BMCR 2009.09.45

Caesar and the Storm: A Commentary on Lucan, De Bello Civili, Book 5, lines 476-721

, Caesar and the Storm: A Commentary on Lucan, De Bello Civili, Book 5, lines 476-721. Oxford/New York: Peter Lang, 2008. 321. ISBN 9783039107360 $77.95 (pb).

Table of Contents

Monica Matthews has done scholars and students of Lucan a great service in publishing a full-scale commentary on Caesar’s attempted crossing of the Adriatic in book five of De Bello Ciuili. Remarkably, Matthews’ is the second of four commentaries in English on Lucan’s poem to be published in this twelve-month period. Susanna Braund’s excellent new reader will facilitate the reading of Lucan’s poem by many more students, while Paulo Asso and I are each publishing editions of complete books (4 and 1 respectively) later in 2009.1 The episode which Matthews has chosen commences with Caesar’s departure from his own camp in Epirus and concludes with the arrival of Antony’s troops at Nymphaeum. Thus 245 lines receive 247 pages of comment. This is three times the scale of the comments of her most recent predecessor, Pamela Barrett,2 who covered the same material a generation ago in 82 pages. Book five was a great choice. Barrett’s comments were largely devoted to assembling comparanda and offered little in the way of interpretation. This section of the poem has therefore long been in need of full scale exploration via commentary. All the more so since the upward surge in scholarly attention on the poem beginning with the monographs of Morford and (especially) Ahl was little in evidence in Barratt.3 Immediately prior to Barratt stand Housman’s notes, ‘ editorum in usum‘,4 and Haskins’ 1887 edition ‘with English notes’ of the whole poem.5 Matthews largely eschews the grammatical and stylistic points which predominate in Barratt’s edition. She is consistently more accurate, more generous in both the frequency and scale of her comments, more committed to interpreting as well as cataloguing comparanda (and more judicious in their selection), and more provocative in her response than was Barratt. Matthews consistently engages in her notes with the key critical scholarship on the poem from Morford to Sklenar.6 She brings new insights to light, teases out more nuances from the text, and generally interrogates the meaning of Lucan’s text in greater detail than any of her predecessors on this section of the poem.

Matthews’ edition comprises an introduction (pp. 13-25), text and translation (pp. 28-40; the text is Housman’s except in four places), and commentary (pp. 43-290). She includes two maps of the south Adriatic (p. 305) and two appendices: one comprises an overview of the historical sources for this episode (pp. 307-14); the other outlines the traditional features of the epic storm and Lucan’s use of these (pp. 315-18). A full bibliography (pp. 291-303) and a brief index (pp. 319-21) are also included. In her introduction, Matthews offers a summary of the episode and its main sources as well as her own modus operandi (pp. 13-15). The remainder of the introduction treats four topics: [i] love poetry as an influence upon Caesar’s relationship with his troops (pp. 15-17); [ii] Lucan’s use of Vergil (pp. 18-22), covering Caesar’s varying embodiments of Aeneas, the Nisus and Euryalus episode, and the weather signs from Georgics 1; [iii] Amyclas as a foil to Caesar (pp. 22-3); and [iv] a final section crystallizing some of the ways in which Lucan’s storm engages with earlier storm narratives (23-5). Within this introduction, observations which are necessarily fragmented throughout the comments are brought together in one place to offer an overview of some of Matthews’ main approaches to this episode. The only misleading element here is the conclusion that Caesar’s separation from Antony is framed as a kind of paraclausithyron (p. 16): the figure of the abandoned lover and (as Matthews notes) Ovidian epistolography are much more relevant. Her translation is an accurate and readable prose rendering of Lucan’s Latin. It is keyed to the Latin text at regular intervals of five lines.

There are many aspects of Matthew’s work to recommend. One beauty of a commentary of this size is that large-scale thematic trajectories can be mapped in miniature. Thus one aspect of the whole poem’s position in relation to the Aeneid can be seen e.g. in the application of the adjective attonitus to Caesar at 476, in a context evoking Aen. 4.279-82 (echoed at 481 cf. Aen. 4.242). Likewise, Lucan’s replacement of the traditional divine apparatus of epic can be illustrated e.g. at e.g. 579-80, evoking Aen. 5.17-18. I was repeatedly struck by the utility of reading Caesar’s relationship with his troops through an elegiac lens, an approach pioneered by Matthew Leigh in his reading of Caesar’s ‘Crazy Gang’ (esp. pp. 204-6)7 and generally applied to great effect throughout Matthews’ notes (one minuscule reservation below at 480-97 and 494). Matthews is consistently excellent in her use of Caesar’s commentaries and historical sources more generally. These are used to supply elements missing from Lucan’s narrative and shed light on his principles of selection; they are thus relevant to his poetic project. She is likewise acute on Lucan’s narrative tendencies in general (476), and is a reliable guide to the frequency of his words (esp. in relation to Vergilian usage), the register of his vocabulary, and his syntax. She often and generously re-orients the reader with overviews and even tables at points of narrative transition. There are full notes on manuscript variants and lacunae. Her comments are illuminating on Lucan’s interest in class and rank, so too on the rhetorical and linguistic components of Lucan’s storm.

