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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Pharsalia by Marcus Annaeus Lucan (65 CE)

I have been reading Roman poetry to my youngest son for the last several months, and I have to say that while I would not have guessed it, I have really enjoyed it, content wise.  Most surprisingly, this is my favorite one.  I had heard of the other three poets.  They are big names from the ancient world--Catullus, Ovid, and Virgil--heavy hitters all three.  But I had never heard about Lucan.

He was from Cordoba, a family with minimal Italian blood but his grandfather was Seneca the elder, and his uncle Seneca the younger--both big names in the ancient world.  He grew up with Nero, and died because of his opposition to him, which is why this poem was never finished.

It is a poem about the Civil War, about Caesar crossing the Rubicon and Pompey daring Caesar to a fight and then hightailing it out of Rome when Caesar took the dare.  Lucan didn't care for either of them all that much, and it is hard to disagree with the things he didn't like, but that's not what I liked about his epic.  I liked the cadence of it, which is dactyl hexameter.  Not that I would have recognized that, but I do know that is the poetic form that Homer wrote in. I also like the rawness of it, and the humor.  It is hard boiled without being bitter.  I am not what I would call a great fan of the war novel either, but somehow this really made me think.  It also gave me a window into a time long gone by.  Maybe I have reached the time in my life to pick up the Iliad.

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