A Crisis of Interpretation: Contradiction, Ambiguity, and the Reader of Lucan's Bellum Civile

Caterine, Christopher, Classics - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hays, Bradford, Department of Classics, University of Virginia
Miller, John, Department of Classics, University of Virginia
Woodman, Anthony, Department of Classics, University of Virginia
Meyer, Elizabeth, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation has two goals: to demonstrate how Lucan weaves ambiguity and contradiction into his Bellum Civile and to explore the effect these devices may have on his reader. I argue that their chief purpose is to provoke a state of anxiety and frustration about the events and protagonists of the civil war. Whereas other epics offer a coherent picture of the cosmos and man’s place within it, the Bellum Civile thus undermines our expectations of the genre. My introduction shows that criticism of the Bellum Civile has been marked by unresolved debate, discusses a recent theory of lesser emotions as a means of explaining Lucan’s dominant poetic tone, and surveys how Lucan’s diction and syntax undermine the reader’s ability to make sense of the poem at a verbal level. In the first chapter, I argue that Lucan’s introduction consists of five movements that are self-contained and internally coherent, but that present contradictory approaches to the poem’s theme of civil war. This prevents the audience from determining what sort of poem the Bellum Civile will be and anticipates the narrator’s “fractured voice.” My second chapter explores the operation of Lucan’s universe. I posit that his physical world is more stable than his narrator would have us believe, that his metaphysical world is highly ambiguous, and that certain humans hold great power within this confusing cosmos. The third and fourth chapters use Cato to show how contradictions between narrative events and editorial judgments of them frustrate our ability to interpret Lucan’s characters. My conclusion views Julius Caesar as a figure offering some hope of permanence; ultimately, however, contradictions and ambiguities in Lucan’s portrait of him ensure that we are left in a state of frustration and anxiety when the Bellum Civile breaks off with a final glimpse of Caesar escaping from danger one last time.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Lucan, Bellum Civile, Civil War, Epic, Latin, Reader
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