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Lucain en débat

 | 
Olivier Devillers
, 
Sylvie Franchet d’Espèrey

Première partie. Histoire et création littéraire

Lucan and Historical Bias

Shadi Bartsch

Texte intégral

  • 1 Mayer 1981, 148.

1Lucan’s virulent anti-Caesarian bias in the Bellum Ciuile has been one reason the poet has been discredited as excessively ardens et concitatus (to borrow Quintilian’s terminology at Inst., 10.1.10); critics of the poem before the scholarly reassessment it has enjoyed in the past decades often cited the author’s evident passion and emotion as if it impeded his ability to write good epic–that is, as if he was too biased against Caesar, too outraged, to write in the impartial manner of a Homer or a Vergil. As R. Mayer notes in his commentary, “Nothing is so typical of Lucan’s epic technique, nothing sets him so far apart from all other poets in this genre, as his tendency to abandon narrative for an editorial reflection upon events. So he appeals to characters in the poem, or in his own person denounces peoples and places, in a manner both jarring and strident”1. We are less inclined now to imagine that the narrator’s impassioned voice represents that of the author himself, but nonetheless the open statements of favoritism or denunciation and the intrusion of the narrator’s voice to make these statements still set the poem starkly apart from its epic predecessors.

  • 2 On “passionate viewing” in the Ilerda episode, cf. Leigh 1997, 41-76.
  • 3 On Lucan’s apostrophizing of negative characters, cf. D’Alessandro Behr 2007, chapter 2. On apostr (...)
  • 4 One fragmentary example from the Res Romana of Cornelius Severus shows the author expressing grief (...)

2This is most notable when the narrator’s treatment of Julius Caesar is marked by odium and inuidia expressed in the first person voice. In book 5, for example, the narrator asks Caesar if he is not ashamed to waged a war his very men condemn, and tells him it is possible to tire of crime (scelera)2; in book 7, Caesar is apostrophized again, and asked what Furies he has summoned up, that he dares to wage such impious wars so savagely (7.168-171); in book 9 the narrator addresses him yet again, and exposes his crocodile tears over Pompey’s death for the fake show they are (9.1046-1062)3. In short, the narrator is unabashed in demonstrating to us his odium for Caesar, and, on the other side, his support for Pompey, and he does so with a tenacity and level of emotion paralleled in no other extant epic4. Given the lack of precedent for this self-display in the epic tradition, what can we say of the narrator’s unusual self-positioning as a poet or, for that matter, as a teller of history? In particular, what is the function of interventions so vehement as to vitiate the readers’trust in the narrator’s good judgment? In this essay I’d like to explore what is at stake in the narrator’s self-representation as a man who apparently cannot speak sine ira et studio when telling the story of Roman’s late republican history.

  • 5 Cf. Woodman 1988, 95-98, on Cicero’s association of history with epideictic.
  • 6 On bias, cf. Woodman 1988, 41-44, 73-75, 81-83; Luce 1989. As Woodman 1988, 87 notes, the historia (...)
  • 7 Cf. Luce 1989, 18-20; Marincola 1997, 158-66. On truth as the opposite of bias, cf. also Cic., Fam (...)

3Let us start with history, where judgments on events in the author’s voice are not as uncommon as in epic. After all, for the ancients, history’s epideictic roots rendered it a genre in which moral commentary upon the events and personages of the past was considered generically appropriate5. Here too, however, for such judgments to be valid, the absence of any bias on the historian’s part is considered crucial. As T. J. Luce and A. J. Woodman have noted, Polybius was the first extant historian to address the problem of bias, but it is most often a topos in the historians of the late Republic and Empire6. In the majority of the examples, the historian opens his work with a statement announcing neutrality towards his protagonists, or claiming that he has received neither benefit nor harm at their hands. The claim is not just that the historian will speak the truth; it’s that the truth is represented as the opposite of bias, as if favors or injuries were the one thing that could warp the historian’s judgment. Most familiar to us is the famous statement with which Tacitus begins the Annals: he writes sine ira et studio, because he is free of the causes of anger and partisanship; specifically, he has not received any injury that would provoke ira, nor any benefit that would produce studium (Tac., Ann., 1.1.3)7. The claim echoes the earlier one in the Histories, in which he likewise comments that he has received no benefit or injury from the subjects of his history, namely Galba, Otho, and Vitellius (Tac., Hist., 1.1.3):

mihi Galba Otho Vitellius nec beneficio nec iniuria cogniti. Dignitatem nostram a Vespasiano inchoatam, a Tito auctam, a Domitiano longius prouectam non abnuerim: sed incorruptam fidem professis neque amore quisquam et sine odio dicendus est.

