LUCAN: DE BELLO CIVILI Book VII

Edited by Paul Roche

CUP (2019) p/b 284pp £24.99 (ISBN 9781207614451)

This ‘Green and Yellow’ commentary by R. on Pharsalia vii—the battle of Pharsalus—is welcome, not least because the poet has been receiving less than generous attention from scholars over the past fifty and more years. Since R. does not (directly) do so, it may be helpful to summarise compactly what is available: full editions are from A.E. Housman (1926) (introduction (in English) and apparatus criticus (MSS plus notes, in Latin) and D.R. Shackleton Bailey (Teubner, 1968); for Book vii, commentary by O.A.W. Dilke (1960), an updating of J.B. Postgate (1896). Translations come from Loeb (1928) by J.D. Duff, friend and colleague of Housman at Cambridge, and from Susanna Braund (Oxford, 1992). The truly dedicated may still find C.E. Haskins’s commentary (1887), with Introduction by the Roman historian W.E. Heitland, on the entire work useful: ‘superficial indeed, and unlearned, but helpful to beginners, and not wanting in common sense’ (Housman [1926] xxxiii). There is a Companion to Lucan (Brill, 2011).

R,’s (very full) Introduction comes in fourteen sections. Rather than list each one separately, the reviewer here looks at items of particular interest and relevance: this in no way implies that sections not noticed here are either uninteresting or irrelevant. Under ‘Battle’, R. makes the important point that ‘delay (a marked feature of the book) is bound up with the narrator’s overall determination to retard Caesar’s march to victory, since that will mean the permanent loss of liberty for Rome’. In ‘The Gods and Religion’, Lucan breaks from tradition by not invoking the Muses, by not adducing any divine causation, and by not showing divine characters in speech and action—thus ‘forgoing the omniscient authority typical of the epic narrative’. R. develops this theme to good effect (pp .6-7) and takes the opportunity to remind us here of the famous line victrix causa deis placuit, sed victa Catoni (1.128). There are aspects of both Stoicism and Epicureanism in Pharsalia, neither obviously dominating: stoicism is perhaps more visible (5, 105, 501). Of Pompey and Caesar, the former emerges as by far the more human character—in keeping with Lucan’s unswerving hostility to Caesar; but Pompey is past his best and Caesar is by far the more dynamic. R. draws attention, under ‘Apostrophe’ (often a ‘vehicle of pathos’) to Lucan’s excessive use of this trope, specifically to the thirty instances in this book alone.

In ‘Sources, Modes, Intertexts’, Virgil (unsurprisingly) emerges as the most important influence on Lucan, but Livy and Seneca the Younger are significant sources, though the latter’s presence is often hard to isolate; by contrast, Homer’s Iliad unexpectedly plays a notably less significant role. In ‘Diction, Word Order, Metre’, Lucan is shown to favour a more restricted range of less poetic words (e.g. gladius is used as often as ensis, in contrast to Virgil, who almost always uses ensis. (Housman tersely commented [Collected Papers III, p. 1045] ‘Lucan, whose vocabulary is as commonplace as his versification’); Lucan is fond of compound adjectives, especially those ending in –ficus: ten are listed, of which luctificus at l.2 is a hapax. However, when R. points out that the metre of Pharsalia coheres strongly with the metrical patterns of the Aeneid, he misses one particular aspect: from the data which he provides, it can be deduced that only about 20% of Lucan’s lines have a dactyl in the fourth foot—in accord with Virgil in the Aeneid, but in sharp contrast to his practice in the Eclogues, or, indeed to Ovid’s near-40%. R. is not oblivious to this, contrasting the heavily spondaic line at 215 with the dactylic 590, in both cases the metre being appropriate to the sense.

In ‘Transmission and Text’ (barely two pages, of which only one is on the MSS tradition—contrast Housman’s 36 pages), R. is in accord here with current practice. Of notable interest, however, is a shortish table which sets out where R. differs from Housman, Shackleton Bailey—or, in only two cases, both. In those cases, R. accepts conjectures from Heinsius and Hudson-Williams. I do not think that he ventures upon conjecture himself, and very often the differences between them are of a truly trivial nature: e.g. at 355, where the choice is between possint and possent. Housman prints the second, but says of the first non minus recte; R. also does not specifically point out in his table that, at 462, he prints Håkanson’s startling penitus for Housman’s (and the MSS) vultus: see Housman’s Collected Papers, vol. Iii, pp. 1043-1045, for a detailed discussion of these troublesome lines, in addition, of course to R.’s note ad loc.

Here let it be emphasised that Lucan’s text is a mishmash, wholly unsuited to the talents of a Lachmann: R. quotes Housman; ‘the true line of division is between the variants themselves, not between the manuscripts which offer them’. And indeed, Housman’s great contribution to Lucan lay in his correctly punctuating the text, rather than emending it. 

R. then prints what is basically Housman’s text, with no apparatus criticus, and differing from Housman in only a dozen or so places: full apparatus, of course, in Housman. The commentary which follows occupies some 200 pages. Your reviewer scanned the dozen or so places where R. dissents from Housman’s reading. R. makes a good case on every occasion (except perhaps penitus ‘by metathesis’ at 462); in accepting Heinsius’s fovit at 658, he does not mention that it is ignored by Housman, whose acceptance of MS vovit is rejected by R. as too close to votis just before: but Latin poets were cloth-eared in such matters. If it is the job of a commentator to ‘establish, explain and illustrate the text’, R. has generously fulfilled his task, helping with matters of grammar and syntax (at random, see the notes on 323-5, 356-7, 709-10—but Lucan’s language often needs unravelling), translating where needed, and always setting the context, and expanding on it as necessary (e.g. in contrasting Lucan’s account with what is known from other, more strictly historical sources; cf. Cicero’s speech (62-85)—but the orator was not at the battle). The notes in the fairly few cases where the reading is in serious doubt are full and fair. The long note on the death of L. Domitius Ahenobarbus (597-616) is a model of its kind; so too is R.’s extended note on Caesar’s viewing the dead (786-834): Homer is referenced to good effect on Caesar’s refusal to allow the slain to be buried. In general, R. escapes the trap of undue prolixity (‘showing the scaffolding as well as the building’), without making the reviewer feeling short-changed.

There are the usual Indexes: the reviewer would not have minded if the 13 pages of Bibliography had been pruned. This edition matches the high standard of other recent ‘Green and Yellow’ commentaries, and is warmly recommended: users may find it both helpful and diverting if they have Housman’s edition to hand, though it may not be easy to find.

Colin Leach

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