione del moralismo romano (Pisa, 1991), 83, cited in Berti, 109.
7.   "Aspetti dell'influenza di Lucano nella Tebaide in Interpretare Lucano, 343-87.

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