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A Requiem for Pompey in Lucan’s Bellum Civile

Andrew M. McClellan

San Diego State University

The final 160 lines of Lucan’s Bellum Civile 8 describe the makeshift funeral of the slain Roman general Pompey the Great on the Egyptian shore (8.712-872). The funeral is carried out by a follower of Pompey named Cordus who, despite his best efforts, makes a mess of things: the funeral is hurried, half complete, distorted, and ritually corrupt. Lucan belabors the perversion of Pompey’s funeral, castigating Cordus with narratorial interjections bemoaning the manner of Pompey’s ending. But these rites represent only part of a much larger picture of Lucan’s extended requiem for Pompey. Despite all the attention given to Pompey’s tragic demise (e.g., Schnepf; Narducci; Esposito; Loupiac, 167-72; Erasmo, 109-27; Galtier, Mebane), nowhere in Lucanian scholarship has anyone yet pulled together all of the features relating to his extended death rites. I here fill that gap. My method is to proceed through the poem, analyzing the ways in which Lucan highlights pieces of funeral ritual that serve to highlight the inadequacy of Pompey’s actual funeral in Egypt. The focus of these extended rites is above all absence: Pompey will never receive the funeral imagined for him by the poet and his characters.

Many of these rites appear in the form of “negative enumeration,” in which Lucan or his characters imagine a better set of circumstances for Pompey’s funeral (for this rhetorical device, see Bramble, 52-3). I begin with the elaborate dream sequence at the start of Book 7, in which Pompey envisions being cheered by the Roman populace in his own theater. But this happy dream, an “empty apparition” (7.8: uanaimagine), which casts Pompey back to his youthful exploits, quickly degenerates into Lucan’s own reminder of the realities of the present campaign (7.24-8), which precipitates a movement from joy to sorrow. The theater of applause becomes a theater of silent mourning, and the formerly joyous Roman audience is now imagined publicly celebrating its dead leader in a somber funus publicum with ritual lamentation. Thus, at the outset of the major battle of the poem (and the war) at Pharsalus, Lucan focuses on the public funeral for Pompey that will not take place (7.37: ‘[the people] would have wept for you’), positioning the reader chronologically after the battle and Pompey’s defeat. The war, in other words, is a lost cause, and the poet’s focus has already shifted to Pompey’s impending solitary death and burial; the size of the imagined audience for the public ceremony highlights Pompey’s striking funerary isolation in Book 8 (cf. also: 8.729-42, 806-22; 9.55-62).

I then demonstrate how Pompey’s extended funeral takes on further permutations. In dialogue with earlier epic substitute funerals (Andromache’s funeral rites over the absent Hector in Iliad 22 and Dido’s quasi-funeral for the fleeing Aeneas in Aeneid 4), Lucan has Pompey’s wife Cornelia perform a surrogate burial for Pompey using his garments, medals, and armor (9.174-9) as a counter to the rites performed by Cordus. Cato provides a eulogy in absentia for Pompey (9.190-214), an odd epideixis full of ambivalence and skewed praise. And Lucan warps the standard epic topos of the catalogue of troops by imagining Pompey’s forces as arrayed not for battle but as participants in Pompey’s funeral parade (3.290-2). These and various other funereal features, taken together, create a full picture of the sort of “grand” spectacle Lucan imagines Pompey would have received at Rome. Lucan, I argue, creates a multiplicity of funerals or funeral contexts for Pompey, none of which reflect the rites he actually receives. But in their fragmented, scattered state, these rites too feign propriety and recall the fragmentation of Pompey’s own mutilated body and the body of the Republican cause he represents by synecdoche.

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Lucan Statius and Silius

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