Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.03.21 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.03.21

Valéry Berlincourt, Lavinia Galli Milić, Damien Nelis (ed.), Lucan and Claudian: Context and Intertext. Bibliothek der klassischen Altertumswissenschaften, 151.   Heidelberg:  Universitätsverlag Winter, 2016.  Pp. x, 322.  ISBN 9783825365493.  €40.00.  

Reviewed by Martin Korenjak, University of Innsbruck (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

As Lucan and Claudian are the most obviously politically committed epicists in ancient Latin epic poetry, a joint treatment of these two poets promises interesting results. Nonetheless, such a synopsis is by no means an obvious idea, which is why the editors’ explanation of the origin of the present volume (pp. 1–5) is highly appreciated: The book is based on a project financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation and was carried out 2010–13 in Geneva. This project aimed at exploring whether and how the method of Georg Nicolaus Knauer’s seminal study Die Aeneis und Homer (1964) could be adopted to analyse the intertextual strategies of other Roman poets as well, the examples chosen precisely being Lucan and Claudian. The desire to confront the results of the project with current research on both poets gave rise to the colloquium on ‘Lucain et Claudien face à face’ held in late 2012 at the Fondation Hardt, the individual contributions of which are assembled in the present volume.

Following the introduction (pp. 1–9), the volume contains 14 articles (a fuller summary of all of them can be found on pp. 5–9). It can be divided into three thematic sections. The first one mainly applies a comparative approach: after a brief overview of Claudian’s use of Lucanic passages, Jean-Louis Charlet contrasts both poets’ œuvres in general (pp. 11–30); Fritz Felgentreu examines similarities and differences in their attitudes towards the divine (pp. 31–42); Claudia Schindler analyses their treatment of republican heroes (pp. 43–59). The second section comprises papers focussing on either of the two poets in his own right: François Ripoll looks at Lucan’s political outlook (pp. 61–76); Fabrice Galtier, at the characterisation of the younger Cato as a Stoic Sage and a Roman politician in BC 2 (pp. 77–92); Florence Garambois-Vasquez, at the half-Vandal Stilicho as an incarnation of Romanitas in Claudian’s œuvre (pp. 93–106); Lavinia Galli Milić, at Lucan’s use of Manil. 1 in his eulogy of Nero (BC 1.33–66; pp. 107–25); and Roger Rees, at Claudian’s appropriation of the Panegyrici Latini (and Lucan) in De bello Gildonico (pp. 127–45). The last section deals with intertextual relations between Lucan and Claudian. Like the first section, it starts off with an overview (by Paolo Esposito, pp. 147–73); thereafter, Bruno Bureau studies the reception of Lucan in Contra Rufinum (pp. 175–97); Valéry Berlincourt shows in which ways the request for Roman world dominion in the Panegyricus dictus Olybrio et Probino consulibus obliquely evokes the model of the Bellum civile (pp. 199–225); Paul Roche demonstrates Lucan’s importance in style and content for In Rufinum (pp. 227–42); Catherine Ware follows suit for In Eutropium (pp. 243–54); finally, Neil Coffee and Chris Forstall explain how Claudian’s engagement with Lucan can be determined by digital means (pp. 255–83).

The scholarly level of the individual contributions is high and remarkably consistent. Although not all of them are equally novel, many new insights may be gained from most. Felgentreu, for example, is able to show that Claudian’s religious non-commitment (reduction of the Roman pantheon to a purely ornamental function, careful circumvention of everything that could sound too Christian [esp. p. 39]) is dictated by the religious and political conditions under which he had to work as a court poet: he simply could not afford to violate either the Christian or the pagan sensitivity. By calling attention to the communicative situation, Felgentreu thus manages to do justice to the textual evidence and at the same time gives short shrift to the elusive issue of Claudian’s personal religiousness. Equally convincing is Schindler’s demonstration that both Lucan and Claudian are far from nostalgically idealising republican heroes such as Cincinnatus or Camillus: Lucan considers them as untempted rather than exceptionally virtuous: the felix paupertas of their times gave them no occasion for greed and luxury; moreover, they appear as mere executors of the transpersonal forces of history, within the capacity of which they are even instrumental in bringing their own happy age to an end. For Claudian, who, contrary to Lucan, understands the course of history as a result of personal virtue and vice, the republican champions are outdone by those of his own time, as is shown by the example of the brothers Olybrius and Probinus (pp. 52–53). Bureau points out that the dissenting character of the two books of In Rufinum—the first one closer to mythological epic, the second one more ‘historical’—corresponds to different ways of reworking Lucan, who plays a far more important role in the second than in the first book. Bureau’s hints at Lucan’s status and significance in Late Antiquity as a notable prerequisite to his reception by Claudian (pp. 176, 178–79, 189) would deserve some further elaboration.1

