The Pharsalia

by Lucan
Start Free Trial

Pharsalia in Terms of Roman Ideals and Education

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 18, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1981

The Romans were deeply practical, and they were also deeply superstitious. Their sense of self was defined in part by the participation in Roman tradition which required strict attention to the details of worship and to the phenomena by which the gods communicated with men. It was also defined, at least for the literate upper classes, by a view of history and of service which was embedded in their language, literature, and which dominated their education. Romanitas [the idea and ideal of "Roman-ness"] was not a matter of genes, but of language and outlook. Romanitas could be and was taught from the Euphrates to the Irish Sea, from the edge of the Sahara to the lowlands of Scotland. The effects of that teaching remain to this day, so much a part of western thought and institutions that they hide in plain sight. The American pledge of allegiance is pure Romanitas. Any Roman hearing it would have instinctively sympathize with the concepts and the way in which they are expressed.

Liberty that comes of recognizing that without law only the strong are free was Romanitas' essential, if often betrayed, ideal. Virgil enshrines it in the Aeneid. Other nations would produce greater art, literature and science, but Rome shall rule and crown peace with law, to spare the humble and to fight the proud to the end. A fine ideal, perhaps, but real? Ideals always take a battering in real life. Human nature hasn't changed between Lucan's or his heroes' days and this. A craze for power and insatiable greed brought down the Roman republic.

For the upper classes in Rome, at least, the first century of the empire was more often than not a claustrophobic horror; normal decency and humanity were stood on their head. But the ideal remained, and there were always men and women who tried to follow it, even if to quote Cato on Pompey, they "were inferior to our ancestors." Some of them, like Cicero, died defending the republic, some of them died, like Lucan, in conspiracies against madmen, or even like Scribonius and Paetus, simply against the idea of an emperor. Others, like the Plinies, Agricola, even emperors, Titus, Trajan, Antonius, Marcus Aurelius, simply tried to do their duty by those around them, with whatever abilities they had. For what else was a Roman to do? A Roman defined himself by public life, by public service, by the mutual respect and aid of patron and client, of friend and kinsman. He was a public being. To live retired, far away from public life was the fate of the old, the exiled or the extremely eccentric.

And what were the Roman's tools in living out this ideal? The spoken and written word was his tool, more important than the short sword carried by every Roman soldier from new recruit to legate. To persuade, to explain, to use this power effectively for the good of the state and for one's friends and dependants was the duty, and purpose, the life's blood of every good Roman. His whole education was based on language and the uses of language. He was taught to take texts apart and see how and why they worked. He learned to pick and chose his material, to catch the emotions of his audience. He learned the importance of the right word, the exact example, the telling anecdote. He learned or tried to learn how to swing an angry crowd, a wet, footsore knot of soldiers, or a group of grave, experienced old men behind him. Everything an educated Roman knew was directed by the use he would make of it in public life. Every educated man was educated to be a statesman, or at least a politician. For some the arena would be the senate and the great law courts in Rome, but throughout the empire, in Roman colonies and in local market towns, Roman citizens and provincials alike were repeating the same process and living on their own local stages the same lives.

This is the background of Lucan's Pharsalia and of Lucan himself. The ideal, the education, the defining mode of life had claimed him. He was from a provincial family that had made good, and that had made good by producing the greatest teacher of public speaking of his day, his grandfather Seneca the Elder. His uncle the younger Seneca had become a senator, the tutor and the advisor of an emperor. Lucan had inherited all the sparkling talent of his family. He could persuade, he could move, he could catch the eye and the mind. So why is Lucan the suicide, the failed conspirator, the author of an unrevised if not unfinished (Masters, 1992, 216-259) epic? Because of the ideal and because of the nature of Romanitas and Roman education, because he found that the lack of real libertas could not be replaced by private integrity and interior freedom, and it was self-delusion to believe otherwise. Lucan believed that liberty and participation in the making and defining of law were at the heart of Romanitas.

He found himself in the Rome of Nero in a place where he was excluded from the work which defined his existence as a Roman, the only existence which he desired or could even imagine. It was not that Nero had barred him from defending clients in the law courts, from giving public readings of his poetry. That was only the result of Lucan's realizing that the Roman system could not and did not work as long as it was headed by a man above the law, whose only curb was his own sanity or the assassin's sword. Perhaps his view of events were colored like those of the republican senators a century before, the resentment of a young man who felt that he should be at the center of real power, where the decisions were made, though he could have been there had he been willing.

As Bartsch (1997) reminds us, Lucan believed in his tools, just like every writer who takes on a totalitarian regime does. If those tools had served to establish the imperial ideal, to defend the status quo, he would wrench them back and stand them on their head. Did Nero want a golden age of poetry? Lucan would give him poetry to match the world he had created in Rome, horror for horror. Did Nero want to be a god? Well then how could he complain if a poet begged him not to unbalance the heavens with his divine weight, when everyone including the pudgy young emperor knew that the gods were known by their great size (Ahl, 1996, 26).

Rhetoric and rhetoricians have always had bad press. There is something rather unsavory, in many peoples' minds, about learning and planning the art of persuasion, of getting your views across, but rhetoric is only a tool. It can be used for good or for evil. The woman who, through careful presentation of facts and an appeal to the penalties of the law (and with a few judicious and emotive references to human suffering), convinces investors to force their company to clean up its toxic waste dump is praised, but she is using the same tools as her sister successfully defending an unsavory client. In Lucan's eyes, the gods had been hijacked, the sword had been seized by this obscenity of rule, but the words, the formidable arsenal of rhetoric, was still his.

So Lucan wrote a rhetorical epic. He had to persuade, and he had to persuade quickly and thoroughly before the words, drained of their real meaning by imperial propaganda, were lost to him too. He must transmit the claustrophobia and despair of his world to his audience, make them face the unthinkable so that they would do the unthinkable, reject the Julio-Claudians and all their works and all their empty glories. From the opening lines of the poem he drums it home. Jealous fate may have resented the power of the Roman people, but those people, the greater and the lesser, were eager tools in the hands of fate. This cooperation is what gave us civil war, and ultimately Nero, with Roman blood spilt by Roman hands, while Rome was still ringed with enemies. And what were these Roman deaths like? Worse still, how died the noble Massillians, more Roman in their attitudes than the Romans themselves? They died, bodies broken, smashed beyond recognition.

In Lucan's work the gods of Rome predict no happy culmination to Jupiter's plans. They predict only the crime and pollution of civil war and the death of the libertas that was to be Rome's great gift as a nation to all men. Where is the piety of the divine Julio-Claudians when their founder treats the gods and Rome like nothing more than the spirits of his household shrine? Julius Caesar's manic energy, his ability to seize events and make his will the fate of the weak, are a reproach, not only to every one of the republican figures who oppose him, but to Lucan's audience.

Lucan creates a world crashing down, a world in which his audience are still dazed survivors walking around in the ruins. It is a world in which decency survives, but that decency is presented in a way which give the Roman people little comfort. The Roman women who crowd the altars, the picture of traditional piety, the Roman men who take up their weapons against their own countrymen and kin, seem powerless to cry halt. They allow themselves to be led rather than to bring their own collective power to bear on events. Cornelia, the pattern of a Roman matron, the pattern of a Roman, drawing foreigners to admiration by her virtus, is the personification of the bad fortune. Lentulus is eloquent in his denunciation of paying a price for victory which will be a defeat of their ideals, but his eloquence sets in motion the chain of events which will lead to Pompey's death and the disintegration of the republican will to fight. With Cato, Lucan kills any comfortable hope that personal freedom and integrity can be maintained under the rule not of the law, but of one man. Cato has no illusions, he will not retire into philosophic consolation. He will not live with a selfish illusion of freedom, while he can commit the final rebellion of death. And if the good are impotent, the bad are busy making the better side worse.

One after another, Lucan draws the portraits of Roman senators who sell their birthright, who shame their class and country. The gifted Curio sells his country's freedom. Appius wakes the long silent oracle of Delphi simply to find out, at a time when the senate cannot even meet in Rome, how things will go for him. The great Pompey's younger son, crawling to a witch rather than the gods, watches one of his father's own men dragged unwillingly from the safety of death to learn what cannot help him.

Why does Lucan force his audience down the road of claustrophobic despair, cutting of each possibly retreat, thwarting the efforts and gifts of every decent character, leaving power in the hands of the two characters who single-mindedly pursue power, for whom no act is too vile, who will sacrifice kin and force the gods to do their bidding—Caesar and his female counterpart, Erichtho? How similar they are, ever hungry for battle, ever inventive in finding new ways to force the events or the gods to do their bidding. The answer may lie, if it lies anywhere, at the end of Lentulus's speech in Book VIII, "Quantum, spes ultima rerum, libertatis habes" "A last hope, how much freedom you have." Forced to see the cause and the plain face of their predicament, perhaps they will finally seize events like a Caesar.

Source: Helen Conrad-O'Briain, for Epics for Students, Gale, 2001.

Ideology in Cold Blood: A Reading of Lucan's Civil War

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 18, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 904

The previous two chapters have presented the grounds for a grippingly negative interpretation of the Civil War. This reading has had a powerful pull for recent readers of the epic; indeed, the present critical climate has rendered it one of the most compelling positions on the poem. The collapse of the autonomous individual amid the wreck of linguistic systems and subject-object relations, the hopelessness of meaningful narrative in a meaningless world, the impossibility of representing the trauma of Romans killing Romans—"Shun this part of the war, O mind, and leave it in darkness, and let no time learn of such evils from my poetry, that so great is the license granted to Civil War"—all these are undeniable aspects of Lucan's epic world, and for readers of our times I think they are more than undeniable: they ring true with an evocation of the particular horrors of the twentieth century. Lucan's attempt to convey what he would represent as the unspeakable physical and psychological brutalities of the Civil Wars of the first century B.C. fastens, uncannily enough, upon the actual truths of what happens to the human subject in extremis and on the realities of the societal and psychic results of the totalitarian agenda, and so he produces a picture that has curious resonances in the history of our own century. Certainly Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia have rendered unhappily familiar such regimes' assault on moral standards, the surveillance of citizens, the spread of fear, the paradoxes that arise from the overturning of norms of law and human behavior. We know well that terror is the tool of all such regimes—"the essence of totalitarian government," in Hannah Arendt's words. And Arendt, along with Czeslaw Milosz, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and other voices from the past, all attest to totalitarianism's focus on "the destruction of a man's rights, the killing of the juridical person in him ... the murder of the moral person in man". Suddenly the darkest visions of the human imagination become alive in history, and, with them,

it becomes evident that things which for thousands of years the human imagination had banished to a realm beyond human competence can be manufactured right here on earth ... The totalitarian hell proves only that the power of man is greater than [one] ever dared to think, and that man can realize hellish fantasies without making the sky fall or the earth open.