“Galba, Otho, and Vitellius were not known to me either through benefits or harm. I would not deny that my career was begun by Vespasian, aided by Titus, and further advanced by Domitian. However, those who avow uncorrupted reliability should speak of everyone without partiality or dislike”.

  • 8 No bias, of course, does not mean no judgment. Cf. Marincola 1997, 158: “The solution could not be (...)
  • 9 Plut., Per., 13.17: “So very difficult a matter is it to trace and find out the truth of anything (...)
  • 10 E.g. Polybius criticizes Theopompus, Strabo criticizes anonymous predecessors, Plutarch criticizes (...)
  • 11 Luce 1989, 28. Tacitus is probably disingenuous in representing the reason for Cremutius Cordus’tr (...)

4Tacitus’reasoning is that because he did not personally have dealings with the Julio-Claudians or their successors in 69, there can be no accusation that he would feel inclined to bias his account for or against them8. Similarly, Plutarch in his life of Pericles notes that contemporary historians are biased through favor or ill-will while distant ones are too removed from the facts9; other ancient historians assert their impartiality on similar grounds, often while criticizing their predecessors for their lack of it10. The gesture is so common that Lucan’s contemporary and kinsman Seneca the younger mocks these pretensions at the beginning of the Apocolocyntosis: as his narrator claims while launching into a comically offensive account of Claudius’last days on earth, “no quarter will be given to a sense of injury nor to influence” (Sen., Apoc., 1.l: nihil nec offensae nec gratiae dabitur). T. J. Luce has asked: “Is there any evidence for the ancients’acknowledging that someone, especially a historian, was biased against a deceased figure with whom he had not been personally involved?”. His conclusion is that he knows of no such case11.

  • 12 Cf. Luce 1989, 22-23. Other historians who resemble Lucan in openly showing emotion are Diodorus l (...)

5If the historian seems overly critical, but there is no reason for bias because no benefit or harm has been received, there is nothing for it but to charge the historian with malice or a naturally bad character, as Polybius does with Timaeus (Pol. 12.8). In fact, any show of emotion on the historian’s part, including hostility, seems to have been considered inappropriate. When Josephus admits to feeling compassion for the sufferings of the Jews, he asks the readers to pardon him for indulging in his emotions; they should attribute the facts of his account to history, but keep in mind that the grief is the author’s alone (Jos., BJ, 1.11-12)12:

“Accordingly, it appears to me that the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews are not so considerable as they were; while the authors of them were not foreigners neither. This makes it impossible for me to contain my lamentations. But if anyone be inflexible in his censures of me, let him attribute the facts themselves to the historical part, and the lamentations to the writer himself only” (trad. W. Whitson).

  • 13 Patriotism, however, needs no defense. So Livy (praef., 11; cf. 9.16.11-19; 17.22; 54.7-11; 27.8.4 (...)
  • 14 Cicero (Am., 28) says that we sometimes love or hate historical personages because of their uprigh (...)

6In a similar vein, Plutarch criticized the Samian historian Duris for making a tragedy of Pericles’siege of the city early in the Peloponnesian war, and, implicitly, for lying about those events. (Plut., Per., 28.1)13. Making truth claims for historiography, then, required demonstration of both lack of bias and freedom from emotional engagement14.

  • 15 Cf. Ann., 16.6: Tacitus says those who criticize Nero for Poppaea’s death write odio magis quam ex (...)

7Historians writing imperial histories during the actual reigns of those autocrats whose lives they are chronicling are in a different boat on the issue of bias, at least in terms of their rhetorical self-presentation. They cannot claim, as proof of their lack of bias, that the temporal divide separating them from the subject of their history provides a clear guarantee of impartiality. If anything, because these members of the elite necessarily write with the ruler’s knowledge and acquiescence, they are readily open to charges of angling for his favor or having received it. So, for example, when Tacitus critiques those who wrote history under the Flavians, he charges them with flattery of living emperors, and with the expression of hatred towards them when dead (Tac., Hist., 2.101; also 1.1.3)15:

Scriptores temporum, qui potiente rerum Flauia domo monimenta belli huiusce composuerunt, curam pacis et amorem rei publicae, corruptas in adulationem causas, tradidere.

“The writers of the times, who composed the events of this war during the rule of the Flavian family, passed their motives down to posterity as ‘concern for peace’ and ‘love of country’, which were distorted for the sake of flattery”.

  • 16 “There have been a great many who have composed the history of Nero; some of which have departed f (...)
  • 17 Pliny’s Panegyricus supplies the most striking example of this particular trope. Cf. Woodman 1975, (...)

