Lucan’s civil war epic accounts for the unmaking of Rome. Mirroring in format its chaotic subject matter, it has resisted easy analysis and interpretation due to its deliberate openendedness, episodic structure and lack of teleology (Henderson 1988; Masters 1992). Recent scholarship has moved away from ideological interpretations and suggested reading the Bellum Civile in an alternative way by considering imagery, stylistics and leitmotifs as ways to bind together Lucan’s meandering verses. Accordingly, Lucan’s headless trunk of an epic might be the product not so much of any narrative trajectory but of a deliberate quest for fame by its protagonists and author (Dinter 2012). In addition, the strongly felt presence of body imagery, endless repetition and thematically related sententiae has been declared a virtue. Elevated to stylistic principles these rather than gods and prophecies goad along the readers’ experience.
My talk will check up on these claims by providing a reading of Bellum Civile 8 that considers the recent suggestions made about Lucan’s epic technique. While BC 8 moves away from the overwhelming use of body imagery employed in BC 7 at the battle of Pharsalus I will highlight the instances of body imagery woven into the epic geography to showcase how Lucan effects sympatheia for Pompey’s death. Furthermore, I will examine instances of both verbal and thematic repetition in BC 8 and in relation to the epic as a whole to demonstrate how the unique event of Pompey’s decapitation is embedded within a cosmos of ever repeating sacrilege. Finally, I shall sample the sententiae Lucan employs in BC 8 to highlight how Lucan uses this rhetorical feature to maintain a discourse on topics such as justice and death throughout BC 8 and the epic in general. When reading Pompey’s decapitation bearing in mind these three stylistic features we will recognise how they all contribute to weaving a texture that culminates in the epic’s key passage.
Lucan after Deconstruction