What We Could Have Done Instead of War: Lucan on Labor Lost (6.48-63)

{I have debated Lucan’s ability before, but this passage has an urgency and power I find compelling)

“Now let ancient myth build up Troy’s walls
and credit it to the gods; let the retreating Parthians
wonder at the brick walls encircling Babylon—
Look, a place as great as that the Tigris or swift Orontes embraces–
one large enough to be a kingdom for Assyrians in the East–
such a space is suddenly enclosed by the tumult of war!
Such labors are wasted.
So many hands might have joined Sestus to Abydos
with an earthenwork made to erase Phrixus’ sea.
Or they could have ripped Corinth from the Peloponnese
To give relief to ships from the distant Cape Malea,
Or some other part of the world–even if nature denied it–
They could have changed the place for the better.
The plain of war is engaged. Here we nourish blood that will flow on all lands;
Here we hold the victims from Thessaly and Libya;
Here the insanity of civil war churns on narrow strands.”

nunc uetus Iliacos attollat fabula muros
ascribatque deis; fragili circumdata testa
moenia mirentur refugi Babylonia Parthi. 50
en, quantum Tigris, quantum celer ambit Orontes,
Assyriis quantum populis telluris Eoae
sufficit in regnum, subitum bellique tumultu
raptum clausit opus. tanti periere labores.
tot potuere manus aut iungere Seston Abydo 55
ingestoque solo Phrixeum elidere pontum,
aut Pelopis latis Ephyren abrumpere regnis
et ratibus longae flexus donare Maleae,
aut aliquem mundi, quamuis natura negasset,
in melius mutare locum. coit area belli: 60
hic alitur sanguis terras fluxurus in omnis,
hic et Thessalicae clades Libycaeque tenentur;
aestuat angusta rabies ciuilis harena.

Why is the Victor so Slow to Conquer? Cicero to Pompey (Lucan, VII.67-73)

In the following passage, Cicero marshals his rhetorical talents to encourage Pompey to finally face Caesar in the field.

 

“In exchange for so many favors, Magnus, Fortune begs you
for only one thing: that you will use her; and your captains,
and the kings of your kingdoms, stand with the whole world before you
as suppliants: we ask you to commit to conquering your father-in-law.
Will Caesar remain for so long a time the root of war for mankind?
It is right for nations which were overcome by Pompey in haste
To be angry at his slowness to conquer now.
Where did your eagerness go? Where is your faith in your destiny?”

hoc pro tot meritis solum te, Magne, precatur
uti se Fortuna uelis, proceresque tuorum
castrorum regesque tui cum supplice mundo 70
adfusi uinci socerum patiare rogamus.
humani generis tam longo tempore bellum
Caesar erit? merito Pompeium uincere lente
gentibus indignum est a transcurrente subactis.
quo tibi feruor abit aut quo fiducia fati?

Whether Life is Chance or Fate Rules All, Be Sudden (Lucan, 2.4-14)

Since we have lately been a bit obsessed with Housman’s idea of scholarship, his invective, and his memory for student names, I thought it only fair to visit with a poet he edited (and there was no way I was reading Manilius this morning):

“…Ruler of Olympos, why did you
Add this worry to human suffering:
To learn of coming horrors through awful omens?
Is it true that the father of nature, when he first grasped unformed realms
And the raw material as creation’s flame receded,
Established causality forever, an act which bound him
To keep the law himself, carrying out the ordered ages
that he decreed for the world with his unchangeable boundary?
Or is it that nothing is certain, and chance wanders without reason:
It turns and returns and governs human outcomes?
May you be prepared, whatever is true, to be sudden:
May man’s mind be blind to future fate; allow the fearful to hope.”

…cur hanc tibi, rector Olympi,
sollicitis uisum mortalibus addere curam, 5
noscant uenturas ut dira per omina clades?
siue parens rerum, cum primum informia regna
materiamque rudem flamma cedente recepit,
fixit in aeternum causas, qua cuncta coercet
se quoque lege tenens, et saecula iussa ferentem 10
fatorum inmoto diuisit limite mundum,
siue nihil positum est, sed fors incerta uagatur
fertque refertque uices et habet mortalia casus,
sit subitum quodcumque paras; sit caeca futuri
mens hominum fati; liceat sperare timenti.

Lucan’s lines of thought are so long! But I do like this passage….

Lucan, The Civil War, 1.1-6: Beginnings, Eloquence and, eventually, Cicero

“War something more than civil over Emathian plains,
Legitimacy conferred on crime, and a powerful people,
We sing, a people who turned right hands against their own stomachs;
Battlelines of relatives, even when the pledge of tyranny was broken,
The forces of a shocked world marched toward common sin.
Standards waved to face enemy standards,
Eagles eyed each other and each javelin took aim at its mate.
What insanity is this, my countrymen, why so great a lust for violence?”

Bella per Emathios plus quam ciuilia campos
iusque datum sceleri canimus, populumque potentem
in sua uictrici conuersum uiscera dextra
cognatasque acies, et rupto foedere regni
certatum totis concussi uiribus orbis 5
in commune nefas, infestisque obuia signis
signa, pares aquilas et pila minantia pilis.
quis furor, o ciues, quae tanta licentia ferri?

Lucan, during the madness of the reign of Nero, wrote a sometimes incomprehensible and often untranslatable poem about the wars between Caesar and Pompey. Our friend Cicero shows up briefly in book 7 (61ff). The narrative description is less than flattering:

“The great model of eloquence, Cicero–
under whose rule and dress Cataline quavered–
brought forth the angry voices of the Roman people.
He was enraged by the wars and how soldiers had kept him
in a lengthy silence from the speaker’s platform and forum.
His florid strength supported a rotten cause.”

cunctorum uoces Romani maximus auctor
Tullius eloquii, cuius sub iure togaque
pacificas saeuos tremuit Catilina securis,
pertulit iratus bellis, cum rostra forumque 65
optaret passus tam longa silentia miles.
addidit inualidae robur facundia causae.

Cicero goes on to support Pompey….

Lucan, Pharsalia 3.364-6

“Just as a great fire dissipates when nothing stands in its way, thus the absence of an enemy harms me, and I consider my army wasted if those who can be conquered refuse to fight back.”

Utque perit magnus nullis obstantibus ignis,
sic hostes mihi deesse nocet, damnumque putamus
armorum, nisi qui vinci potuere rebellant.

This is yet another completely exaggerated speech which Lucan places into the mouth of Caesar. Throughout the poem, he portrays Caesar as a vain warlord with an unquenchable thirst for destruction and subjugation. Caesar was, indeed, a powerful military adventurer, and was known to have something of what the modern psychologist would term a “Type-A” personality, yet we can still be forgiven for feeling that Lucan’s portrait of an indomitable and irresponsibly violent Caesar stretches the limits of credulity.