8The causes of bias remain the same, however: when Josephus criticizes those contemporary writers who have chronicled the reign of Nero, their biases are once again tied to the receipt of benefit or punishment, not to any political stance16. One might ask: what can such historians say in their self-defense, then? The answer, essentially, is nothing. They simply praise the present time and the opportunities it has afforded, and criticize the past – and its rulers, or its civil wars – as an era thankfully over17.

  • 18 Marincola 1997, 56-57 notes that dedications were avoided in Greco-Roman histories because of the (...)
  • 19 Cf. Marincola 1997, 3-8.
  • 20 Of course, Tacitus points to the fact that a descendant can resent disparagement of his ancestor ( (...)

9Now, for Lucan, writing an account of the civil wars and doing so under Nero, the problem of how to confront the question of bias both does and does not apply. On the one hand, he is writing an epic, and not a history. In a profession which allows for patronage, a profession in which figures such as Maecenas once loomed large, in a genre that allowed for dedications and that contained precedents for the praise of autocrats already in Vergil, lines in praise of Nero are not strikingly out of place18. In addition, it is not characteristic of epic poets to make claims to impartiality in their work, or for that matter claims to historical accuracy. Given that their inspiration usually is portrayed as divine, and that their professed role is not to create, but to pass on, it would be odd to make such protestations on behalf of the Muses19. So to talk about bias in Lucan might seem a little bit like comparing apples to oranges, even if Lucan’s inspiration is not divine but supposedly comes from Nero himself: tu satis ad uires Romana in carmina dandas (1.66). A final consideration is that Lucan – at least at first blush – is not writing an epic about his own contemporary period, so benefit or harm received from Nero should not incline him–according to the precepts of ancient historians – to write in one way or another about the past20.

  • 21 The Ancients recognized the closeness of history and poetry (contra, however, Arist., Po., 1451b), (...)
  • 22 Cf. also Comm. Bern., ad 1.1 and the implications of Eumolpus’criticism at Petr. 118; Mart. 14.194 (...)

10On the other hand, Lucan’s topic is historical; indeed, his poem, with its lack of divine machinery driving the action, was felt to be excessively close to history by some ancient readers21. And in particular, Lucan’s epic was felt to be historical: as Servius famously commented ad Aen., 1.382: Lucanus uidetur historiam composuisse, non poema22. If we were to classify him according to the ancient criteria for those writing history, he falls into the category of those who praise the present ruler (Nero) and condemn the activities of past ones (Julius Caesar). But more strikingly, Lucan seems to deliberately open himself up to the specifically historical charge of bias, a bias that seems not so much accidental or cleverly concealed, but rather forced into our faces. The pointed praise of Nero at the beginning of the poem only draws our attention to the issue of bias; what follows confirms the predominance of this issue for the Bellum Ciuile, if in an unexpected way.

11First, there is Lucan’s near-rabid apostrophizing of Julius Caesar throughout the poem, and his open displays of emotion where both Pompey and Caesar are concerned. I mentioned several such instances at the beginning of this talk, but perhaps the most famous is provided by Lucan’s peculiar announcement, in book 7, of which of the combatants we will favor–our leanings here are not left up to chance (7.207-213):

“haec et apud seras gentes populosque nepotum,
siue sua tantum uenient in saecula fama
siue aliquid magnis nostri quoque cura laboris
nominibus prodesse potest, cum bella legentur,
spesque metusque simul perituraque uota mouebunt,
attonitique omnes ueluti uenientia fata,
non transmissa, legent et adhuc tibi, Magne, fauebunt.

“Even among later races and the people of posterity, these events –
Whether they come down to future ages by their own fame alone
Or whether my devotion also and my toil can do anything>
For might names – will stir both hopes and fears together
And useless prayers when the battle is read ;
All will be stunned as they read the destinies, as if
To come, not past and, Magnus, still they will side with you” (trad. S. Braund).

12Lucan’s emotional support of a historical character in his epic, his declaration that we will feel the same way, and his oratorical taking of sides – none of this has any precedent in epic. And we would find it decidedly odd in history, as would the ancients – given our brief survey of ancient views of bias. As J. Masters has noted, Lucan’s prediction here is unique. It is a blatant sign of bias that has no parallel elsewhere, so blatant as to effectively undermine itself:

  • 23 Masters 1994, 159.

“This carefully contrived shock has the effect of highlighting the fact that L is seriously tampering with the laws of epic objectivity […] More to the point L runs a very real risk of alienating his reader, either by apparently being swept off in a frenzy of fanaticism to which the reader may not necessarily assent or by alerting the reader to the fact that she or he is being so obviously manipulated”23.

  • 24 Cf. the discussion of Cicero’s treatment of history in the De Oratore in Woodman 1988, 70-116.