I bring up this analogy here because it is difficult for readers of Lucan not to be struck by parallel after parallel between the visions of his imagination and our own history. As I have noted, even the figure of the restless, madly self-confident Julius Caesar, that demonic and charismatic force "who felt he had accomplished nothing while anything still remained to be done", seems tailor-made to evoke, for us, a crucial feature of such regimes—the charisma invested in the figure of the leader and the exaggeration of his powers of agency. Henderson remarks that Caesar himself seems to represent the very principle of "subjectivity as active agency" in this poem in which other subjectivities are faring less well; similarly with Hitler, who himself and whose regime was associated with energy and agency: Arendt notes the "perpetual motion mania of totalitarian movements which can remain in power only so long as they keep moving and set everything around them in motion." Moreover, Hitler's regime identified itself with the forces of nature and history: its rise to power was supposedly inevitable and inexorable, its present existence temporally eternal, as evidence by the well-known Nazi projection of the "Thousand Year Reich" and "revolutionary immortality," and the National Socialists' belief that they were children of the gods—like Lucan's Julio-Claudians, claimers of spurious divinity. Finally, Arendt notes the moral cynicism of the leaders: "would-be totalitarian rulers usually start their careers by boasting of the past crimes and carefully outlining their future ones ... The propaganda value of evil deeds and general contempt for moral standards is independent of mere self-interest, supposedly the most powerful psychological factor in politics." These men believe everything is permitted to them: Lucan's Caesar, anyone? The Third Reich meets the Pax Romana.

Our knowledge of Stalinist and fascist regimes aside, I think we read Lucan's epic with another, still darker piece of recent history as our lens. I am referring here to the Holocaust: not only to its unnarratability, but to the scattered testimony of its survivors and the deliberate and crushing destruction of the very idea of the human that was so successfully carried out by its Nazi perpetrators. Here, too, Lucan's grim visions may become for us more than the fancy of a long-dead poet striving for the expression of evil, precisely because the inexorable disintegration of subjectivity, the sense of the futility of language, the complete loss of agency, are not themes alien to our times: we know that these developments are possible as the goals of those who would destroy millions of their fellow beings. The topic is a difficult one, and far beyond my powers: here I would just like to remind my readers of how some scholars and writers have tried to talk about the Holocaust, and to suggest that Lucan's view of a world gone mad may mean more than he could have guessed to his readers.

Source: Shadi Bartsch, Ideology in Cold Blood: A Reading of Lucan's Civil War, Harvard University Press, 1997, pp. 66-8.

Ethical Contradiction and the Fractured Community in Lucan's Bellum Civile

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9371

Lucan's Bellum Civile is riven with ethical contradictions. It is not simply that different voices within the poem disagree about the proper moral evaluation of particular actions and patterns of behavior: such disagreement is widely present in ancient epic. Rather, these voices, including the narrative voice itself, are collectively enmeshed in a web of competing ethical discourses and modes of valuation that are more or less equally authoritative yet irreconcilable. Thus actions can be evaluated in more than one ethical framework—not only by different voices embracing alternative modes of valuation, but even by a single voice as it applies now one evaluative framework and now another. This paper will contend that these competing ethical discourses, and the contradictory moral judgments that derive from them, are necessary features of the condition of civil war as Lucan represents it. For these discourses and judgments are based in competing, irreconcilable conceptions of the Roman community. Indeed, the fracturing of ethical discourse in Lucan may constitute a literary strategy for representing civil war: the warring of two groups within society is reflected in the competition between alternative ethical discourses. Finally, I consider some of the ideological ramifications of Lucan's literary choices. For by portraying specific modes of discourse as he does, and by making them compete in certain ways, Lucan makes his civil war a context in which he can recreate, explore, and participate in the ideological struggles of his own day.

I. Traditional Roman Ethical Discourse
Before turning to Lucan, however, I must describe crucial features of the received ethical system of the late republican and early imperial aristocracy. I call this system "traditional" because these aristocrats regarded it as passed down from their ancestors, the maiores, unchanged since time immemorial. Its values consisted in particular conceptions of proper behavior, closely linked with an interest in status and position: praise was bestowed for behavior that enhanced the position of the aristocracy with respect to other groups, and of individual aristocrats with respect to other aristocrats. These behavior patterns and status concerns were encoded in the familiar moral vocabulary of the Latin language: virtus, pietas, fas, ius, fides, laus, honor, gloria, nobilitas, dignitas (along with their opposites), and so on. Although the content of these terms was always subject to contestation, all Roman aristocrats nevertheless operated with regard to this mapping of ethical space—that is, all accepted the validity of the moral categories in which the terms nobilis, pius, fidus, etc., designate positive value. Thus their collective acceptance of this mapping—their judging of others according to these categories, and their own desire to be judged positively according to them—was part of their acculturation, hence partially constituted their identity, as aristocrats within Roman society and as Romans with respect to non-Romans. Looked at another way, the ethical categories defined by the traditional Roman moral vocabulary collectively provide a template for the structure of the Roman community, for they mark out its boundaries, articulate its internal relations, and define degrees of distinction within it; in other words, they define positions in society for people to occupy. Thus the use of these moral terms not only reflects social forms and structures, but also formalizes, confirms, and helps to reproduce those structures.

Another crucial feature of this ethical system is that moral value is social and external. The community as a whole, not its constituent individuals, is the basic unit of social organization, and moral value exists only with reference to the community as a whole. This communal, external frame of reference has three aspects. First, a person's moral value is determined entirely by the judgments of other members of the community, not by his own self-judgment. Second, moral value is allocated (i.e., praise and blame bestowed) on the basis of observed actions, not on the basis of any internal, privately accessible states of mind. Third, these actions are evaluated in terms of the effect they have on the community as a whole—that is, for the degree to which they further the community's agendas and reproduce its ideologies.

A consistent, coherent ethical discourse—praising and blaming, and deploying value terms with reference to the actions of others—therefore requires a notionally coherent, well-defined community to serve as the social basis for moral valuation. As an illustration, consider the semantics of the value terms virtus, pietas, and their opposites. Virtus means "behavior appropriate to a man"; most commonly it is attributed to a soldier who has displayed notable valor in battle, or to a magistrate for outstanding service—in each case, actions performed in the public eye for the benefit of the community. Meanwhile pietas, along with its opposite impietas, defines a category of action encompassing duty toward family, community, and the gods. Taken together, these two moral categories of action project a well-defined community, and articulate coherently certain aspects of that community's inter- and intramural relations: its members owe one another the various duties and obligations associated with pietas, but they must also display virtus by fighting bravely against non-members who threaten it from without. Indeed, in such a community these categories overlap, for one who fights well (demonstrating virtus) thereby also defends his family and community (demonstrating pietas).

Civil war, however, divides the community and turns it against itself, abolishing the social boundaries and bonds that make these moral categories consistent. Hence pietas and virtus become inconsistent, even contradictory: a soldier who demonstrates virtus by fighting the adversary effectively can also be judged impius for harming other members of his own community; likewise, if he refuses to fight (so as not to kill fellow-citizens), he fails his comrades-in-arms and may be accused of cowardice. For when the community has split into two warring factions, the view that one's opponents are cives (fellow-Romans, i.e., members of one's own community) and the view that they are hostes (foreign enemies, therefore not members of one's own community) are available simultaneously. These alternative conceptions of civil war—that it is or is not a conflict within a single community—authorize competing ethical discourses which in turn provide competing, often contradictory, value judgments on particular actions and therefore motivate sharply divergent actions in a given situation. And so it is in Lucan's Bellum Civile. In the sections below I examine representations of piety and valor (and the deployment of ethical terms generally) in Lucan, arguing that various voices in the poem contradict not only one another, but also themselves. But I contend that there is a systematic logic to these contradictory value judgments: they arise from these alternative conceptions of the community in civil war, the competing views that one's opponent is a civis and a hostis.

II. The "Communitarian" Viewpoint
Of the two views of civil war articulated in Lucan, I first discuss what I call the communitarian view: the idea that the conflict at hand takes place within a single community that, despite this conflict, remains fundamentally intact. The very term bellum civile privileges this view, implying as it does that the belligerents are all fellow-citizens, members of a single community. In the first eight lines of the poem the narrative voice describes the conflict from this viewpoint. It expresses the Romans' behavior metaphorically as a person turning a sword against his own vitals (populumque potentem / in sua victrici conversum viscera dextra), it apostrophizes both factions collectively as cives, and it portrays them as identical and interchangeable ("kindred battle-lines," "standards opposed to hostile standards, equal eagles, and javelins threatening javelins"). On this view the conflict is inherently criminal, for slaughtering other members of one's community—massively violating the obligations and duties one owes one's fellow-citizens—is manifestly impious. Thus the narrative voice condemns the conflict as a crime, as sacrilege, and as madness (scelus, nefas, furor). Furthermore, on this view of the conflict there is no place for martial valor (virtus), for there is no foreign enemy against whom it can properly be displayed. The communitarian view of the conflict thus authorizes a particular pattern of action, and a corresponding ethical discourse: violence against the adversary is condemned; avoidance of violence is praised.

Throughout the poem, the communitarian view is most clearly articulated and enacted by Pompey himself, and to a lesser extent by his followers. This view, however, involves an unavoidable contradiction: if Pompey regards the Caesarians as members of the community, as people who have claims upon his pietas, how can he also advocate violence against them? This contradiction leaves its traces in many of Pompey's speeches. Consider his speech to his troops at 2.531-95, Pompey's first words in the poem. Here he represents his clash with Caesar primarily as a dispute within a single community. At 2.539–40 he denies that the conflict is aproelium iustum (which I take to be equivalent here to bellum iustum, a phrase specifically associated with warfare against a hostis) and insists rather that it is the "anger of a vengeful fatherland"—anger directed, implicitly, at a recalcitrant member of itself. Elaborating this claim, he goes on to compare Caesar to other Romans who took up arms against the state: Catiline, Lentulus, Cethegus, Cinna, Marius, Lepidus, Carbo, even Spartacus; significantly, he does not compare Caesar to a foreign foe such as Hannibal, a paradigm that others have already applied. Also, at the end of the speech he explicitly calls the conflict a Bellum Civile. In accordance with the communitarian view, throughout the speech he condemns Caesar's assault on his fatherland as criminal, sacrilegious, and mad: he associates with Caesar words such as scelus, pollutus, nefas, rabies, furens, furor, and demens. But embedded in this communitarian presentation of the conflict are jarring notes, traces of the inherent contradiction noted above. At 2.532-33, for example, he calls his troops the "truly Roman band" (o vere Romana manus) whose war-making is authorized by the Senate, and contrasts this authorization with Caesar's "private arms." This portrayal seems to eliminate the Caesarians from the ranks of "Romans," rather than include them. Similarly, at 2.533 he urges his soldiers to "pray for a fight" (votis deposcite pugnam)—hardly consistent with the violence-averse communitarian view. These inconsistencies suggest that Pompey cannot in fact reconcile the communitarian view with advocating violence. Perhaps these inconsistencies also account for the speech's poor reception, for his men do not applaud, nor show enthusiasm for battle.

