The Madness of Epic: Reading Insanity from Homer to Statius

By Debra Hershkowitz | Go to book overview

5
Lucan's Bellum Ciuile: Epic In Extremis

The climactic moment of the battle of Pharsalus, when Lucan finally describes -- or should describe -- the Romans finally facing each other and not the foreign participants of the civil war, is surrounded by madness:

ille locus fratres habuit, locus ille parentis. 550
hic furor, hic rabies, hic sunt tua crimina, Caesar.
hanc fuge, mens, partern belli tenebrisque relinque,
nullaque tantorum discat me uate malorum,
quam multum bellis liceat ciulibus, aetas.
a potius pereant lacrimae pereantque querellae: 555
quidquid in hac acie gessisti, Roma, tacebo.
hic Caesar, rabies populis stimulusque furorum . . .

That place held brothers, that place held fathers. This madness, this frenzy, these crimes were yours, Caesar. Flee this part of the war, my mind, and leave it in darkness. May no age, with me as prophet, learn of such evils, how much is permitted in civil war. Rather let these tears and lamentations vanish: whatever you did in this battle, Rome, I shall keep quiet. Here Caesar, the frenzy of the people and the goad of madness . . . (7. 550-7)

The narrator famously refuses to speak,1 and then equally famously goes on to speak anyway, compelled by the force of his narrative and its madness to continue narrating that madness.2 As Masters notes, the struggle takes place within the poem's narrative voice, which metapoetically mirrors the struggle it narrates:

The poem, the civil war, is and takes as its subject the internal fracturing of authority. It is a world where what should be one is many, where the unity of the Roman state is painfully divided, and where, until the final

____________________
1
On Lucan's refusal to speak see e.g. Johnson ( 1987), 98-9; Masters ( 1992), 147-8.
2
Note especially the chiastic arrangement of furor . . . rabies . . . Caesar/Caesar . . . rabies . . . furorum, emphasizing the centrality of the refusal to speak and the part of (Caesarian) madness in that refusal.

-197-

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The Madness of Epic: Reading Insanity from Homer to Statius
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Oxford Classical Monographs i
  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Abbreviations and Texts xii
  • 1 - Introduction: Fragments D'Un Discours Furieux 1
  • 2 - Vergil's Aeneid: the Romans and the Irrational 68
  • 3 - Homeric Epic: the Greeks and the Rational? 125
  • 4 - Ovid's Metamorphoses: Shifting Boundaries of the Divided Self 161
  • 5 - Lucan's Bellum Ciuile: Epic in Extremis 197
  • 6 - Statius' Thebaid: Furor Without Limits 247
  • Epilogue 302
  • References 305
  • Index of Passages 333
  • General Index 343
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