Bellum Victurum - A War About to Live Again: A Study of Necromancy and Poetry in Lucan's Bellum Civile

Sanderson, Elaine
(2020) Bellum Victurum - A War About to Live Again: A Study of Necromancy and Poetry in Lucan's Bellum Civile. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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Lucan’s Bellum Civile professes to sing of past internecine strife as the great unmaking of the Roman world (Luc. 1.1-7) while reminding its readers of Rome’s survival through frequent references to Lucan’s contemporary surroundings, and hints towards the demise of earlier literary traditions while revealing these traditions as the building blocks of its own narrative. As much as the Bellum Civile delights in exploring the death of the living, it also delights in exploring the life of the dead, reanimating the civil war of 49-45 BC – Lucan’s bellum victurum – to live again through its fiery verses. Nowhere is this interest more apparent than in the elaborate necromancy carried out by the Thessalian witch Erictho at the bequest of Sextus Pompey (Luc. 6.507-830), a scene which engages extensively – obsessively, even – with the works of Lucan’s predecessors and thus positions the Bellum Civile within the wider epic tradition. This thesis examines the Bellum Civile’s necromancy – a triumph of this interest in life and death – as a major metapoetic episode, the overarching themes of which suggest that Lucan’s conception of his central civil war subject is far less pessimistic and more pragmatic than a surface reading of his epic might suggest. The first three chapters of this thesis focus upon three metapoetic tropes within the necromancy episode – i) the vates figure, ii) the body, and iii) ‘songs’ – and argue that Lucan’s negotiation of these tropes shows that his wider poetic programme is far more nuanced and constructive than previously assumed. The first chapter examines the Bellum Civile’s negotiation of the vates figure and identifies Erictho as a key internal figure aligned with Lucan’s own vatic self-identification through which Lucan reflects upon his position and powers as a poet. The second chapter looks at one area of Erictho’s necromantic activities – her use of bodily materials – and argues that the sophisticated and rational characteristics of her actions offer a foil through which to understand Lucan’s constructive acquisition and reuse of literary materials. The third chapter substantiates this reading with a close examination of the literary qualities of Erictho’s carmina, before turning to consider the often-overlooked corpse and its utterances and suggesting that Erictho’s powers of reanimation mirror Lucan’s own powers of poetic creation and control. The final chapter draws out the productive and progressive themes which characterise the Bellum Civile’s poetic programme as highlighted in the previous three chapters and proposes that Lucan presents a pragmatic picture of civil war not as the end of all things, but as a totalistic process of transformation which – for better or for worse – leaves behind a new Roman world in its wake.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Histories, Languages and Cultures
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2021 16:30
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2023 23:34
DOI: 10.17638/03100281
  • Gibson, Bruce