Life

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Lucan (LEW-kan) was the grandson of Seneca the Elder and the nephew of the Stoic philosopher and tragedian Seneca the Younger. He was educated in Rome. His poetic talent was recognized early by the emperor Nero, who honored him by making him a quaestor at an early age. However, this patronage ended when Nero, who also considered himself a poet, became jealous of Lucan’s poetic skill. Lucan joined the Pisonian conspiracy, which plotted to overthrow Nero. When the plot was discovered, Nero compelled Lucan to commit suicide.

Lucan’s only surviving work is the Bellum Civile (n.d.; The Civil Wars, 1914). This epic poem narrates the civil wars beginning with Julius Caesar’s march across the Rubicon and concluding with his stay in Alexandria (49-48 c.e.). This epic was left incomplete when Lucan committed suicide. Romans in the first century c.e. criticized Lucan’s poem because it did not contain standard epic conventions such as an epic hero or the gods. His style was judged more rhetorical than poetic.