The shortcomings of this commentary are very few in my opinion. The reader is often referred to the index in order to piece together broader concepts and themes which a full-scale introduction ought to have covered in one place. A text (to me the only obvious one) that I felt was cited but under-explored by Matthews was Sen. Ag. 465ff. Her comments on the correlation of rhythm and sound to Lucan’s meaning and narrative frequently rest on criteria which are subjective and thus fail to convince in some instances, especially in regard to the effect of elision, but also on combinations of spondees and dactyls. I accept completely that this last criticism may be a matter of my own taste. Occasionally phrases and extracts from the translation are unnecessarily repeated in the notes. There were very few typos indeed (I noticed about three for the whole text).

Two related concerns attach to the project as it stands; both are in effect compliments to Matthews and her achievement. First and most important, by publishing a saggio, she has deprived us of her own full-scale edition of the whole of the book, and this may incidentally further deter publication of any full edition of book five. Second, the relationship of this scene to the rest of book five and to the rest of the poem falls largely outside the scope of this commentary, and yet these are vitally relevant issues.

In sum, this is an excellent commentary on a scene of great importance within Lucan’s epic. I have learnt a great deal about De Bello Ciuili from Matthews in the course of writing this review. What follows are reactions to individual points. It would have been impractical to include every point at which I thought Matthews was a valuable guide. I look forward to using her comments for reliable assistance on this part of the poem for a long time to come.

Comments ad locc.

478 audax Antonius : I would like to see more exploration of Antony as Turnus to Caesar’s Aeneas, if only to understand better what that would mean in Lucan’s poem. Here, could Antonius not be audax by virtue of being a partisan of Caesar—as are Curio at 1.269 and 4.583, Laelius at 1.382, Caesar’s forces (as reported) at 1.474, and Catus at 3.586—and rehearsing civil war at Actium by participating in an earlier civil war? On the other hand, to support Matthew’s reading of audax here, cf. 490; Metellus in opposition to Caesar at 3.144; and Caesar’s mutinous troops at 5.259.

480-97 On Caesar as both masculine and feminine, I think the historiographical tradition on Caesar’s sexuality is less relevant (and probably less useful hermeneutically) here than the intertextual superimposition of Caesar upon Catullus’ Ariadne, which is wonderfully documented by Matthews. On this point, I would like more on the nature and dynamics of Lucan’s inversion of the Catullan material. At times, the erotic nuances within Caesar’s language felt to me a touch over-stressed at the expense of more commonly encountered contexts (see e.g. below on 494).

481 Matthews deftly uses the historical evidence for Caesar’s letter to Antony, passed over in silence in Lucan, to illustrate his reworking of Ovidian epistolography.

485 Libye : a note is needed on Lucan and nouns with Greek terminations.

486 tua : is just as emphatic and provocative as inexperto, since they are all Caesar’s troops. Caesar’s indignant point is thus threefold ( inexperto, tua, nouos).

488 te Caesar : juxtaposes contrasting nouns (repeated with variation at 490), themselves embedded within the oppositional contrast of uenire and non ire. There is no metrical awkwardness to exert influence upon emphasis here: Lucan twice elsewhere uses iubeo and could have contrasted ego te in this line as easily as he does at 8.639.

489 On legal language: it is prevalent in BC and relevant to Lucan and Ovid (with Kenney, Yale Classical Studies 21 (1969) 241-63).

494 naufragio is a literal manifestation of the price of civil war at 1.503, deployed here with some thematic symmetry. On uoce doloris more is needed on the use of dolor within normal political contexts (cf. e.g. Cic. Marc. 2) to balance its potentially erotic dimensions: the word is at home in both contexts.

495 utendum est : a formula used only by Caesar in BC, and here for the last time ( iudice belli at 1.227 and then uiribus . . . quas fecimus at 1.348); these earlier contexts may give extra point to iam.

497 Ausoniam tu solus habes : Caesar reworks Curio’s admonition to him at 1.290-1 partiri non potes orbem [cf. 5.495], | solus habere potes.

501-2 prono | . . . deo : used of Caesar at 1.291-2, 295 (in simile), of his troops at 1.392.

508 sollicito . . . gressu : on Caesar’s apparently contradictory emotions, perhaps compare Pompey’s flight from Pharsalus, fearless at 7.678-82, fearful at 8.5-8.

511 uigilum somno cedentia membra : Lucan ironically inverts the traditional situation in a night raid scene, wherein the enemies of the raiders are found somno soluti or similar.