Pompey's actions, on the other hand, do accord generally with the communitarian view and its associated value system: for the most part he does try to avoid killing his opponents and hence to avoid the impietas—the violation of duties and obligations—that such action, on the communitarian view, entails. At 6.118-39, when Pompey first attempts to break out of the encirclement at Dyrrachium—the first time Pompey himself sends his troops into battle—his sudden onslaught scares the Caesarians literally to death: "That his victory might owe nothing to the sword, fear had finished off his stunned enemies. They lay dead in the place they ought to have stood—the only thing their virtus had the strength to do. Already there was nobody left to receive wounds, and the storm-cloud bringing so many weapons was squandered" (ne quid victoria ferro/deberet, pavor attonitos confecerat hostes./ quod solum valuit virtus, iacuere perempti/debuerant quo stare loco. qui volnera ferrent/iam derant, et nimbus agens tot telaperibat). The narrator implies that Pompey remains undefiled by civil bloodshed because his victory is technically non-violent: fear itself does the killing before Pompeian weapons can draw blood.

A second episode at Dyrrachium more clearly shows Pompey's communitarian behavior, but reveals a further contradiction inherent in this ethical stance. Pompey has surrounded a portion of Caesar' s army and could end the war on the spot if he annihilates them—but he restrains his men's swords:

Totus mitti civilibus armis usque vel in pacem potuit cruor: ipse furentes dux tenuit gladios. felix ac libera regum, Roma, fores iurisque tui, vicisset in illo si tibi Sulla loco. dolet, heu, semperque dolebit, quod scelerum, Caesar, prodest tibi summa tuorum, cum genero pugnasse pio. pro tristia fata!

All the blood in civil conflict could have been shed, even to the point of peace: but the leader himself restrained the furious swords. You would have been happy, free from kings and master of yourself, Rome, had Sulla conquered for you in that place. It grieves us, alas, and will always grieve us, that the pinnacle of your crimes benefits you, Caesar: you have done battle with a son-in-law who is pius. Oh, cruel fate!

Pompey is declared pius—a positive value judgment—because he restrains his men's swords (suppressing their virtus) and so preserves Caesar. In this respect he differs from Sulla and especially from Caesar himself, who commits a scelus in fighting his own son-in-law. Yet the adjective pius here is also ironic, as the exclamation pro tristia fata! signals: for thanks to Pompey's current pietas, the mutual communal slaughter will continue and the state will eventually be enslaved (libera regum,/ Roma, fores iurisque tui ...). So Pompey's pious action not only comes at the expense of virtus, but also, on the communitarian view itself, begets further impietas in the long run—continued mutual slaughter within the community, then subjection to a dominus.

The ethical contradictions involved in the communitarian view are further elaborated early in Book VII. On the morning of the battle of Pharsalus, Pompey's troops, overcome by a "dire frenzy" and hence eager to join battle, accuse their leader of being "slow and cowardly" for pursuing a strategy of delay: segnis pavidusque vocatur/ac nimium patiens soceri Pompeius ...,That is, they imply that his strategy betrays a lack of virtus and that he is overly concerned with matters of pietas (his duty toward his father-in-law). In reply Pompey concedes that battle can no longer be postponed, in part because the "prods of martial valor" are inciting his soldiers (si modo virtutis stimulis iraeque calore/ signa petunt). But he also labels his soldiers' desire to fight as "madness for criminality" and suggests that victory without bloodshed is desirable in civil war (quis furor, o caeci, scelerum ? civilia bella/ gesturi metuunt ne non cum sanguine vincant). Since scelus here refers to killing one's kin and fellow-citizens, Pompey is implying that pietas justifies his strategy of delay and avoidance; thus he counters his soldiers' implied judgment that he lacks virtus. This passage once again demonstrates that using violence is ethically incompatible with maintaining a communitarian view of the conflict: the desire to be evaluated positively in the category of martial valor (virtus) urges battle, while consideration for community obligations (pietas) demands abstention from battle.

Nevertheless, Pompey does attempt to bridge this gap, and to render virtus and pietas consistent. Addressing his soldiers just before the battle, he seeks to motivate them to fight effectively by invoking images of fatherland, wives and children left behind:

"quem flagitat" inquit "vestra diem virtus, finis civilibus armis, quem quaesistis, adest. totas effundite vires: extremum ferri duperest opus, unaque gentis hora trahit. quisquis patriam carosque penates, qui subolem ac thalamos desertaque pignora quaerit, ense petat: medio posuit deus omnia campo."

"The day your virtus demands," he says, "the end to civil conflict that you have sought, is at hand. Pour out all your strength: a final work of arms remains, and a single hour draws together all nations. Whoever longs for his fatherland and dear penates, whoever longs for his offspring and wife and relatives left behind, let him seek them by the sword: god has set everything in the middle of the field."

Later he adduces still other images of the community in need, asking his men to imagine Roman matrons urging them to battle from the walls of the city, Roman senators abasing themselves before them, and the city itself making an appeal—that is, he appeals repeatedly to his soldiers' sense of duty to family and community, to their desire to be judged pii, in an effort to motivate them to fight with valor (virtus; totas effundite vires). He even refers to the Caesarians as hostes. Yet in the context of the upcoming battle, his rhetorical strategy is self-contradictory and doomed to fail: for what will his troops do when they see their own fathers, sons, and brothers on the other side? That is, how can they fight vigorously (demonstrating virtus) on the moral basis that Pompey has provided for them (that of acting piously), when the purported hostes facing them are the very people to whom they are bound by obligations of pietas? Again, Pompey cannot resolve the fundamental contradiction inherent in his communitarian view: for this view is consistent with a strategy of avoidance and delay in civil war, but not with violent conflict. Nor do his soldiers deal effectively with this contradiction. For although we are told that his speech kindles their desire to display virtus, it turns out (as we shall see in section IV) that their desire to be judged pii, upon which this desire for virtus is presumably founded, will indeed undermine their will to fight as soon as they recognize their friends and relatives on the other side.

III. The "Alienating" Viewpoint
Petreius, in the fraternization scene, is the one Pompeian who systematically rejects the communitarian viewpoint and so avoids the contradictions that plague Pompey. In a speech urging his men to kill the Caesarians who have entered the Pompeian camp, Petreius rhetorically excludes the Caesarians from the community. He calls them hostes and insists that the Pompeian troops owe loyalty only to their own side, which he identifies with the state as a whole: "heedless of your fatherland, forgetful of your own standards ..." (immemor o patriae, signorum oblite tuorum). His value judgments support this construction of the community: he calls his men's fraternization "outrageous betrayal" (proditio nefanda) and implies that they have violated the trust placed in them (fides) in giving up the fight against the Caesarians. Petreius' ethical language contrasts sharply with the communitarian language of the narrator in his description of the fraternization: there, nefas is predicated of killing one's adversary and fides of preserving and cherishing him. Petreius' words are persuasive; his soldiers, reluctant at first, are finally induced to abandon the communitarian view and slaughter their Caesarian guests.

Petreius' viewpoint, which I call the alienating view, is not "perverse"—an adjective that scholars regularly apply to this line of thought—nor is it merely a travesty or inversion of communitarian values: it has a systematic logic of its own. It is the view that one's opponent is a hostis, a foreign enemy, whose behavior both excludes him from the community of Romans and threatens that community. Therefore making war on him is both pious and valorous. On this view, the conflict at hand is not a bellum civile at all, but rather a bellum externum; it is fundamentally no different from a war against (say) the Parthians or a German tribe. The alienating view is well-represented throughout Lucan' s poem, but it is much more commonly associated with the Caesarians than with the Pompeians.

This view is first articulated at the initial crisis point in the poem, Caesar's arrival at the Rubicon. As Caesar stands on the bank of the river, a vision of the Roman state itself, the patria, appears to him and says, "Where beyond are you aiming? Where are you carrying my standards, soldiers? If you come with legal sanction, and as citizens, this far only is permitted" (quo tenditis ultra?/quo fertis mea signa, viri? si iure venitis,/si cives, huc usque licet). This image of the nation itself embodies the values of the community as a whole, telling Caesar that he will be violating the proper Roman way of doing things (ius) and hence will be excluded from the body of cives, if he crosses the river with his army: he will, in other words, alienate himself. Caesar responds by forcefully asserting his membership in the community: he invokes the Trojan penates of his own house, the fire of Vesta, and Jupiter in two different forms—all symbols of the Roman community and his membership in it—asking them to favor his undertaking. In this way he affiliates his actions with the interests of the community; he implies that he is pius. Indeed, he explicitly denies that he is attacking the patria itself: "It is not you whom I am harrying with furious arms" (non te furialibus armis/persequor). He does concede the application of the term hostis to himself, but insists that the blame for his behavior will ultimately fall upon his adversaries: "He, he will be guilty, who made me a hostis to you" (ille erit, Me nocens, qui me tibifecerit hostem). The violation of ius and pietas will then be theirs, not his, and his own claim to membership in the community will be vindicated.

Caesar here resists being made the object of alienating discourse, though soon he will take up this discourse himself for use against the Pompeians. Initially, however, he makes no effort to exclude them from the community. Addressing his soldiers in Book I, he justifies war by arguing that Pompey's extraordinary power must be abolished and by claiming that he is looking out for his soldiers' welfare. These arguments seem rather ad hoc; he fails to articulate a systematic moral basis for going to war—as he could do, for example, by tarring his opponents as hostes. For this reason his speech fails to persuade: "he finished speaking, but the crowd, doubtful, murmured to itself with indistinct mumbling. Pietas and their ancestral penates broke their resolve, despite being fierce with slaughter, and their inflamed spirits" (dixerat; at dubium non claro murmure volgus/secum incerta fremit. pietas patriique penates/quamquam caeda feras mentes animosque tumentes/frangunt). His men regard their opponents as members of the community, and thus considerations of pietas preclude the assault Caesar urges.