Beyond these observations, three articles have struck the reviewer as especially thought-provoking. Under the heading ‘Peut-on considerer la Pharsale comme une “épopée tragique?”’, Ripoll questions the prevailing tendency to read the Bellum civile as a deeply pessimistic text and to characterise it with the vague epithet ‘tragic’. He regards the epic’s author/narrator (the distinction between these categories is slightly blurred) as a basically optimistic character with decidedly republican leanings (p. 64 n. 16, “foncièrement républicain”). Not everyone will endorse Ripoll’s reading of the laudes Neronis (on which see also Galli Milić, pp. 116–24) as an expression of delight in the emperor’s monstrous wickedness, which will presumably bring about the downfall of the empire and the restoration of the republic (p. 69–70). However, it is in any case a thoughtful attempt at making sense of the most stupefying passage in the whole epic. Ripoll’s understanding of the Bellum civile might even be strenghtened (and slightly modified) by taking into account the enduring popularity of the watchword libertas under the early Empire—a notion which did not necessarily imply the restoration of the republic but was used more broadly in the sense of ‘legal, non-oppressive government’.2

Two other papers make noteworthy contributions to the topic related to the origin of the book as a whole—intertextuality. While intertextuality has become an indispensable part of the literary critic’s toolkit and has decisively furthered our understanding of ancient literature over the last decades, a number of problems clustering around it have also emerged: conceptual vagueness, lack of clear criteria, failure to distinguish between different types (e.g. appropriation of a model as compositional aid vs. as source of additional meaning), de facto restriction to a small corpus of texts centered on Augustan poetry, blindness to the implications of the fact that the better part of ancient literature is lost3—and, as a result, inflationary use leading to unconvincing interpretations.4 The papers by Rees and Coffee/Forstall make remarkable efforts to cure some of these issues.

That intertextuality is not restricted to poetry has often been noticed in principle, but Rees’s article is one of the few studies to put this insight into practice. 5 Contrary to the widespread view of the rhetorical colour of late antique poetry, which mainly stems from rhetorical theory such as (Ps.-)Menander’s treatises on epideictic speeches, Rees looks for oratorical models instead. Whether he is right in connecting Claudian precisely to the Panegyrici Latini is difficult to tell, since panegyric oratory was omnipresent and whole libraries of it must have been produced. Nevertheless, his insisting on actual oratory as possibly providing the poet with more specific thoughts and arguments than the handbooks (esp. pp. 132–33) is certainly justified: his analysis of prosopopoeia of the fatherland as a means of driving the narrative on in the Panegyrici and in Claudian (pp. 138–40) is a convincing example. Oratorical practice has always been ahead of rhetorical theory, as the theorists themselves were well aware (Cic. De or. 1.146). Rees’s approach could fruitfully be transferred to other fields of ancient literature, such as Cicero and Augustan poetry or, on the Greek side, the fourth-century sophists (Libanius, Themistius, Himerius) and poets such as Nonnus.

Coffee and Forstall react to the problems of intertextuality by means of a digital and statistical approach. This approach (which goes by the name of Tesserae and can be tested at Tesserae)6 is restricted to lexical similarities between supposed source and target texts in phrases comprising two or more words, and it considers only two criteria—the frequency of the respective words and their distance from each other in both texts: the rarer the words and the closer they stand to one another, the more probable intentional intertextuality becomes; this probability is given a score on a 1-to-10-scale. As the authors are fully aware, their model disregards a number of important factors, from context to sense, metrics and text-critical problems, but it has the inestimable advantage of simplicity and easy applicability. By filtering the results, taking into account only those above a certain score, one can bring them quite close to what experienced human readers actually perceive as meaningful parallels. The method can be helpful in finding instances of intertextuality that have been overlooked so far, discarding alleged cases in which the similarities are too banal to be significant, and sketching an intertextual profile, so to speak, of a text as a whole. All of these single aspects are exemplified by means of the documentation and assessment of the parallels between the Bellum civile on one hand and De consulatu Stilichonis / De raptu Proserpinae on the other.

