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Written in the reign of Nero—the emperor against whom Lucan was implicated in a conspiracy and by whom he was compelled to commit suicide at the age of 25—the poet's dark, ambiguous, unfinished masterpiece focuses on the disintegration of the Roman body politic and the war between Julius Caesar and Pompey that ultimately lead to the end of the Roman republic.
While aiming for a poem both as rugged as Lucan's—with its mix of history and fantasy, of high and low registers, of common and uncommon turns of phrase, of narrative and declamation—and as reader-friendly as possible, Brian Walters owns that he has "nowhere tried to simplify the rhetorical excesses that are the essence of Lucan's poem, the real meat and bone of the Civil War."
A brilliant Introduction by W. R. Johnson discusses the poem's relationship to Nero and monarchy; its invocations of both the gods and chaos; the real hero of the Civil War; and the poem's end and narrative styles.
Synopses of individual books; suggestions for further reading; a glossary of names, places, and Roman institutions; and a map are also included.
"Brian Walters, aware that the poem’s 'obsessive meditations on tyranny and the corruption of power' fit the times, brings to life in his translation the fractured state of the late Roman Republic as Julius Caesar’s compulsive boundary-crossing chips away at the increasingly futile resistance of Pompey and Cato. Lucan's violent content demands an equivalent violence of expression, and here Walter's is especially successful, as during the naval slaughter at Massilia (3.549-803) or Erichtho's reanimation of a young soldier’s corpse (6.760-883. He really hits his grisly stride, though, with the infamous snake episode (9.749-854), a scene of herpetological carnage that he renders with Quentin Tarantino-esque intensity and absurdity.
"W.R. Johnson, a critic who has been most willing to find the dark humor in Lucan's poetry, situates the work accordingly as a 'unique fusion of high seriousness with an especially bitter kind of satire fueled by vehement sarcasm' and takes the reader though the greatest its of modern Lucian criticism—anti-heroics, Olympian omissions, the poet’s relationship to Nero, the poem’s 'ending'—with an eye to this fusion."
—Patrick J. Burns, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, in Classical World
"Brian Walters has given us what too few translators of classical poetry do—an authorial presence. Here is Lucan himself in all his drastic modes—everything from his enraged indignation to his paradoxical aphorisms—recreating the ruptured Neronian world he lived in as he recounts the nefarious civil war that destroyed the Roman Republic."
—Stanley Lombardo, University of Kansas
"There is much to like about this translation. I commend Walters especially for his excellent ear for 21st century American idiom and diction and the way this helps to create a powerfully simple and clear translation. . . . Walters includes welcome supplementary material, such as a full glossary and a helpful book-by-book structural synopsis. In addition, W.R. Johnson's introduction is provocative and revealing, dealing specifically with the dangerous world of Neronian Rome, Lucan's atypical approach to the gods and the hero, and the Civil War's diverse narrative styles. . . . A welcome option for the classroom [that] may just help hook new fans on Post-Augustan epic."
—Stephen M. Kirshner, Austin Peay State University, in CJ-Online
About the Authors:
Brian Walters is Assistant Professor of Classics, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
W.R. Johnson is John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Department of Classics, University of Chicago.