But among Caesar's centurions is one Laelius, who wears an oak wreath indicating that he once saved the life of a fellow-citizen in battle. The wreath signifies the community's collective judgment that he has displayed both virtus and pietas—since his heroic action falls into the ethical categories of both "martial valor" and "service to the community." As such he is an authoritative moral voice: it is he who provides a systematic moral basis for Caesar's war effort and thus resolves the soldiers' concerns about pietas. Specifically, he grants Caesar the authority to define the community of Roman citizens as he wishes, simply by indicating whom his soldiers should attack: "nor is anyone a fellow-citizen of mine if I hear your trumpets against him, Caesar" (nec civis meus est, in quem tua classica, Caesar,/audiero). If the community so defined excludes the soldiers' blood-relations and spouses, so be it, says Laelius: "If you order me to bury my sword in my brother's breast or my father's throat or in the belly of my pregnant wife, even if my right hand is unwilling, I will nevertheless do it all" (pectore sifratris gladium iuguloque parentis/ condere me iubeas plenaeque in viscera partu/ coniugis, invita peragam tamen omnia dextra). He also declares himself willing to plunder and burn the temples of the gods, and even to destroy the city of Rome itself, if Caesar requests it. In these statements Laelius disavows each significant aspect of pietas as normally understood: he forswears his obligations to the gods, to the state and community at large, and to his family. Indeed, he obliquely acknowledges the normative force of this conception of pietas when he concedes that his own right hand may be unwilling: he implies that he must struggle to overcome an ingrained aversion to slaughtering kin. But this acknowledgment merely emphasizes the radical nature of the alienating view he articulates. The point is that, on this view, his kin are no longer members of the community, and pietas is not owed to them. For only those alongside whom one fights are fellow-citizens, and those against whom one fights are not. It is this view of the community that his ethical language is tailored to fit. To judge from the soldiers' reactions, Laelius' speech succeeds where Caesar's speech failed: now that Laelius has addressed their concerns about pietas by redefining the community, the soldiers pledge to follow Caesar into "any war to which he should summon them".

In the next few books Caesar and the Caesarians regularly assert, and act in accordance with, the alienating view of the conflict. In a description of Caesar's march south through Italy at 2.439-46, we are told that Caesar rejoices in shedding blood continuously, in taking the towns by force, and in devastating the fields; he regards the defenders as hostes. Furthermore, he is ashamed to go by an undefended route, lest he "appear to be a citizen" (concessa pudet ire via civemque videri). In his actions, in his characterizations of the belligerents, and in the moral judgments on the action embedded in his emotional reactions (gaudet, iuvat, and pudet), Caesar manifests the alienating view of the conflict: he and his opponents are foreign enemies in relation to one another; hence it is right, good, and a source of joy to destroy them violently.

Scaeva's behavior and ethical discourse (6.140-262) are also rooted in the alienating view. Rallying the defeated Caesarians after Pompey's attack at Dyrrachium, he speaks as follows: "'To what point,' he said, 'has impious fear, unknown to all the weapons of Caesar, driven you? ... with pietas gone, young men, will you not stand your ground out of anger, at least?'" ("quo vos pavor" inquit "adegit/impius et cunctis ignotus Caesaris armis? ... non ira saltem, iuvenes, pietate remota/stabitis?"). In accusing them of pavor (the opposite of virtus) and impietas—i.e., of failing to fight well against a foreign enemy and thereby neglecting their obligations to their community—he implicitly constructs a community consisting of Caesarians only and excluding the Pompeians. Indeed, he refers to the Pompeians as hostes at 6.156, and the narrator maintains this characterization of the Pompeians in the lines that follow (hostes, hosti, hostem)—that is, Scaeva can be seen as the focalizer of these words, and of the description of his actions generally as told by the narrator. Toward the end of his aristeia, however, Scaeva briefly adopts communitarian discourse and behavior to create a deception: his virtus subsides (virtute remota) and he addresses the Pompeians as cives, asking them to spare him. When Aulus draws near, Scaeva stabs him in the throat, reigniting his virtus (incaluit virtus) and restoring the alienating pattern of action and valuation. His fellow-Caesarians share this view, and therefore, as representatives of his community and hence a judging audience for his spectacular public performance, they "praise him as the living image of outstanding Martial Valor" (vivam magnae speciem virtutis adorant). They also dedicate his weapons to Mars, presumably a mark of their pietas. But again, his actions are valorous, and theirs are pious, only on the alienating view, in which the Pompeians are regarded as hostes and therefore violence against them is right, appropriate, and divinely sanctioned.

The final strong statement of the alienating perspective occurs in Caesar's speech in Book VII, just before the battle of Pharsalus is joined. A crucial passage in this speech is the following:

vos tamen hoc oro, iuvenes, ne caedere quisquam hostis terga velit: civis qui fugerit esto. sed, dum tela micant, non vos pietatis imago ulla nec adversa conspecti fronte parentes commoveant; vultus gladio turbate verendos.

But this I ask you, young men, that no one wish to strike the enemy in the back: consider anyone who flees a fellow-citizen. But, while the weapons gleam, let no vision of pietas move you, nor your parents if you see them facing you: churn up with your sword those faces demanding reverence.

Here Caesar progressively nuances the notion of "enemy" (hostis). First, opponents who flee are not enemies at all; on the contrary, he formally and explicitly defines those who flee as members of the community (civis qui fugerit esto). This definition provides a social, hence ethical, basis for sparing them: one should not seek to kill a member of one's community; to do so would be impious. Against those who stand and fight, however, Caesar urges his soldiers to fight vigorously. Even if they are your parents, he says, you must not let pietas move you; you must mangle their faces regardless. The claim that those who stand their ground do not warrant pious treatment, regardless even of kinship, implicitly excludes them from the community; it is this subset of the Pompeians who comprise the "real" hostis against whom martial valor must be displayed. Here Caesar takes up Laelius' earlier suggestion that the community (as the Caesarians see it) be defined in terms of whom Caesar chooses to attack. Also like Laelius, Caesar's language acknowledges the existence of the communitarian viewpoint: in speaking of parents as "demanding reverence" (verendi), he concedes that the duties of pietas would normally be owed to them. But here too, in his explicit rejection of the traditional social bases for morally judging peoples' actions, Caesar emphasizes the innovativeness of his alienating view.

IV. Discourses and Armies in Conflict
I have argued that the military and political competition between Caesar and Pompey also entails a competition between two different articulations of the Roman community and hence between two different ethical discourses regarding the con- flict. Another passage from Caesar’s speech in Book 7 discusses the stakes of the latter competition in particular.

haec [sc. est illa dies] fato quae teste probet, quis iustius arma sumpserit; haec acies victum factura nocentem est. si pro me patriam ferro flammisque petistis, nunc pugnate truces gladioque exsolvite culpam: nulla manus, belli mutato iudice, pura est.

This [sc. is the day] that certifies, with fate as witness, who took up arms more justly; this battle is going to make the loser guilty. If it is for me that you attacked your fatherland with sword and fire, fight fiercely now and clear your guilt by the sword: no hand is pure, if the judge of the war is changed.

Caesar declares here that he is fighting Pompey for control of the content and application of the Roman ethical vocabulary. The victor, he says, will appropriate the (currently contested) term ius for his own cause and assign the term nocens to the vanquished. Therefore he urges his soldiers to fight fiercely (nunc pugnate truces), i.e., to display virtus: the blame incurred by their assault on the fatherland (si…patriam ferro flammisque petistis), the impiety of attacking one’s own community, will be cleared if and only if that attack is successful (gladioque exsolvite culpam). For the victor establishes himself as iudex belli, meaning that the allocation of value terms (such as ius, nocens, culpa, and purus, in this passage) will be entirely at his disposal. Only in victory, then, can Caesar enforce his own articulation of the community and thus make authoritative the ethical discourse based on that articulation. The definition of the community, and consequently the moral interpretation of history, belongs to the victor. In the meantime, however, the moral interpretation of events is up for grabs. Contestation over the assignment of value terms is in fact a major theme of the poem, as the first sentence of the poem declares (iusque datum sceleri canimus …). Indeed, in many ancient civil war narratives, control of the ethical vocabulary is at stake: it is a commonplace that civil war produces multiple moral perspectives, resulting in contestation over the allocation of moral terms.

We have seen, then, that in the communitarian view of the conflict—which Pompey repeatedly champions, despite its internal inconsistencies— there is no hostis, hence no social or ethical basis for displaying virtus. The obligations of pietas are owed to the Caesarians, as well as to everyone else. Therefore Pompey cannot provide a moral context in which his soldiers can fight the Caesarians effectively. On the other hand, Caesar’s predominantly alienating view, which excludes from the community all who actively oppose him, creates an ethical space in which his soldiers can display virtus as well as pietas. We now turn to the narrative of the battle of Pharsalus, to see how these differing social and ethical constructions of the conflict translate into action.

As the battle-lines approach each other on the plain, the soldiers on both sides size up the opposition:

quo sua pila cadant aut quae sibi fata minentur inde manus, spectant. vultus, quo noscere possent facturi quae monstra forent, videre parentum frontibus adversis fraternaque comminus arma, nec libuit mutare locum. tamen omnia torpor pectora constrinxit, gelidusque in viscera sanguis percussa pietate coit. …

… they look to see where their weapons will fall, or what hands threaten doom against them from the other side. That they might know what terrible deeds they were about to do, they saw the faces of their parents confronting them opposite and the weapons of their brothers close at hand, and they did not see fit to shift their ground. Nevertheless, a numbness froze all their breasts, and their blood congealed cold in their vitals because of the outrage to pietas. …

When they see their brothers and fathers opposing them, they realize the violence they are doing to pietas (percussa pietate): their breasts go numb, their blood runs cold, and the start of the battle is deferred. For the moment, the communitarian perspective dominates—despite the fact that Caesar urged his men away from that perspective and that Pompey’s speech kindled his soldiers’ desire to display virtus. But soon Crastinus hurls the first lance and the battle is on. The Pompeians quickly have difficulties: they are too crowded to wield their weapons effectively; they can only hide behind a wall of shields. Meanwhile, Caesar’s troops attack furiously. An extremely one-sided battle ensues, in which the Caesarians do all the killing: “One battleline endures civil war, the other wages it; from that side the sword stands cold, but from Caesar’s every guilty blade is warm” (civilia bella/una acies patitur, gerit altera; frigidus inde/stat gladius, calet omne nocens a Caesare ferrum). This one-sidedness is emphasized again thirty lines later: “what followed was no battle, but war is waged on one side with throats, on the other with the sword; nor does this battle-line have as much strength to kill as that one has capacity to perish” (… nulla secutast/pugna, sed hinc iugulis, hinc ferro bella geruntur;/nec valet haec acies tantum prosternere quantum/inde perire potest). Ultimately, then, the soldiers on each side act in accordance with the ethical frameworks that their commanders provided in advance. Pompey’s soldiers seemingly do not fight at all; they do not commit the impiety of killing family members and countrymen. Meanwhile, Caesar’s troops fight well, displaying virtus by killing those who, on Caesar’s definition, are excluded from the community. There are hints, however, of a latent communitarian perspective among the Caesarians, for even as they kill kin and countrymen their reactions sometimes suggest that they feel qualms; they also have nightmares afterward in which they perceive their actions as a “savage crime” (saevum scelus).

V. The Narrator
In my discussion of conflicting definitions and discourses, I have largely neglected the most authoritative voice in the poem, the narrative voice. Like all epic narrators, Lucan’s is, at one level, omnipotent and omniscient: he can move the narrative instantly from one location to another, expand or compress time at will, and so on. But other narrators, particularly Homer and Virgil, generally do not put forward strong opinions: they tend to remain ethically and emotionally detached from the events they narrate and gain credibility precisely by virtue of their self-effacement. Lucan’s narrator, on the other hand, as many scholars have remarked, is deeply engaged with the poem’s action. He often takes obtrusive, partisan stances on the events he narrates and therefore seems scarcely less opinionated than the voices of Pompey, Caesar, and other characters. Accordingly, the ethical stances he takes, and the value judgments he passes, may seem no more (or less) credible and authoritative than those of the other characters.