The book is diligently produced. Typos are rare, and only very few of them affect the meaning.7 Citing the full titles of secondary literature in the footnotes and in the bibliography seems a waste of space, but does not do any harm either. One would have appreciated indices nominum et rerum, but the most important index, given the nature of the book, the index locorum, is not only present, but full and accurate. It is a pleasure to note that the tradition of multilingualism so lovingly cultivated at the Fondation Hardt has also found its way into print with contributions in English, French, German and Italian. The nice and appropriate cover image—two manuscript pages with the correspondence between BC 1.369, post terga relinqueret orbem, and In Rufinum 2.245, mundum post terga relinquam, digitally rubricated—deserves special mention. All in all, this volume is a splendid testimonial to the versatility and originality of contemporary scholarship on Lucan and Claudian.

Table of Contents

Notes on Contributors VII
Valéry Berlincourt, Lavinia Galli Milić, Damien Nelis: Introduction 1
Jean-Louis Charlet: Lucain et Claudien: une poésie politique entre épopée, histoire et panégyrique 11
Fritz Felgentreu: Victrix causa deis placuit: Claudian und das entgötterte Epos 31
Claudia Schindler: Republikanische Ideale? Zur Darstellung und Funktion altrömischer Heldengestalten bei Lucan und Claudian 43
François Ripoll: Peut-on considérer la Pharsale comme une “épopée tragique”? 61
Fabrice Galtier: L’imago de Caton dans le livre 2 de la Pharsale 77
Florence Garambois-Vasquez: L’éloge de Stilicon dans la poésie de Claudien 93
Lavinia Galli Milić: Manilius et l’éloge de Néron (Lucan. 1,33–66): quelques considérations intertextuelles sur le prooemium du Bellum civile 107
Roger Rees: Ghosts of Authors Past in Claudian’s De Bello Gildonico 127
Paolo Esposito: Aspetti della presenza di Lucano nella poesia esametrica di Claudiano 147
Bruno Bureau: Présence/absence de Lucain dans les deux livres du Contre Rufin 175
Valéry Berlincourt: Lucain et le souhait de domination de la déesse Roma (Claud. Ol. Prob. 160–163) 199
Paul Roche: Lucan in Claudian’s In Eutropium: Rhetoric, Paradox, and Exemplarity 227
Catherine Ware: Eutropius, Lucan and the Ladies of Elegy 243
Neil Coffee, Chris Forstall: Claudian’s Engagement with Lucan in his Historical and Mythological Hexameters 255
Works Cited 285
Index locorum 301


1.   Cf. Esposito’s remarks (p. 173 n. 50) on our fragmentary knowledge of Lucan’s fate between the first and the fourth century.
2.   Mason Hammond. “ Res olim dissociabiles: principatus ac libertas. Liberty under the Early Roman Empire.” HSCPh 67 (1963) 93–113.
3.   A problem alluded to at pp. 17–18, 119 n. 38, but overlooked at p. 264.
4.   In the present volume, the concept is overstretched, for example, in the claim that Claudian composed Ruf. 1.193–95 (congestae cumulantur opes orbisque ruinas / accipit una domus: populi servire coacti / plenaque privato succumbunt oppida regno) from a combination of Luc. 1.351 (detrahimus dominos urbi servire paratae), 7.752–53 (invenere quidem spoliato plurima mundo / bellorum in sumptus congestae pondera massae) and 10.150 (Marte paratus opes mundi quaesisse ruina) at p. 187; cf. also the vague talk of “colorer de Lucain”, “coloration” and “coloris lucanien” there and at pp. 180, 191, 193.
5.   As another recent example, one may mention Timothy A. Joseph. Tacitus the Epic Successor. Leiden, Boston 2012.
6.   See also Neil Coffee et al. “Intertextuality in the Digital Age”. TAPhA 142 (2012) 383–424.
7.   P. 113, “ sic cum compage[s] soluta”; p. 261, “but identifying” (i.e. “ by identifying”?); p. 266, “parallels [between] Bellum civile 9 and De raptu Proserpinae”; p. 271, “if <we> accept”.

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