13The Ancients, too, noticed something a bit odd about Lucan’s self-portrayal in such instances. It’s not so much that the terms ardens et concitatus, which we saw in Quintilian, necessarily mean biased. But when Quintilian comments that Lucan is a better model for orators than for poets, one aspect of his meaning, rhetorical display aside, is surely that in taking sides, Lucan’s narratorial self-positioning is much more appropriate to an orator than a historian. After all, when Cicero in the De Oratore points out the similarities in the two genres, he distinguishes them on only two criteria: the historian’s style should be smoother, and, unlike the orator, he should not take sides, nor speak with “forensic asperity” (de Orat., 2.64: sine hac iudiciali asperitate et sine sententiarum forensibus aculeis)24. Yet how to judge Lucan’s treatment of Caesar if not marked by such asperity? When he turns to him to remark, as if Cicero in high dudgeon at a trial, hic furor, hic rabies, hic sunt tua crimina, Caesar (“Here, Caesar, here is your rage, your madness, your crimes”, 7.551), or more rhetorically still, at tu quos scelerum superos, quas rite uocasti/Eumenidas, Caesar? (“but you, what gods of crime did you ritually summon, Caesar, what Eumenides?”, 7.168-169), it’s hard not to hear in the background echoes from the oration against Catiline (hinc pietas, illinc scelus; hinc constantia, illinc furor; hinc honestas, illinc turpitudo; hinc continentia, illinc libido, Cic., Catil., 2.25) or from De Domo sua (Impendebat fames, incendia, caedes, direptio: imminebat tuus furor omnium fortunis et bonis, Cic., Dom., 25; furor, in fact, is a favorite Ciceronian term of courtroom abuse).

14It seems fair to suggest that in every possible way, Lucan’s narrator seems to want to expose himself to the charge of bias: he shows emotion, abuses his characters (or praises them), openly takes sides and urges us to do so as well. What could be the reason for this? One would think that an author who had reservations about either Nero himself or about the actions that brought Rome to her knees and the Republic to an end would, on the contrary, try to cloak himself in the mantle of objectivity, however much that objectivity might be suspect. Why not represent oneself (as Caesar does in his own version of the civil war) as a trustworthy and valid source of information? Or he could tell his story in such a way that Caesar emerged as clearly the worse man on any Roman standard of behavior, but without stepping in to tell us that he, the narrator, favored Pompey, and that Caesar was a lying schmuck! In fact it is almost as if Lucan is drawing attention to his bias–and this has puzzled interpreters of the poem for some time.

  • 25 Masters 1994, 168.
  • 26 As noted by Chr. Kraus in her BMCR review of Representations of Nero, 94.09.09.

15Recently, J. Masters has tried to resolve the problem by suggesting that Lucan is being ironic here: that his goal is not to criticize Julius Caesar and damn Nero by association, but rather to show the existence of freedom of speech under Nero by writing such a preposterous piece of propaganda. He concludes by arguing that “Lucan’s poem is a reductio ad absurdum of politically committed writing (as it is, indeed, of every other feature of Vergilian epic)” and that Lucan wants to “parody the propagandistic devices of factual distortion and misinterpretation which inform his own work as much as his historical sources”25. This is an intriguing, if ultimately unsatisfying, idea; unsatisfying, I think, because it suggests that the entire epic is, in effect, a joke26. Yet J. Masters surely has part of the answer: there is a reason Lucan is waving his lack of objectivity in our face.

16Let us start by noting that, for Lucan, the past is not only personal, it is present–or rather, its dolorous effects reach down into the present day, rendering these long past events very much the cause of Lucan’s own misery and that of Rome. Partly this is an effect generated by Lucan’s reliance on apostrophe: when he addresses a Pompey, a Caesar, a Curio, the effect of the address is naturally to collapse the temporal distance between the character and the narrator. But what I have in mind is rather the way that Lucan demands that we see that what seems like ancient history is not at all detached from the present in its aftermath: it has affected him, Lucan, and all those in his generation. Thus, for example, Cato’s men had the opportunity which, in Lucan’s view, should have been given to the generations after Pharsalia (7.638-641). As the narrator expostulates:

maius ab hac acie quam quod sua saecula ferrent
uolnus habent populi; plus est quam uita salusque
quod perit: in totum mundi prosternimur aeuum.
Vincitur his gladiis omnis quae seruiet aetas.
Proxima quid suboles aut quid meruere nepotes
in regnum nasci? pauide num gessimus arma
teximus aut iugulos? alieni poena timoris
in nostra ceruice sedet. Post proelia natis
si dominum, Fortuna, dabas, et bella dedisses (7.638-646).