This claim that Lucan is an active, partisan spectator of the events he narrates is unquestionably true in certain respects. However, an exclusive focus on overt interventions misses subtler, less obtrusive, but equally important ways in which the narrator can present and manipulate his own narrative. For instance, the narrator may be completely subsumed in someone else’s viewpoint, adopting the ethical stance and conception of community of the character or group whose story he is narrating at the moment: that is, the character or group in question focalizes the narrator’s description of its actions. One such passage is the narrative of Scaeva’s deeds: here the narrator regularly refers to Scaeva’s Pompeian foes as hostes, just as Scaeva does; also, the taunting address to the Pompeians, denying that ordinary weapons can stop him, could be seen as Scaeva’s own boast.

At a more visible and self-assertive level, the narrator adopts an ethical stance at odds with that of the character or group whose actions he narrates—a situation I call “hostile narration.” For example, he heaps condemnation upon the Caesarians as he relates their occupation and plundering of the Pompeian camp after Pharsalus; he emphasizes in particular the bonds of kinship and community that they have violated—though from the Caesarians’ own (alienating) perspective they have seized an enemy camp, and on that view their actions are morally right. Here, then, the narrator adopts a communitarian ethical stance as he relates actions done in accordance with an alienating view.

At his most obtrusive—the narrative mode that scholars have repeatedly noted and studied—the narrator actually interrupts the narrative and gives a more or less extended evaluative commentary on the action in propria voce. A striking case is, where the narrator, in a direct address, tells Scaeva that his alienating view of the community is false. For while Scaeva calls the Pompeians hostes, vigorously fights them, and deploys ethical language accordingly (e.g., pietas is owed only to fellow-Caesarians), here the narrator insists that they are not a foreign enemy such as the Teutoni or Cantabri (evidently the “true” hostes); hence there can be no triumph and no proper dedication of spoils to Iuppiter Tonans. Consequently his virtus, grotesquely misdirected, has gained him nothing but a dominus. A final example of this most assertive obtrusion of the narrative voice is his denunciation of the consequences of Pharsalus:

maius ab hac acie quam quod sua saecula ferrent vulnus habent populi; plus est quam vita salusque quod perit: in totum mundi prosternimur aevum. vincitur his gladiis omnis quae serviet aetas. proxima quid suboles aut quid meruere nepotes in regnum nasci? pavide num gessimus arma teximus aut iugulos? alieni poena timoris in nostra cervice sedet. post proelia natis si dominum, fortuna, dabas, et bella dedisses.

The peoples of the world have a wound from this battle greater than their own age could bear; it is more than life and safety that passes away: we are laid low for the whole eternity of the universe. Every age is conquered by these swords, and will be slaves. Why did the next generation, or the one after that, deserve to be born into tyranny? Did we ply our weapons in a cowardly manner, or shield our throats? The penalty for someone else’s cowardice sits upon our necks. Fortune, if you gave a master to those born after the battle, you might also have given them a chance to fight.

This passage indicts both parties: the Caesarians for seeking to impose a “master” (dominus) upon the state and thus to “enslave” everyone else (serviet, in nostra cervice); but also the Pompeians for their cowardice, their failure to fight that enabled the Caesarian victory. Thus the narrator rejects the inevitable consequences of the communitarian perspective: in condemning the Pompeians for pavor and timor—i.e., a lack of virtus—he adopts an alienating ethical discourse. Essentially, he implies that the Caesarians are a valid target for martial valor (hence they are hostes and are excluded from the community) and suggests that the Pompeians would have served the community better by taking such a view themselves.

These examples of the narrator’s moral judgments on the actions he narrates were of course chosen with malice aforethought, for I wished to demonstrate his inconsistency, on several axes, in the face of competing views of the community and competing ethical discourses. First, as in the Scaeva episode, at one level the narrator may implicate his own viewpoint with that of a character (Scaeva focalizes the narrator’s alienating discourse: see section III above), but at another level sharply distinguish his own viewpoint from the character’s (explicitly rejecting Scaeva’s view, and embracing a communitarian discourse instead: see the previous paragraph). Second, he can enthusiastically reject each faction’s principal viewpoint: by lamenting the Pompeians’ cowardice (quoted above), he indicts the communitarian view that underlay their collapse; then, just one hundred lines later, he provides a hostile narration of the Caesarians’ plundering of the Pompeian camp (i.e., he takes a communitarian ethical stance) and in so doing rejects the alienating perspective that justifies the Caesarians’ actions. Finally, he can equally enthusiastically embrace each faction’s principal viewpoint. In an apostrophe to Pompey after the battle, the narrator tells the defeated general “it was worse to win” (vincere peius erat)—presumably validating Pompey’s communitarian perspective, according to which the killing in this conflict is criminal. And even Caesar’s alienating perspective is praiseworthy, under the right circumstances: when Afranius surrenders the Pompeian army in Spain, Caesar sends these troops home unpunished and unconscripted. For on the alienating view, these men, being hostes, have committed no crime in fighting, nor do they owe any military duty to their conquerors.

The narrator, then, is inconsistent in that he does not systematically embrace one or the other competing conception of community and its corresponding ethical discourse. Rather, he moves back and forth between them, at one point or another judging the actions of each side by the moral standards of each ethical discourse. Masters, discussing the narrator’s vacillation between the Pompeian and Caesarian causes, speaks of Lucan’s “fractured voice” and suggests (rightly, I think) that its inconsistency necessarily follows from the poem’s subject matter. The present discussion reveals a similar connection between subject and form, for we have seen that the cleft in the community—the defining contradiction of civil war—is reproduced first in a divided ethical discourse and second in the narrator’s conflicting moral evaluations. Consequently, in failing to adopt one view over the other, the narrator not only narrates the civil war, but performs it as well: he allows the alternative ethical discourses and views of community to compete through his own voice just as they compete through the words and actions of the characters. This unresolved competition also shows that neither discourse, and neither conception of the community, by itself can adequately embrace the conflict that is the poem’s subject. Indeed, the opening phrase of the poem, “war more than civil” (bella … plus quam civilia), may also suggest in retrospect that both available ethical frameworks are inadequate to the subject. For we have seen that the phrase bellum civile sometimes conveys specifically the communitarian view on the conflict. Therefore, the phrase “more than civil” may imply that the communitarian view does not quite fit. However, this phrase may also imply “less than (or not exactly) external,” in which case the alienating view is also inadequate. On this reading, the words plus quam, like the aporetic competition between ethical discourses, marks the lack of a comprehensive view and the need for a third way.

But despite these contradictions, the narrator is not without direction: through the poem as a whole he does seem to adopt (and praise) the communitarian view, and engage in its corresponding ethical discourse, more often than he embraces the alternative. Perhaps we should reflect this differential preference by labeling communitarian discourse “dominant” or “normative” in the poem and alienating discourse “oppositional” or “subversive.” But the latter is not thereby swept under the rug: it remains a coherent, visible, persistent, and powerful discourse, emerging repeatedly in the statements and actions of many characters—Pompeians as well as Caesarians—and in the narrative voice. I also see little evolution: there is no move toward a reconciliation of these discourses, nor does either one seem to become more favored or prominent, or less so, over the course of the poem. These discourses simply coexist, in somewhat unequal authorial favor, ever competing and conflicting with each other, inescapable artifacts of civil war itself.

A possible third way does appear in Book 9, where Cato is at the center of an entirely different mode of ethical discourse. Here Cato and virtus are closely associated—but this virtus seems to have little to do with martial valor, for there is no fighting in this section of the poem; nor is it ever in tension with pietas, as it often is elsewhere. Rather, it is linked repeatedly with endurance, toil, and overcoming difficulty. The Stoic connection is easy to make: it is a commonplace of imperial Stoicism that moral virtue, though of course independent of indifferent externals such as pain, suffering, and death, is best displayed—and may even be strengthened—by being exercised in their presence. In this and other respects, the ethical discourse centered on Cato is strongly Stoicizing.

But Stoic ethics differs radically from both alienating and communitarian ethical discourse. The latter two are fundamentally the same, being alternative versions of the traditional, external, community- based mode of evaluation. They operate identically with respect to the underlying conception of community and differ only insofar as that underlying conception differs. In Stoic ethics, however, moral value is internal and resides in states of mind that are accessible primarily to oneself. Things that are externally observable, such as the actual results of one’s plans and actions, are regarded as beyond one’s control and therefore without moral value. The community therefore has no role in moral evaluation. Thus, Cato’s Stoicism potentially offers an escape from the competing, irreconcilable discourses discussed above: it provides a universal moral standard, invariant over all conditions of peace and war, unity and disunity, as the basis for a reconstituted, unitary ethical discourse. However, at 9.950 the narrator turns his attention back to Caesar; Cato and his Stoic ethics do not reappear in the poem. How Lucan might have developed this alternative system subsequently, and how it might have interacted with the poem’s other ethical discourses, we will never know.

VI. Lucan and Early Imperial Aristocratic Ideology
Several times in the poem Caesar articulates an ideological reconstruction of the Roman community and its ethical discourse. This reconstruction, which he can impose if he wins, will establish his alienating view of the community as the normative basis for ethical valuation, thereby removing all moral opprobrium from himself and depositing it upon his adversaries. Yet within the poem itself no such reconstruction occurs. Lucan at no point allows Caesar’s alienating view and its ethical discourse to dominate; also, voices that move toward Caesar’s view in the last three books (after Pharsalus) are presented unsympathetically. Historically, however, Caesar did attempt such a reconstruction, and we can recover its general outlines. Once we have done so, we will be able to consider the ideological consequences of Lucan’s disallowing that reconstruction and of his projecting the particular image of civil war that he does from the cultural context of Neronian Rome.

Raaflaub (1974), in his survey of the terms used by the Pompeians and Caesarians, shows that the historical Pompeians generally claimed to be defending the commonwealth (res publica) and that they called Caesar and his followers such things as “depraved men,” “bandits,” and “condemned criminals” (perditi, latrones, damnati); whether they called them hostes is unclear. Thus the Pompeians appear to have engaged in an alienating discourse, marginalizing Caesar within the community or even expelling him from it—though the evidence for their rhetoric is extremely sparse, coming almost exclusively from letters of Cicero (et al.) dating from B.C. 50–48. On the other hand, Caesar and the Caesarians generally labeled the conflict a “civil disagreement,” “secession” (civilis dissensio, secessio), or the like, they labeled the Pompeians “personal enemies” or “opponents” (inimici, adversarii) rather than using the alienating term hostes. They seem, then, to have embraced a communitarian view, or at least avoided inflammatory, alienating language. The evidence for the Caesarian viewpoint is much more plentiful, coming from Caesar’s Commentarii, Hirtius’ Bellum Gallicum VIII, and portions of Cicero’s Caesarian speeches (especially Lig., Marc., Deiot.). But these sources, in contrast to the Pompeian ones, postdate the bulk of the civil war and therefore must be seen, whatever their truth value, as representations of the conflict that serve Caesar’s interests in the aftermath. Indeed, the advantages for Caesar of presenting his cause this way, for public consumption and for posterity, are manifest: by embracing a communitarian discourse, he can seek (or claim to seek) reconciliation with the vanquished, and to reintegrate them into the community of which they have always been a part. This, then, is Caesar’s ideological reconstruction of the civil war, the history he as victor gets to write that allows him to mobilize support and consolidate power.

