Lucan's Civil War is the most unpalatable of the ancient epics for many modern readers. Monochromatic characterization, obsession with the macabre, with the sentimental, with the pathetic, a strident authorial voice, an ever-present tendency to exaggerate, an opportunistic historical amnesia-none of these traits has endeared Lucan's poem to an audience schooled on the opacities and restraint of the Virgilian epic. Yet the strident libertarian strain has its appeal.
The Civil War has often been interpreted as a commentary on the lethal nature of imperial whimsy, imperial ambition, and 'the unchecked rule of the state by a single individual' (Martindale 1986:197). It laments, through a partisan recounting of the Civil War between Pompey and Julius Caesar, the collapse of the Roman Republic. Condemnation of the victorious dictator, Julius Caesar, is everywhere manifest. 'Lucan', Martindale continues, 'writes to commend libertas, freedom, conceived of both politically as the Republic overthrown by the Caesars and spiritually as the inner freedom of mind that can be obtained in any circumstance by the Stoic sage.'
The key theme is degeneration. Imperial Rome has degenerated from the freedom of the Republic and its ideals. Lucan attributes Rome's degeneration to a lack of Stoic ethical gumption. Romans ought to exhibit self-control, endurance, loyalty, bravery, and calm in adversity. Instead they have become weakened by unbridled greed and ambition. Lucan likes to suggest that such degeneration will cause divine punishment: the gods have punished Rome as