“From this battle the peoples receive a mightier wound
than their own time could bear; more was lost than life
and safety; for all the world’s eternity we are prostrated.
Ever ages which will suffer slavery is conquered by these swords.
How did the next generation and the next deserve
to be born into tyranny? Did we wield weapons or shield
our throats in fear and trembling? The punishment of others’fear
sits heavy on our necks. If, Fortune, you intended to give a master
to those born after battle, you should have also given us a chance to fight” (trad. S. Braund).

  • 27 Marti 1964 argues that Lucan’s poem, as a form of “tragic historiography”, encourages us to identi (...)

17In short, the result of Caesar’s tyranny is still alive: it lives in the enslavement of the narrator and his peers, who suffer the consequences without ever having had the chance to fight against them. The narrator, we might say, cannot claim freedom from bias because of his temporal distance from the events described: as much as if Nero had ordered him to cut his veins, Julius Caesar, the subject of his epic, has inflicted upon him an iniuria he neither deserves nor can escape from27. In much the same vein, even at the beginning of the poem the civil war of Caesar and Pompey is praised precisely because of its outcome in the present: quod si non aliam uenturo fata Neroni/inuenere uiam […]” (1.33-34).

  • 28 On this phenomenon, cf. especially Syndikus 1958, 42-43; Leigh 1997, 41-76.
  • 29 4.186-188, which Leigh 1997, 49, calls “an immediacy of involvement unparalleled in previous epic” (...)
  • 30 In addition, Lucan often uses nostra saecula in a way that invites ambiguity. When he uses nostra (...)

18Not so much stressing the effect of the past on the present, but transporting himself wholesale into that past–and this has been noted by many scholars before me – Lucan’s narrator will even intervene in his narrative to hope for or even announce an outcome that is not the one that history will eventually impose nor the one that we, the readers, already know has irrevocably taken place. At Ilerda especially, in book 4, the contrast between what we know must happen and the narrator’s deliberate posture of hope or ignorance is striking, as he steps in and seeks to reverse the course of history28. At 4.110ff he begs the gods to keep raining; some eighty lines later, he invokes Harmony as a goddess and speaks of the salvation of the universe and the sacred love of the world. “Soon, soon,” he says– iam iam–civil strife will cease and Caesar will love his son-in-law (iam iam ciuilis Erinys/concidet et Caesar generum priuatus amabit, 4.187-188). Soon, soon – but instead, what happens is that Petreius’soldiers engage in their treacherous massacre of the Caesarians29. Just as Lucan’s narrator will bid us do in the famous lines we have already seen from book 7, he himself is reacting as if the future is to come, and not past30. In other words, Lucan’s bias is the poem’s main way of demonstrating the impact of its events upon the life of its suffering narrator. Why does he seem near-rabid in his reaction to this historical topic? Because for him, it is not historical. If personal benefit or detriment is the cause of historical bias, what better way for Lucan to demonstrate his main proposition: that the life of all Romans has been effectively ruined since the moment Caesar first crossed the Rubicon.

19Ironically enough, there is even a positive mirror for this sort of writing in imperial historiography; that is, Lucan’s own epic repeats a certain manner of history writing about Nero’s predecessors Augustus and Tiberius. Consider the Compendium of Velleius Paterculus, who wrote about Tiberius after served under him in the army and being granted a quaestorship and a praetorship. Velleius, as it happens, writes a particular kind of history, one in which he addresses dead characters as if they were alive, steps in to express grief or indignation, and praises Tiberius in fulsome terms. The most notable among these addresses is surely the one to Mark Antony upon Cicero’s murder:

Nihil tamen egisti, M. Antoni (cogit enim excedere propositi formam operis erumpens animo ac pectore indignatio) nihil, inquam, egisti mercedem caelestissimi oris et clarissimi capitis abscisi numerando auctoramentoque funebri ad conseruatoris quondam rei publicae tantique consulis inritando necem. […] famam uero gloriamque factorum atque dictorum adeo non abstulisti, ut auxeris. Viuit uiuetque per omnem saeculorum memoriam, dumque hoc uel forte uel prouidentia uel utcumque constitutum rerum naturae corpus, quod ille paene solus Romanorum animo uidit, ingenio complexus est, eloquentia inluminauit, manebit incolume, comitem aeui sui laudem Ciceronis trahet omnisque posteritas illius in te scripta mirabitur, tuum in eum factum execrabitur citiusque e mundo genus hominum quam Ciceronis nomen cedet (Vell. 2.66.3-5).

  • 31 For an interesting discussion of this passage, see Woodman 1983; Gowing 2005, 44-48. Velleius, aga (...)