Another means of access to the historical Caesarians’ re-presentation of their cause following their victory is through the symbolism of Caesar’s triumphs. It is a commonplace, in Lucan and elsewhere, that a civil war cannot produce a triumph, and there are at least two reasons, inherent in the ceremony’s form and symbolism, why this is so. First, the triumphal procession symbolically subjects the non-Roman to the Roman: it includes a display of spoils, pictures of towns captured, and a parade of notable prisoners led in chains before the triumphator’s chariot. Second, the triumph is inherently expansionist in its celebration of military conquest: Valerius Maximus states that a victory won in reconquering territory previously conquered but subsequently lost does not qualify for a triumph. A victory in civil war is incompatible with a triumph on both these counts, for neither are the vanquished non-Romans, nor does the victory expand the empire. Now, Caesar sent no word of his victory at Pharsalus to the senate—a necessary step, along with being proclaimed imperator, for a commander who hopes for a supplicatio or triumph. Indeed, says Dio, Caesar not only did not triumph, but did not wish to appear to take pleasure in this victory. His refusal to seek a triumph, then, also implies a communitarian viewpoint, and so coincides with the viewpoint taken in the literary sources—the view that Pharsalus was part of a civil war, a conflict within a single community.

This interpretation of Caesar’s non-triumph for Pharsalus is confirmed by an analysis of the triumphs Caesar did celebrate. In his quadruple triumph of B.C. 46, celebrating victories in Gaul, at Zela, at Alexandria, and at Thapsus, Caesar mixed conflicts that were manifestly external (the first two) with those that were arguably civil—yet the very act of celebrating triumphs was to portray all four alike as bella externa. The triumph for Thapsus involved a systematic manipulation of symbolism, as the sources point out: for although his principal military opponents in Africa were Cato and Metellus Scipio, his triumphal procession prominently displayed the younger Juba, son of the Numidian king who supported Cato and Sepia. Thus Caesar emphasized the foreignness of the force opposing him and so constructed Thapsus symbolically as a battle between Romans (his own troops) and non-Romans. After his victory at Munda, however, Caesar went even further: according to Plutarch, he caused outrage by triumphing unambiguously over other Romans. For (says Plutarch) he had previously avoided seeking recognition for victories in civil war, and his fellow-countrymen were grieved that he now celebrated a triumph for destroying Pompey’s family rather than for defeating foreigners. Caesar, then, used triumphal imagery to represent each conflict after Pharsalus as a bellum externum, and to exclude those opponents from the community. These representations may have persuaded no one (certainly not Plutarch). But the point is that Caesar made the attempt, and in the most public and visible way: we must regard these performances as part of his attempted ideological reconstruction.

Lucan, however, disallows this Caesarian ideological reconstruction in two ways. First, the poem portrays no systematic remobilization of discourse to Caesar’s advantage, before or after Pharsalus: it insists on presenting an endlessly divided community, forever bollixed up in competing, irreconcilable discourses. In this respect Lucan differs from other Augustan and Julio-Claudian authors, who at least acknowledge that many ideological resources have been organized in support of the imperial regime. Second, and more strikingly, Lucan switches the modes of discourse that each faction embraced historically: it is Lucan’s Pompeians, not his Caesarians, who generally regard their opponents as members of their own community, and his Caesarians who, in their rhetoric and actions, tend to exclude their opponents. This reversal enables Caesar’s victory within the poem, but also precludes him from duplicating the historical Caesar’s ideological reconstruction.

Lucan’s resistance to Caesarian ideology must itself be ideologically important. What interests does Lucan’s construction of civil war serve, given that its ethical structuring substantially contradicts that of the dominant (i.e., Caesarian) historical tradition? Also, what is the ideological significance, within the social and political context of Neronian Rome, of a Roman aristocrat’s evincing so powerful an interest in fractured communities and competing, irreconcilable ethical discourses? I suggest that Lucan, along with other contemporary authors, perceives a divided community and competing ethical discourses in the Rome of his own day. For like Caesar himself, Caesar’s heirs, the principes, have the power to organize novel discourses that serve their own interests. One example is the discourse of flattery, in which the traditional grounds for praise and blame are disregarded or transmuted so as to create a uniform front of praise. Flattery distorts and undermines the aristocracy’s fundamental, received mode of valuation, and so threatens the social cohesion and group identity that traditional ethical discourse provides them.

Seneca’s advocacy of Stoic ethics implicitly addresses this problem and provides the aristocracy with one possible solution. For, as noted in section V, an ethical discourse systematically grounded on an internal standard (states of mind) elides all the problems that traditional discourse, being social and external, encounters in the face of a divided evaluative community. On this reading, Seneca’s support for Stoic ethics is ideological in that it supports the interests of the aristocracy as a whole in its power struggle with the princeps. For by reconstituting a unitary evaluative community, Seneca’s Stoic ethics negates an important aspect of the princeps’ power—the power to organize ethical discourse to his own advantage.

Lucan, meanwhile, examines divided communities and competing discourses in the framework of the civil war, which is at once the origin of the principate and also a moment at which these issues are particularly prominent and sharpened. By refusing to allow his Caesar to mimic the historical Caesar’s ideological reconstruction, Lucan resists the reorganizations of community and discourse to Caesar’s (and the principate’s) advantage. But at the same time he fails to reject Caesar’s program decisively; he makes no systematic attempt to stamp out the irruption of Caesarism into aristocratic ethics. Thus he leaves competing articulations of the community and competing discourses forever in con- flict, with no resolution in sight. It is, I think, a dark view of the aristocracy’s position: Caesar and the principate ensure a perpetual, irreparable fracturing of their community and destroy even the possibility of talking meaningfully (i.e., morally) about the regime itself or any other matter.

Source: Matthew B. Roller, “Ethical Contradiction and the Fractured Community in Lucan’s Bellum Civile,” in Classical Antiquity, Vol. 15, No. 2, October, 1996, pp. 319–47.

The Necessary Murder: Myth, Ritual, and Civil War in Lucan Book III

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 18, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5149

Lucan created the relationship between Pompey and Caesar, it has been argued, on the pattern of the relationship of Agamemnon and Achilles. Thus it is through an acknowledgment of his Greek literary ancestry that Lucan constructs the opening of his epic. The rivalry between the great leader and the young warrior provides the explosive, psychological beginnings (hae ducibus causae ... ) of the action of the Bellum Civile, shaping the conflict as one which, while between individuals, remains even less personal than that between Agamemnon and Achilles. Yet, though Achilles threatens, he does not in the end take his men home and abandon Agamemnon. Their personal quarrel is resolved, and thus subordinated to their obligations in the greater battle against the Trojans. Caesar, enraged with Pompey's arrogance, does take his troops home; the Iliadic pattern is violated, so that the Greek epic pattern will no longer serve the Roman epic poet. We must now consider what paradigm Lucan sets in its place.

The battles, purges, and proscriptions of the Civil Wars had left lasting scars on the Roman people. Those Roman writers—historians and poets alike—who survived the end of the Republic knew too well the wounds that lay beneath the polished surface of Augustan peace. In their attempts to reconcile who the Romans were with what they had done, several authors—Horace and Livy especially—had turned to a well-established Republican tradition that found in the myth of Romulus's murder of Remus the seeds of the later civil conflict. When Lucan in turn, not quite a century later, had to confront Caesar's armies on the march toward Rome, he could thus accept and adapt for his epic an already fully developed mythic connection.

He extended the mythic significance yet further, however, by exploiting the religious paradigm of combat and murder for kingship that had once been practiced by Latin communities, a paradigm exemplified by the rex nemorensis, the king of the wood. The rex and his cult were still extant in Lucan's time, and were not the only source for such a kingship ritual. It is the purpose of the present article to set out the evidence for Lucan's use of such a paradigm, and then, using this as a guide, to reassess Book III of the Bellum Civile in the terms that it dictates. The choice of Book III is logical: it is here that the themes of sacred place, sacred combat, and the necessary murder are most clearly presented. It is my further purpose to demonstrate that seeming inconsistencies in the nature of the gods in Lucan's epic can be at least partially resolved if we understand that the gods must remain aloof, outside the action, while the ritual takes place, even though they themselves have instituted the ritual of kingship murder, and will, when it is completed, receive the murderer as their ritually validated priest-king. I will conclude by suggesting ways in which this paradigm, if accepted, begins to clarify various puzzling choices Lucan has made elsewhere in the epic, as regards his narrative of events, his development of character, and the recurrent images of lightning, tree, and blood sacrifice owed to the gods.

The need to find not just an explanation for the Civil Wars, but an explanation of the Roman people, is given anguished voice in one of Horace's epodes:

Quo, quo scelesti ruitis? aut cur dexteris aptantur enses conditi? parumne campis atque Neptuno super fusum est Latini sanguinis?

Where, villains, where are you rushing? Why are once-sheathed swords at the ready in your right hands? Has not enough Latin blood been shed on land and sea?

He demands an answer—responsum date!—and the response given is one that has been shaped to this very purpose by two centuries of Republican writers:

sic est: acerba fata Romanos agunt scelusque fraternae necis, ut immerentis fluxit in terram Remi sacer nepotibus cruor.

So it is: harsh fates and the crime of a brother's murder drive the Romans on, just as when the blood of undeserving Remus flowed onto the earth, a curse upon his descendants.

Fratricide and civil war were the private and public faces of the same crime; they had come to be seen as the inescapable legacy of Romulus's murder of Remus to protect his regnum over Rome. This is not just a poet's figurative language. For Livy, Romulus and Remus present the same lesson:

Intervenit deinde his cogitationibus avitum malum, regni cupido, atque inde foedum certamen coortum a satis miti principio.

These plans [for the foundation of Rome] were interrupted by the wickedness that had marked their grandfather, greed for kingship (regni cupido), and thence, from a peaceful enough beginning, a loathsome competition grew.

