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Lucanic Omens in Julius Caesar Clifford J. Ronan Until at least the end of the Renaissance, Seneca's nephew Lucan-bard par excellence of civil war and master of historical epic-was considered a major Latin writer, rivaling even Virgil, with whom he was inevitably compared.! Though Dante awards the highest honors to Virgil, he classifies Lucan among the five greatest ancient poets (Inferno IV). Lucan's Caesar, Blissett rightly claims, is a major inspiration, immediate or proximate, of Tamburlaine and other ranting megalomaniacs of the Tudor-Stuart stage. Shakespeare scholars have also discerned Lucan's mark in their author's treatment of civil war, fame, and portents and in various verbal minutiae.2 In the pages that follow, I propose to consider the composition of lulius Caesar and to examine the likeliest evidence--some familiar, some new-that the Elizabethan dramatist actually employed Lucan in this Roman tragedy. To anyone concerned with the breadth and chronology of Shakespeare's exposure to various literary works, the question of his possible use of Lucan is of considerable interest and importance, and thus it is a matter worth establishing carefully. There is no doubt that Shakespeare drew heavily upon Plutarch rather than Lucan in designing the plot of lulius Caesar. However, Bullough, Schanzer, Muir, and others have assembled solid arguments for Shakespeare's use of Lucan in several plays, with borrowings for lulius Caesar consisting of at least two sorts: regarding comets and wild creatures. Admittedly , Plutarch speaks of "fires in the element" and "solitarie birds" in the Roman marketplace before Caesar's death, and of a "great comet" for seven nights after the assassination. But in Shakespeare (1) the comet comes before the assassination and (2) is explicitly said to herald political upheaval; and CLIFFORD 1. RONAN, Professor of English at Southwest Texas State University . has published widely on Renaissance topics. 138 Clifford I. Ronan 139 while Shakespeare retains Plutarch's ominous bird, the dramatist appears under the influence of Lucan in (3) referring to one or more lions wandering through Rome--animals that Shake~ speare (II.ii.46f) ,3 like Lucan, equates with Caesar himself. It is as if the dramatist, whose first Roman play called Rome "but a wilderness of tigers" (Titus Ardronicus ill.i.54), was dissatisfied with equipping Caesar's Rome with only the Plutarchan wild bird. Specifically, Lucan reports that "wild beasts" were seen "lodg[ing] in the streets of Rome" (I.557ยท58) after Caesar-"like to a lion of scorch'd desert Afric,"4 charging against the hunters (1.208-14)--crossed the Rubicon. By such an act Caesar had penetrated the Roman heartland and overturned the constitution, an event immediately causing "comets that presage the fall of kingdoms" (1.527). This last phrase from Marlowe's translation (as yet. unpublished but possibly available in manuscript) of the Pharsalia is especially close to the meaning and syntax of Shakespeare, whose Calphurnia states that "comets" "blaze forth the death.of princes" (II.ii.3031 ). Obviously, Shakespeare's "blaze forth" is closely analogous to Marlowe's "presage," just as "fall" and "princes" are to Marlowe 's "death" and "kingdoms." In Shakespeare's time, Lucan was famous for his preternatural effects: for instance, omens (as mentioned), or the catalogue of Libyan snakes miraculously created from the blood of Medusa (IX.683ff). It is surely significant that the three borrowings for which I have argued above involve just such effects. So too does another purported borrowing, advanced by several commentators over the last two hundred years.S I am referring to Brutus' description of Caesar's ghostly curse on the conspirators, making them "turn our swords! In our own proper entrails" (V.iii.94-96). What else can this be than the anglicizing of a striking phrase from the epic proem to the Pharsalia? In the time of Pompey and Caesar, writes Lucan, what made a victorious people tum their sword arms into their own vitals- "In sua . .. conversum viscera" (1.3)? In addition to these four borrowed details, I should like to propose two more, each of which seems hitherto to have escaped the notice of Shakespeare scholars: Lucanic echoes, intended to be recognized or not, in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 138-144
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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