- A Commentary on Lucan, De Bello Civili IV: Introduction, Edition, and Translation
Those working on Lucan nowadays live in happy times and are blessed with an annual stream of secondary literature and commentaries. Lucan needs no apology any more. The last few years alone have yielded Monica Matthew’s 2008 commentary on the über-storm scene in Lucan BC 5.476–721, and Paul Roche’s 2009 full commentary on BC 1. Now we have Paolo Asso’s full commentary on BC 4, published almost simultaneously with Paolo Esposito’s 2009 Italian counterpart (Naples). I shall, however, not compare these two commentaries here, but rather concentrate on the merits of Asso’s book alone.
The fourth book of Lucan’s epic on the Roman civil war between Caesar and Pompey contains many of the epic’s most famous scenes: the Battle of Ilerda (vv. 1–401), which sees the besieged Pompeians under Afranius endure thirst and gain Caesar’s pardon; the common suicide of Volteius and his men on their raft (402–581); and the so-called Curio episode set in Africa (581–824), embedded in which we find the myth of the fight between Hercules and Antaeus (661–714).
Asso treats us to thirty-six pages of introduction, followed by the Latin text with translation (38–97) and a substantial commentary (100–293). The introduction starts off with a biographical sketch of Lucan’s life drawn from the ancient source material and addresses the question whether Lucan should, could, or ought to be read as a freedom writer once his falling out with Nero had occurred. This section assembles much useful and often scattered material for the convenience of the reader, but needs to be read with the caveat in mind that it is also possible to approach Lucan’s oeuvre without subscribing to a biographical reading. In the same way in which the “myth” of Nero the Tyrant has been created by the ancient sources, these might well have modeled Lucan’s life as counterpart to Nero’s. This quibble, however, should not distract from the merits of Asso’s volume and the importance of allowing the reader to make up his or her own mind. After all, Bellum Civile 4 could well have been the first book written after Nero and Lucan fell out, as some ancient sources imply in their report that before his ban Lucan had already published three books of his epic. The remainder of Asso’s introduction deals with Lucan’s place as Virgil’s epic successor and positions book 4 in the wider structure and content of the Bellum Civile before embarking on a survey of the diction, syntax, meter, and rhetorical devices employed by Lucan.
The commentary itself is neatly subdivided into three parts according to the narrative structure of Bellum Civile 4 outlined above, each of which is prefaced by a short summary and in the case of the Battle of Ilerda with dates and chapter references to Caesar’s own account in book 1 of his Commentaria de bello civili. Asso proceeds line by line and provides rich material on lexical, metrical, and syntactical levels as well as a wealth of background information on Lucan’s often tricky geographical, military, or even athletic [End Page 555] matters, as in the case of the wrestling match between Hercules and the giant Antaeus. The latter episode deserves to be singled out for particular praise, as Asso here leaves no stone unturned to provide information ranging from Hercules’ Roman cult titles to a potted history of wrestling in Greece and Rome. Throughout, single lines are frequently illuminated by exhaustive comments. A further strength of Asso’s work is his command of the material and his ability to combine insights from Anglophone and Italian scholarship for a wider audience. Even occasional, and given the enormous amount of referencing forgivable slips—we find both Roland Mayer and Meyer on 20 and Endt 1905 certainly wrote about...