That the murder of Remus was the direct and fated result of the conflict between the brothers over regnum formed an essential part of the Republican tradition. It can be traced back to Ennius's account of Romulus and Remus—curantes magna cum cura tum cupientes / regni dant operam simul auspicio augurioque ("Having a great concern, indeed, a greed for kingship, they gave their attention at once to the auspices and the augury" and sic expectabat populus atque ore timebat / rebus utri magni victoria sit data regni ("Thus their followers were waiting, with fear in their faces for the state, to see to which of the two men would victory of the great kingship be given,"). Lucretius, DRN 3.68-72, links civil war and fratricide. "Romulus' victory was only secured by a crime and that crime of fratricide continued to reassert itself throughout Roman history. The evils of the Civil Wars were seen as a legacy of Romulus' acts..."

It is hardly surprising that Lucan is, in turn, as powerfully affected by this view as were his predecessors. His sententia defining the cause of the Civil War as the competition between two men for the regnum of Rome—nulla fides regni sociis, omnisque potestas / impatiens consortis erit ("kingship has no loyalty to its allies, and every power / will be intolerant of a colleague"—is completed by the paradigm of that first murder:

... nec gentibus ullis
credite, nec longe fatorum exempla petantur:
fraterno primi maduerunt sanguine muri.

... You need look to no foreign peoples, nor seek examples of these fates far away: the first walls were soaked in a brother's blood.

The first walls of Rome, then, were stained with human blood in a fight for regnum. In nulla fides regni sociis ("kingship has no loyalty to its allies"), Lucan is very particularly naming the same type of rule as the one over which the fides of Pompey and Caesar—allies in the first Triumvirate—will fail. The point of this sententia is lost if we understand regnum here to mean no more than "tyranny" (as Duff has it), a Greek-derived and polis-based concept, rather than "kingship," which both reflects the sense of the Latin root and maintains crucial historical associations, including Lucan's reminder that kingship preceded and was a step toward the creation of Rome as a civitas. Not the abstract concept of "tyrannical power," not even the political reality of the "first Triumvirate," but rather kingship itself is unmistakably Lucan's meaning. This is further emphasized by his conscious echo of Ennius's line, nulla sancta societas / nec fides regni est ("There is no sacred alliance, no loyalty in kingship"), a line we know precisely because Cicero used it to illustrate the nature of Caesar's regnum. The belief (or fear) that Caesar actually wanted to make himself king in Rome was one of the principal justifications for his assassination.

Caesar and Pompey, then (not brothers, but father- and son-in-law), are striving for the same prize that Romulus and Remus sought. The whole structure of Lucan's epic emphasizes this, for everywhere the military conflict is subordinate to, and a violent reflection of, the personal struggle between two men. Murderous conflict, whether manifested in civil war or assassination, is an inseparable part of the kind of power for which Pompey and Caesar compete. This power is inseparable from place. Regnum, for Caesar and Pompey, is not sovereignty as an abstract notion, but kingship in Rome. Lucan concludes the paradigm of the conflict between Romulus and Remus with a comparison of Rome, the victor's prize, now and then:

nec pretium tanti tellus pontusque furoris tunc erat: exiguum dominos commisit asylum.

... and at that time, land and sea were not the prize for such a great frenzy: a robbers' hideout brought the leaders to battle.

This comparison serves to re-emphasize the parallel between Romulus' s act and Caesar's, and to remind us that the pathology is the same, whether Rome is the capital of a great empire or a small clearing on the Capitol. Lucan chose the asylum to symbolize the earliest, and smallest, physical entity of Rome, and this reminds us that the asylum on the Capitoline hill was originally the haven of escaped slaves, criminals, and others excluded from, or hostile to, political order. Rome was not only founded by a murderer, but her first citizens were exiles, fugitive slaves, murderers, and every other kind of violator of civil and religious law: men like Romulus, and Caesar, and their followers. In her end is her beginning.

The asylum at Rome was not unique. Other Latin communities had similar sacred areas of refuge for exiles or escaped slaves. The most famous, partly because it was the longest lasting, and partly because Virgil's use of one element of the ritual associated with it guaranteed it a place in Servius's commentary on the Aeneid, was the grove of Diana above Aricia, the site of the cult of the rex nemorensis. While the cult of the king of the wood may have been peculiar to Aricia, there is evidence that a similar kind of rite was—at least for a time—practiced at Rome. More importantly for our present purposes, there is evidence that the cult of the rex nemorensis was thought, in Lucan's time, to be directly associated with rites that affected the succession to the imperial throne. Let us review, first, the cult itself, then the relationship of this cult to the Roman kings in the sixth century B.C., and, finally, the evidence for Lucan's knowledge of it and its significance for his narrative.

In the mountains above the city of Aricia there was a grove, sacred to Diana and ruled over by a priest-king. He was an escaped slave who had won his exalted position by slaying his predecessor. The priest-king's life was dedicated to protecting the goddess's sacred tree, and he had to be ready, night and day, to fend off challengers with his sword. We do not have a full description of the rite, but from Servius's account we know that any challenger to the reigning priest-king had also to be a fugitive, and to declare his challenge by cutting off the golden bough. If the challenger succeeded in this first test, there was then (though surely not immediately) a mortal combat fought between the two. One of them must die, and the survivor became the next priest-king. Thus the sacred grove is a refuge for fugitives, of whom the priest-king has been one. As priest he is the goddess's servant, and perhaps her husband. As king, he serves as her protector, and the protector of the sacred tree. His successor must challenge him by cutting off the golden bough which grows on her sacred tree. The cut bough requires the priest to meet the challenger in sacred, mortal combat. The victor is the new priest-king.

To clarify Lucan's use of the rite, it is particularly important to emphasize several aspects of the ritual that may otherwise escape our notice. The assault on the tree is a sacrilege committed against the goddess herself, and both the reigning king and the challenger must have committed this crime. The defeated one is the sacrificial victim, the victor is the anointed priest, and the combat is a test of the goddess's will, which can only be ascertained by the outcome of the combat. Most important of all, the entire ritual is instituted by the goddess herself—that is, the sacrilege, the murder, and the victor's ascension to priesthood are all equally part of the ritual and are all therefore equally sacred.

Possession of Diana's grove made Aricia enormously wealthy, a condition that prevailed without doubt well into the first century B.C., and quite possibly on into Lucan's own day. Indeed, in the time of the kings at Rome, Aricia was a greater power than Rome, and an equal to the most important cities in central Italy. She shared control with Alba Longa of the source of the Ferentine river (caput aquae ferentinae), the gathering place for the leaders (proceres) of the Latin tribes, where Turnus confronted Tarquinius, who, by his behavior to the rest of the Latin leaders, earned his sobriquet Superbus. During the fifth century B.C., Aricia, like the other Latin cities, was defeated by the Romans—several times, in fact—but preparations for her permanent eclipse by Rome had been made, almost a century earlier, by Servius Tullius, who held the last legitimate Roman kingship, and who appropriated Aricia's cult of Diana as an assertion of Rome's claim to political, as well as religious, leadership of the Latin people:

Saepe iterando eadem perpulit tandem, ut Romae fanum Dianae populi Latini cum populo Romano facerent. Ea erat confessio caput rerum Romam esse, de quo totiens armis certatum fuerat.

Through constant effort, he (Servius) finally got his way, with the result that the Latins and the Romans together created a shrine to Diana at Rome. This was an admission that Rome was their common capital (caput rerum), a question over which they had so many times gone to war.

Livy concludes his account with the story of a magnificent heifer, a prodigy. Imperial power would belong to the state whose citizens sacrificed this heifer to Diana, according to the soothsayers (ibi fore imperium). Among the gods, while Jupiter certainly represents Rome's will to imperium, Diana, clearly, is the divinity who has the power to guarantee it. No wonder Servius was anxious to establish her cult in Rome.

Servius's sanctuary of Diana on the Aventine (there well may not have been a temple at first) imitated several important aspects of the cult at Aricia. First, the festal day was the same as that at Aricia—August 13. Slaves celebrated a holiday on this day: they could participate in the rite (not a common practice), and the cult was particularly sacred to them. Indeed, according to Festus, temple was a sanctuary for escaped slaves. Moreover, the success of Servius's appropriation of the cult was as important as the move itself, for it testified to divine authorization for Rome's expanding power, a very forceful confirmation in the early period when belief was strong and rationalism and syncretism had not yet drained divinity of its present numen.

Though in Republican times the Aventine cult did not include the "ghastly priest," the priest may indeed have been part of Servius's foundation. There is evidence that Servius Tullius, as king, was himself Diana's priest. According to a tradition that could not be denied—despite the openly expressed dismay of historians such as Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus—Servius Tullius was born a slave. He succeeded Tarquinius Priscus upon that king's violent death, and accomplished this through the intercession of Tarquinius's queen. As an old man, Servius was himself physically attacked and removed from the throne by his son-in-law, Tarquinius Superbus.

There is a curious, and for this discussion revealing, chronological problem here. Tarquinius was supposed to be the son of Tarquinius Priscus, and was also young and vigorous enough to throw the elderly Servius downstairs, even though he had to be at least forty-four (the number of years Servius reigned, according to Livy) and—if he was married to Tullia when Servius became king—was probably a good deal older than that. The important fact—that a young successor made a physical attack on the aging king—confounds the chronology, and reminds us that not Tarquinius's claim to the throne, but the physical attack, was what was crucial to the story.

After the attack, Servius, the story goes, was murdered by Tarquinius's agents. The event is described in vivid and telling detail by Livy. Tullia, who is both sister and wife to Tarquinius, summons her husband out of the Curia and is the first to call him "king." Then she goes to the top of the Cyprian Way, where there was a shrine to Diana, and directs her carriage to turn right onto the Urbian Way. Servius is lying, dead, across the road. She orders the driver to drive over the body, spattering herself with the blood of her father, a crime so terrible that it has given the name to the street—the "Accursed Street." This horrible story is concluded by Livy thus: ceterum id quoque ad gloriam accessit quod cum illo simul iusta ac legitima regna occiderunt ("this, too, accrued to his glory, that with him just and lawful kingship disappeared," Livy).

If we ignore the anachronistic color of contemporary politics that Livy and Dionysius apply to make sense of this, we see that it is remarkably like a ritual such as the one practiced by the rex nemorensis. Indeed, the oddest "facts," which, however much they are explained, are never explained away—Servius the slave; Tullia the daughter, sister, wife; the mysterious shrine to Diana on the Esquiline; Servius's blood on Tullia; the tradition that Tarquinius Superbus was not only "the son" but was also "the young, vigorous man" capable of heaving another man down steps, despite the chronological impossibility; the strange vanishing of any helpers for the king as soon the young man proves his superior prowess—these are elements most appropriate, not to a political coup, but to a ritual combat for kingship.

It is not necessary to determine whether such a rite was ever actually practiced by Romans in Rome. It is enough that the tradition existed, was associated with a Roman king, Servius Tullius, and could be thus interpreted in Lucan's time. There is, fortunately, evidence suggesting that the rites of Diana were of more than a little interest to those around Lucan. Crispus Passienus, step-father to Nero, orator, Stoic, and friend of Seneca, was much concerned with Diana's cult. Pliny reports that Passienus formed an attachment to a certain exceptional tree in a grove near Tusculum, a grove which "by the ancient religious practices from Latium was sacred to Diana." Passienus would embrace and kiss the tree, sleep under it, and pour wine over it.

