Lucan, Bedtime Reading, and A Question for Readers

Today was my first day back to work after a rather indolent summer break, and the general sense of distress caused by the infandus dolor of that return kept me from getting to sleep last night. Therefore, I reached for a book which I remembered with something less than keen enthusiasm – Lucan’s de Bello Civili (or Pharsalia, if you’re a bit more old-fashioned).  Though I expected to be lulled to sleep by endless geography and rhetorical exercise, I found myself rather captivated this time around, and managed to finish Book 1 before feeling tired enough to turn off the lights.  (It remains to be seen whether this is a sustainable enthusiasm.)

Before presenting some of the highlights, I pose this question to our readers:

What book have you initially hated, only to find during a later reading that you actually rather appreciate it?

Here are some of the high points from Book 1 of Lucan:

“Caesar cannot tolerate a better, and Pompey cannot tolerate an equal. One cannot say who took up arms with more semblance of justice; each one vindicates himself with great authority. The gods preferred the winning side – Cato preferred the vanquished.”
nec quemquam iam ferre potest Caesarue priorem 
Pompeiusue parem. quis iustius induit arma
scire nefas: magno se iudice quisque tuetur;
uictrix causa deis placuit sed uicta Catoni. (1.125-128)

“This was no longer that nation which could enjoy a quiet peace, which once feasted on its freedom and left its sword unswung. Then, they became quick to anger and whatever poverty urged – a vile crime – and it became a great glory which one might obtain violence to have more power than one’s whole country; violence became the arbiter of justice.”

non erat is populus quem pax tranquilla iuuaret,
quem sua libertas inmotis pasceret armis.
inde irae faciles et, quod suasisset egestas,
uile nefas, magnumque decus ferroque petendum
plus patria potuisse sua, mensuraque iuris 175
uis erat… (1.171-176)

“Make haste – delay has always harmed those who are prepared.”

Tolle moras; semper nocuit differre paratis. (1.281)

“And the Vangiones, who are like the Sarmatians in wearing loose pants.”

Et qui te laxis imitantur, Sarmata, bracis
Vangiones… (1.430-431)

“Thus, the frenzied crowd rushed through the city with hurried steps, and, as if its one hope was to escape from the walls of its home city, fled with no direction.”
…sic turba per urbem 
praecipiti lymphata gradu, uelut unica rebus
spes foret adflictis patrios excedere muros,
inconsulta ruit. (1.495-498)

“Virtue will be just a word, and this madness will last for many years. What good is it to entreat the gods to end it? Along with peace, we will have a tyrant.”
nomen erit uirtus, multosque exibit in annos
hic furor. et superos quid prodest poscere finem?
cum domino pax ista uenit. (1.668-670)

2 thoughts on “Lucan, Bedtime Reading, and A Question for Readers

  1. “What book have you initially hated, only to find during a later reading that you actually rather appreciate it?”

    It would probably be Tacitus’s Annales for me. When you’re still (as a student) struggling desperately with a laconic, terse prose style which can be very difficult for those whose knowledge of Latin is still pretty shaky, Tacitus is hard to appreciate. Many years later, however, I was inclined to agree with my old professor that THE most unfortunate “loss” among the countless classical texts that haven’t survived is the rest of the Annales.

  2. Both the Iliad and The Odyssey. Odyssey because my otherwise amazing English teacher had us read a prose (pauses to vomit) translation, and The Iliad because a) we only read part; b) I had a lesser mortal than Lenny to guide me; c) the translation was not my fave.

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