“But you accomplished nothing, Mark Antony – for the indignation that surges in my breast compels me to exceed the bounds I have set for my narrative – you accomplished nothing, I say, by offering a reward for the sealing of those divine lips and the severing of that illustrious head, and by encompassing with a death-fee the murder of so great a consul and of the man who once had saved the state. You took from Marcus Cicero a few anxious days, a few senile years, a life which would have been more wretched under your domination than was his death in your triumvirate; but you did not rob him of his fame, the glory of his deeds and words, nay you but enhanced them. He lives and will continue to live in the memory of the ages, and so long as this universe shall endure – this universe which, whether created by chance, or by divine providence, or by whatever cause, he, almost alone of all the Romans, saw with the eye of his mind, grasped with his intellect, illumined with his eloquence – so long shall it be accompanied throughout the ages by the fame of Cicero. All posterity will admire the speeches that he wrote against you, while your deed to him will call forth their execrations, and the race of man shall sooner pass from the world than the name of Cicero be forgotten” (trad. F. W. Shipley)31.

  • 32 As Gowing 2005, 47 has remarked.

20Velleius essentially says to Cicero what Lucan says to Pompey: he will live on in the minds of men, and all will praise him. What is especially remarkable, though, is “the sheer sense of personal indignation”32. Why is Velleius, that imperial historian, so vehement in defending a man who fought for the Republic? Because the Republic is not dead, as Velleius would have it: in fact, Tiberius is in a sense the successor to none other than Cicero, to whom Velleius here gives a life extending into the present and the future by dint of apostrophizing him. Velleius’s Cicero, though murdered, famous, and the subject of an admiring apostrophe, is the dark mirror image to Pompey, the other Republican, but the one for whom no historian would claim the Julio-Claudians as the direct successors.

  • 33 Gowing 2005, 43. On time in Velleius Paterculus, see Gowing 2005, 41-43.

21In addition, anticipating Lucan, but quite unlike the normative ancient historian, Velleius “envisions past events, no matter how long ago they may have occurred, as having affected ‘us’” (nos)33. So, for example, where Lucan found himself enslaved by the events of long ago, Velleius finds himself free of fear thanks to the distant efforts of Scipio Africanus:

Nec quisquam ullius gentis hominum ante eum clariore urbium excidio nomen suum perpetuae commendauit memoriae: quippe excisa Carthagine ac Numantia ab alterius nos metu, alterius uindicauit contumeliis (Vell. 2.4.3).

“No man of any nationality before his day had immortalized his name by a more illustrious feat of destroying cities; for by the destruction of Carthage and Numantia he liberated us, in the one case from fear, in the other from a reproach upon our name” (trad. F. W. Shipley).

22Even Lucan’s signature gesture–the expression of doubt about the future–can be found in Velleius as well:

Quis fortunae mutationes, quis dubios rerum humanarum casus satis mirari queat? Quis non diuersa praesentibus contrariaque expectatis aut speret aut timeat? (Vell. 2.75.2).

“Who can adequately express his astonishment at the changes of fortune, and the mysterious vicissitudes in human affairs? Who can refrain from hoping for a lot different from that which he now has, or from dreading the one that is the opposite of what he expects?” (trad. F. W. Shipley).

23Velleius, however, has no need to step in and hope for a different future: as he writes his Tiberian history, he has no choice but to love the future he has been given.

24What I have tried to show here all too briefly is that the peculiarities of Lucan’s style seem to be precisely elements mirrored in Vellius Paterculus, who, in using them, is himself violating all the rules of history (as expressed by Cicero, Tacitus, Polybius, and all the other ancients who commented on the role of the historian) to praise Tiberius. Like Velleius, Lucan too shows a most unhistorianlike bias and apostrophizes his subjects in a most unhistorianlike way. Like Velleius, he collapses past and present. Like him, he takes pains to utter the praises of the ruler under whom he writes. Lucan’s epic, then, provides a matching answer to the pro-Julio-Claudian perspective of Velleius’ view of imperial history, from whose biased history I will cite the closing lines of this paper – lines in which Velleius limns the way the tragic past has led to a very happy present:

Finita uicesimo anno bella ciuilia, sepulta externa, reuocata pax, sopitus ubique armorum furor, restituta uis legibus, iudiciis auctoritas, Senatui maiestas, imperium magistratuum ad pristinum redactum modum, tantummodo octo praetoribus adlecti duo. Prisca illa et antiqua rei publicae forma reuocata. Rediit cultus agris, sacris honos, securitas hominibus, certa cuique rerum suarum possessio (Vell. 2.89.3-4).

“The civil wars were ended after twenty years, foreign wars suppressed, peace restored, the frenzy of arms everywhere lulled to rest; validity was restored to the laws, authority to the courts, and dignity to the Senate; the power of the magistrates was reduced to its former limits, with the sole exception that two were added to the eight existing praetors. The old traditional form of the republic was restored. Agriculture returned to the fields, respect to religion, to mankind freedom from anxiety, and to each citizen his property rights were now assured” (trad. F. W. Shipley).