But of far greater importance for Lucan's understanding of the rites of Diana, as they relate to the history of Rome, is Claudius's curious use of the rites at a significant point in the chronic crisis of imperial succession. Tacitus records that Claudius ordered "expiatory rites (piacula) to be celebrated by the priests in the grove of Diana," and these rites were to be conducted according to "ceremonies from the rules of King Tullius," when he was persuaded that Lucius Junius Silanus Torquatus, betrothed to his daughter Octavia, was guilty of incest with his (Silanus's) sister Junia Calvina. Tacitus also reports that this order caused considerable derision, as Claudius himself at that very time was proposing an incestuous marriage to his own niece, Agrippina. According to the life attributed to Vacca, Lucan was an augur. Such a priesthood attests Lucan's interest in, and access to, the religious traditions of the Romans, Etruscans, and—surely—the Latins.

Thus, the rite of Diana (and this purification of incest—if that is what it was—must relate to the part of the rite in which the Iphigenia-priestess "married" her "brother") has reappeared in precisely the context that supports our reading of Lucan's reference, and assures us that while the allusion may have been arcane, it did not require information unavailable to the audience for whom Lucan wrote. Tacitus's account of Claudius's efforts, at once learned and inept, to protect himself from a palace coup provides a connection that links Servius Tullius, the rite of Diana at Aricia, a purification ceremony conducted publicly at the grove (lucum Dianae), and the imperial household during Lucan's lifetime.

Now, when we turn to Book III of Lucan's epic, we can see, with much greater understanding, the metaphorical landscape Lucan paints for Caesar as he approaches Rome, foreseeing his destiny as Rome's master and, eventually, as a Roman deity. Caesar, descendant of Venus and King Iulus, looks down from Alba Longa, the seat of the first kings of Rome, his ancestors. He has crossed over high Anxur and marsh-ridden Pometia—cities whose defeat had increased the power of Rome in Latium, and the power of Capitoline Jupiter. He has also passed the grove of Diana and the sacred regna of her cult. He has traveled up the Via Triumphalis to the sanctuary of Jupiter Latiaris, the second most powerful Jupiter in Latium:

... miratusque suae sic fatur moenia Romae: "tene, deum sedes, non ullo Marte coacti deseruere viri? pro qua pugnabitur urbe? di melius, quod non Latias Eous in oras nunc furor incubuit nec iuncto Sarmata velox Pannonio Dacisque Getes admixtus: habenti tam pavidum tibi, Roma, ducem Fortuna pepercit quod Bellum Civile fuit."

... he marveled at the walls of his Rome and spoke thus: "Have men, not compelled by warfare, deserted you, the abode of the gods? For what city will there be war? The gods have willed the better end, that the frenzied East has not fallen on Latin shores, nor the swift Sarmatians with their Pannonian allies, nor the Getes and the Dacians combined. When you have so timorous a leader, Rome, Fortune has spared you, because the war has been civil."

Caesar speaks directly to issues which we have raised: Rome is the abode of the gods—not least of Jupiter and the appropriated Diana—whom he will soon join as Iuppiter Iulius or as Divus Iulius; the walls which Romulus and Remus fought over for regnum are there before him; his fight with Pompey over these same walls awaits him—but Pompey has not stayed to fight. The central lines turn our attention to the peripheries of the Roman world, to the nightmare of barbarians descending on an undefended city, not only in order to heighten Rome's vulnerability—with or without Pompey she was at risk—but even more to prepare for the irony of the final clause. The barbarians are not a threat, because this is a civil war—a war between citizens (no barbarians allowed) and (thus far) an unpretentious, unfought war, since one of its two principal combatants (tam pavidum ... ducem—so timorous a leader) has left town, retreating with unseemly haste. Thus the barbarian threat is bracketed, contained, and then diffused, by the civil conflict over Rome. Our attention is focused directly on City and leaders, the irreducible ingredients of the Civil War.

The war will be fought, despite Pompey' s desertion. Central to this conflict is the shedding of human blood. Lucan signals very clearly and early that blood shed in the war is a human sacrifice owed to the gods, for Cato—the voice of morality, if not the hero of the epic—tells Brutus that because the gods demand it, the war will not end until the full measure of blood is shed:

sic eat: immites Romana piacula divi
plena ferant, nullo fraudemus sanguine bellum.

Let it be so. May the merciless gods accept Roman expiations in full measure; let us not defraud the war of a single drop of blood.

Thus the war constitutes the expiations (piacula) that these merciless gods (immites divi) require. It is surely no accident that we have here a distinct echo of Horace's Epode 7 (sic est: acerba fata Romanos agunt ...) quoted above. The bloodshed of war, the human sacrifice of Pharsalia, form a tragic, but essential, part of the mortal combat for regnum—ritualized in the cult of the rex nemorensis, mythologized in Romulus and Remus, incorporated in one way or another in the Roman city by the Latin king Servius Tullius, and realized once again in Caesar and Pompey.

So Caesar, on the Alban Mount, looks down on the walls of Rome, walls that were built, according to tradition, by Servius Tullius. Pompey has fled. Fortune has spared Rome, with her timorous leader, because this is a civil war, just as Lucan says. Like Servius Tullius, Pompey is weakening daily, because this is the kind of war it is, a combat for kingship. With right on his side, with Cato's support, with all the Senate in his train, he is nevertheless still the leader who is being displaced. The comparison of Caesar, the vigorous, violent, enraged young fighter, with Pompey, the older, wearier, frightened leader, is of course a recurrent theme throughout the epic; but now it has a new, and brilliantly Roman, resonance, as befits a Roman epic.

Thus, with Caesar poised above the fatal walls, let us consider now what significance the allusion to the rite of the rex nemorensis might have for our understanding of Lucan's deeper poetic purpose within the often perplexing conjunction of events in Book III. The narrative is as follows: Caesar approaches Rome (which Pompey has chosen not to defend) and there loots the temple of Saturn. The catalogue of Pompey's forces—regal, massive, and from every corner of the earth—follows. The scene shifts to Roman Gaul, specifically the territory of Massilia. When Massilia refuses to take sides in the war, Caesar begins a ruthless siege. In Lucan's account, the siege-works Caesar has devised in order to mount his attack against the city are of major importance. In order to get enough wood to build the works, a sacred grove must be cut down. The soldiers are afraid to commit such a sacrilege; Caesar is not, delivering the axe-blow to an oak even as he declares, proudly, "Be confident that I have committed the sacrilege!" The Massiliotes, indeed, are confident Caesar will be punished for his assault on the gods. Instead, Caesar, unharmed, departs for Spain, and the scene shifts, without explanation, from a siege to a naval battle. This naumachia, gory and utterly Lucanian, concludes the book. The victory of the naval battle goes to the (Caesarian) Romans rather than the (Greek) Massiliotes, but no mention is made of the fall of Massilia itself.

The challenger to the rex nemorensis must first cut down the bough from the sacred tree in the sacred grove. The Arician grove was, even in historic times, very dense and dark despite the fact that a substantial complex of temples had grown up around it—physical evidence for the continuation of thriving religious business at Aricia—and the hillsides were studded with suburban villas. The tree and the priest were linked in an extraordinary union, no doubt reflecting a very early period of Italic religion in which the tree was an aspect of the goddess, and the priest both her protector and consort. The priest's duty was to defend the tree from injury; yet the man who would be king of the wood was compelled to do just that—he had to commit sacrilege in order to gain his sacred status in service to the goddess. Nevertheless, the sacrilege can only occur if it is divinely approved, for, as the Sibyl tells Aeneas, the bough may be cut only if the fates summon the challenger to this task. The fated injury to the tree commits the reigning priest-king to mortal combat.

In this light we must rethink what exactly is represented in Book III by Caesar's decision to level the sacred grove, and indeed by the grove itself:

Lucus erat longo numquam violatus ab aevo obscurum cingens conexis aera ramis et gelidas alte summotis solibus umbras, hunc non ruricolae Panes nemorumque potentes Silvani Nymphaeque tenent, sed barbara ritu sacra deum. structae diris altaribus arae omnisque humanis lustrata cruoribus arbor.

There was a grove, from the earliest time undefiled, encircling with interlaced boughs a murky space and shadows chilled because the sunlight from above was warded off. The rural Pans, the Silvani, rulers of the forest, and the Wood-Nymphs do not hold sway in this grove, but sacred ceremonies of the gods, barbarous in their observance. Shrines with dreadful altars have been erected and every tree has been ritually purified with human blood.

The words should bring us back to the passage in which Lucan's first allusion to Scythian Diana appears:

... et quibus immitis placatur sanguine diro Teutates horrensque feris altaribus Esus et Taranis Scythicae non mitior ara Dianae

[At the departure of Caesar's troops, those Gauls also rejoiced] who satisfy the merciless Teutates with dreadful blood, and Esus, horrific with his savage altars, and Taranis, whose altar is no more merciful than the altar of Scythian Diana.

In Gaul, the Druids have their barbaricos ritus moremque sinistrum / sacrorum ("barbarian rites and baleful tradition of religious ceremonies" and nemora alta remotis / incolitis lucis ("you [who practice these rites] inhabit high forests and remote groves"). The groves in Gaul and Massilia are hauntingly alike. But we mistake the likeness if we do not perceive the shadow of Diana and her grove at Nemi following all these allusions. "Scythian" is a common epithet for Diana of Aricia and reflects the barbarism of the goddess, shared in the shrines at Aricia where the rex nemorensis is killed, in Gaul where the altars and trees drip with human blood, in Aulis where, as Artemis, she demanded the sacrifice of Iphigenia and thus precipitated events leading to the Trojan War, and in Scythia where her demand for human sacrifice is central to the Iphigenia Taurica. The patron deity of Massilia was Artemis; the Romans knew—and were quite proud of—the close connection between their cult statue of Diana on the Aventine (brought in, as we have seen, from Aricia by Servius Tullius, according to Livy the last legitimate king at Rome) and the cult of Artemis among the Massiliotes. Thus this grove outside Massilia stands in much the same relation to the great cult of Artemis, established by the Phocaean settlers, as does the cult of Diana of Aricia to the cult of Diana on the Aventine. Indeed, the Massiliotes, like the Romans, were in the habit of using their cult as a tool of cultural imperialism, for Strabo notes that not only did they establish in their colonies cults of Artemis identical to their own, but also they taught the Iberians the ancestral rites of Ephesian Artemis, so that they sacrificed according to Greek ritual. So Artemis/Diana—together with the intimate connection of cult imperialism, cult imitation, and cult syncretism—draws together Rome, Aricia, Massilia, and this nameless grove beyond the walls.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Critical Overview