515 secura : the security of Amyclas as one of Lucan’s non-participating observers of the war can be contextualised (either here or at 526) by the pardoned Pompeians in Spain at 4.363-401, esp. Lucan’s beatitudes at 393-401, a passage that also celebrates their pauperies.

520 On Caesar’s near destruction of Amyclas’ house, compare the insistent image throughout the poem of civil war as architectural ruination. Caesar enacts and literalises a fundamental metaphor of the civil war that he causes.

521 quisnam . . . naufragus : the theme of shipwreck in comedy, as in Plautus’ Rudens, could contextualise Matthews’ reading of comedic influence on these lines. Perhaps also an exploration of the irony of Amyclas’ view of Caesar’s fortuna, in view of his companion.

533 iuuenis : I think this is no indicator of Amyclas’ age, but a variation on puer (as at Verg. Ecl. 1.45), used by a social superior to an inferior or by a divinity to a mortal being (cf. TLL s.v. iuuenis 737.37 (albeit later examples); esp. Sil. 12.407).

538-9 and 538 Matthews offers great guidance on Caesar’s disguise.

542 concordes : a comment is needed on the political meaning of the word. Amyclas’ prognostica are both political and meteorological (as Matthews comments at 549-50).

579 A note is needed bringing out the military nuances of trade ( OLD 3) to play off 582 destituunt.

582-3 A comment here is also needed on Caesar’s comes since 510: Fortuna.

585 pressam : Matthews does not tell us here why or with what result Lucan may suggest a descent into the underworld.

589-91 The lexical notes here are very good, but pass over Caesar’s remarkable all-or-nothing rhetoric. The speeches of Caesar and Pompey before Pharsalus might offer up some context for Caesar’s characteristically inflexible vision of success here (esp. 7.308-10 versus Pompey at 7.379-82 on their respective contingency plans in the event of defeat).

593-6 Relevant here too is Fantham’s suggestion (on 2.620) of a benevolent natura in Lucan.

636 mixtura : cf. also the emphasis within Ovid’s account of creation ( Met. 1.21-75) upon the establishment and observation of boundaries.

636-7 I wanted more on the notion of the destruction of the gods within the conflagration, as well as the tantalising intertextual association with Aen. 2.354 and its context.

639 trementes : compresses and collectivises Aen. 1.92 extemplo Aeneae soluuntur frigore membra.

646 A note is needed on political discordia made manifest in nature.

653-4 Excellent notes on the tradition of the danger worthy of Alexander.

678 luce propinqua : resumes night raid imagery again, cf. e.g. Nisus at Verg. Aen. 9.355 ‘absistamus’ ait, ‘nam lux inimica propinquat.’

682 quo : why is quo‘to what lengths’ (‘where’ in e.g. Braund and Joyce)?

684 spargenda : this could be tied in with Caesar’s lack of concern about a proper burial 668-71, in that Caesar’s troops seem to bear for him the traditional anxiety about burial which he himself has discarded.

687 uoluisse mori : a note on this cliché in Lucan.

692 sors ultima rerum : Heitland’s comments are naturally outdated and to my mind miss the point. Repetition in other poetic contexts—one thinks of the ‘vast echo chamber of the Aeneid8—is taken as the life-blood of allusion rather than an index of limited vocabulary.

695 quid numina lassas : cf. the narrator to Pompey at 2.727-8 lassata triumphis | desciuit Fortuna tuis.

698 Matthew’s likely readership will not need to be told that deum = deorum, or that ut introduces a purpose clause.


1. S. Braund, A Lucan Reader: Selections From Civil War. Wauconda, IL. 2009. P. Asso, A Commentary on Lucan, “De bello civili IV”. Berlin 2009. P. Roche, Lucan, De Bello Ciuili 1: A Commentary. Oxford 2009.

2. P. Barrett, M. Annaei Lucani Belli Ciuilis Liber V. Leiden 1979.

3. M. P. O. Morford, The Poet Lucan: Studies in Rhetorical Epic. Oxford 1967; F. Ahl. Lucan: An Introduction. Ithaca 1976.

4. A. E. Housman, M. Annaei Lucani Belli Ciuilis Libri Decem V. Oxford 1926.

5. C. E. Haskins, M. Annaei Lucani Pharsalia. With an introduction by W. E. Heitland. London 1887.

6. That is, up to about 2003; the thesis upon which the commentary is based was submitted in February 2004 (p. 9). I did not see e.g. F. D’Alessandro Behr, Feeling History. Lucan, Stoicism, and the Poetics of Passion. Columbus, OH 2007. I note only three items after 2003 (the latest is G. B. Conte, Poetry of Pathos: Studies in Vergilian Epic. Oxford 2007).

7. M. Leigh, Lucan: Spectacle and Engagement. Oxford 1997.

8. Thus P. Hardie, Virgil. Oxford 1998. p. 87 n. 143.