25Lucan’s imperial history is a very different one: one in which the narrator himself, a mirror image of Velleius, steps in to cry: “Here we are in the true aftermath of the civil wars, amid the dead fields and the fallen ruins”. Lucan, our biased and suffering narrator, is the anti-Velleius, and he stands in the personal space of a ruined life and a ruined Italy.

Notes

1 Mayer 1981, 148.

2 On “passionate viewing” in the Ilerda episode, cf. Leigh 1997, 41-76.

3 On Lucan’s apostrophizing of negative characters, cf. D’Alessandro Behr 2007, chapter 2. On apostrophe in Lucan in general, cf. Bartsch 1994, chapter 3. For a brief summary of the rhetorical theory of apostrophe, cf. Leigh 1997, appendix 1.

4 One fragmentary example from the Res Romana of Cornelius Severus shows the author expressing grief over Cicero’s death, though there is no apostrophizing of Cicero himself.

5 Cf. Woodman 1988, 95-98, on Cicero’s association of history with epideictic.

6 On bias, cf. Woodman 1988, 41-44, 73-75, 81-83; Luce 1989. As Woodman 1988, 87 notes, the historian uses the preface either to assert his impartiality, or to praise the present while announcing that he is treating only the past.

7 Cf. Luce 1989, 18-20; Marincola 1997, 158-66. On truth as the opposite of bias, cf. also Cic., Fam., 5.12.3 (Itaque te plane etiam atque etiam rogo, ut et ornes ea uehementius etiam, quam fortasse sentis, et in eo leges historiae negligas); Sal., Cat., 3.2. Sallust’s claim at Cat., 4.2 is slightly different; he says his abandonment of political life provides proof of impartiality.

8 No bias, of course, does not mean no judgment. Cf. Marincola 1997, 158: “The solution could not be an abdication of judgement… because that would be alien to historiography’s nature and purpose as imagined by many of the ancients”. Cf. Cic. Fam., 5.12. 4; de Orat., 2.63; Dion. H., Pomp., 3; Woodman 1988, 40-44.

9 Plut., Per., 13.17: “So very difficult a matter is it to trace and find out the truth of anything by history, when, on the one hand, those who afterwards write it find long periods of time intercepting their view, and, on the other hand, the contemporary records of any actions and lives, partly through envy and ill-will, partly through favour and flattery, pervert and distort truth” (trad. B. Perrin). And even Cicero can remind Julius Caesar, in his defense of M. Marcellus, that the future will judge him without bias: Nam et sine amore et sine cupiditate et rursus sine odio et sine inuidia iudicabunt (Cic., Marc., 29). Cf. Cic., Clu., 29 as well.

10 E.g. Polybius criticizes Theopompus, Strabo criticizes anonymous predecessors, Plutarch criticizes Phylarchus, Posidonius criticizes Polybius.

11 Luce 1989, 28. Tacitus is probably disingenuous in representing the reason for Cremutius Cordus’trial under Tiberius as his writing of a history in which he praises Brutus and Cassius. Nonetheless, it is interesting that he has Cremutius defend himself by appealing to the well-known fact that the dead cannot be the objects of the emotions of the living (Tac., Ann., 4.35.1: sed maxime solutum et sine obtrectatore fuit prodere de iis, quos mors odio aut gratiae exemisset). Of course, this is to pretend that praise of Brutus and Cassius cannot be understood an encouragement to kill tyrants. Tacitus is one of the few to articulate this at Ann., 4.33.4. Cf. also Marincola 1997, p. 166: “It is noteworthy that by Tacitus’time the historian will need to aver impartiality even for a non-contemporary history. The Greek and Roman historians of the Empire share a strong concern about bias because of the constant danger that the monarch system (and a series of unstable Emperors) presented”.

12 Cf. Luce 1989, 22-23. Other historians who resemble Lucan in openly showing emotion are Diodorus lamenting over the destruction of Corinth in 146 a. C. (Diod. 32.26.1) and Velleius saying that “no one has wept over the fortune of these times enough” (Vell. 2.67.1); cf. Marincola 1997, 168-169.

13 Patriotism, however, needs no defense. So Livy (praef., 11; cf. 9.16.11-19; 17.22; 54.7-11; 27.8.4-10) and Polybius (1.14.4-5 vs. 16.14.6).

14 Cicero (Am., 28) says that we sometimes love or hate historical personages because of their uprightness or their bad character, but makes no suggestion that these preferences might be personal. And Vell. 2.31.4 says the character of the princeps is what increases or decreases inuidia towards him on the part of his citizens, though he is not addressing the bias of the historian here.

15 Cf. Ann., 16.6: Tacitus says those who criticize Nero for Poppaea’s death write odio magis quam ex fide. Woodman 1988, 162, discusses the preface to the Histories.

16 “There have been a great many who have composed the history of Nero; some of which have departed from the truth of facts out of favor, as having received benefits from him; while others, out of hatred to him, and the great ill-will which they bare him, have so impudently raved against him with their lies, that they justly deserve to be condemned. Nor do I wonder at such as have told lies of Nero, since they have not in their writings preserved the truth of history even as to those facts that were earlier than his time, even when the actors could have no way incurred their hatred, since those writers lived a long time after them” (Jos., AJ, 20.154-156). As T. J. Luce 1989, 25, remarks, Josephus can come up with no reason why these historians might have lied about earlier reigns, as he in fact claims they did.

17 Pliny’s Panegyricus supplies the most striking example of this particular trope. Cf. Woodman 1975, 291: “It was conventional, as Pliny and Menander rhetor tell us, to praise the present ruler by comparison with his predecessor; it was also conventional to express this comparison by means of the ‘language of restoration’. This is a conventional method of emphasizing the happy present, rather than inviting consideration of a troubled past”.

18 Marincola 1997, 56-57 notes that dedications were avoided in Greco-Roman histories because of the need to appear objective and to seem to write for all readers, not just an individual. Contrast Lucan with Nero, Velleius with Vinicius (and Tiberius).

19 Cf. Marincola 1997, 3-8.

20 Of course, Tacitus points to the fact that a descendant can resent disparagement of his ancestor (Tac., Ann., 4.33.4): “Then, again, an ancient historian has but few disparagers, and no one cares whether you praise more heartily the armies of Carthage or Rome. But of many who endured punishment or disgrace under Tiberius, the descendants yet survive; or even though the families themselves may be now extinct, you will find those who, from a resemblance of character, imagine that the evil deeds of others are a reproach to themselves. Again, even honour and virtue make enemies, condemning, as they do, their opposites by too close a contrast”.

21 The Ancients recognized the closeness of history and poetry (contra, however, Arist., Po., 1451b), which were both regarded as a branch of rhetoric. Woodman 1988, 76-95, well elucidates Antonius’s speech in Cic., de Orat., 2 as our fullest and most important Roman source for the theory of classical historiography.

22 Cf. also Comm. Bern., ad 1.1 and the implications of Eumolpus’criticism at Petr. 118; Mart. 14.194. Quintilian counts Lucan more of an orator (Inst., 10.1.90). Cf. also Sanford 1931; Lintott 1971. Gowing 2005, 11-12, writes that for the Romans, historia represents any attempt to transmit the past; it is less a genre than a definition of subject matter, and it concerns the creation of memory about the past.

23 Masters 1994, 159.

24 Cf. the discussion of Cicero’s treatment of history in the De Oratore in Woodman 1988, 70-116.

25 Masters 1994, 168.

26 As noted by Chr. Kraus in her BMCR review of Representations of Nero, 94.09.09.

27 Marti 1964 argues that Lucan’s poem, as a form of “tragic historiography”, encourages us to identify with the actors and victims in the civil war. This theory on tragic historiography is linked specifically to Aristotle’s view and to the theory of enargeia. Cf. Leigh 1997, 38: “there can be no doubt that the tragic historian appealed to the reader on the level of the passions”.

28 On this phenomenon, cf. especially Syndikus 1958, 42-43; Leigh 1997, 41-76.

29 4.186-188, which Leigh 1997, 49, calls “an immediacy of involvement unparalleled in previous epic”. He also discusses Lucan’s use of iam in the sense of “happening very soon”, which he calls “the contingent future”.

30 In addition, Lucan often uses nostra saecula in a way that invites ambiguity. When he uses nostra saecula at 4.191, for example, are we meant to understand it as referring to the time of composition, or the historical time of the epic? The editions present different views.

31 For an interesting discussion of this passage, see Woodman 1983; Gowing 2005, 44-48. Velleius, again imitated by Lucan, chooses not to give the details of the battle at Pharsalia: “The limits set to a work of this kind will not permit me to describe in detail the battle of Pharsalia, that day of carnage so fatal to the Roman name, when so much blood was shed on either side, the clash of arms between the two heads of the state, the extinction of one of the two luminaries of the Roman world, and the slaughter of so many noble men on Pompey’s side” (Vell. 2.52.3).

32 As Gowing 2005, 47 has remarked.

33 Gowing 2005, 43. On time in Velleius Paterculus, see Gowing 2005, 41-43.

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