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This dissertation provides an overall interpretation of the 'Bellum Civile' based on the examination of an aspect completely neglected by previous scholarship: Lucan's literary adaptation of the cosmological dialectic of Love and Strife. According to a reading that has found favor over the last three decades, the poem is an unconventional epic that does not conform to Aristotelian norms: in order to portray his vision of cosmic dissolution, Lucan composes a poem characterized by fragmentation and disorder, lacking a conventional teleology, and whose narrative flow is constantly delayed. This study challenges such interpretation by illustrating that although Lucan invokes imagery of cosmic dissolution, he does so without altogether obliterating epic norms; rather, the 'Bellum Civile' transforms them from within in order to accomplish its purpose: namely, condemnation of the establishment of the Principate and the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Greek and Roman thought traditionally construes Love and Strife as two contrasting forces that govern the universe: Love is constructive in its creative function, whereas Strife is deadly and, therefore, destructive; however, there is also a destructive form of Love, which causes distress and grief, and a constructive form of Strife, which urges individuals to improve the condition of humankind. In Greek and Latin epic these four forces are normally in balance: although war is the main theme of the genre, love is placed side by side with it, so as to hint at a regeneration after the destruction; and famous examples of destructive romances are counterbalanced by equally renowned cases of constructive conflicts. Vergil places himself within this tradition by writing an epic in which Love and Strife–in both their positive and negative instantiations–are perfectly balanced. In particular, in the 'Aeneid' the action of destructive forces is usually followed by that of constructive forces. This suits the political purpose of the poem, which celebrates the founding of Rome, and its re-founding thanks to Augustus. Lucan reverses this structure. He strategically removes constructive Love and Strife from the 'Bellum Civile', and increases the role of their destructive counterparts, in order to stage the irreversible annihilation and "de-founding" of Rome that follows the victory of Caesar and the consequent fall of the Republic. The main characters of the poem, in fact, are involved in ruinous romances; and all the elements that could mitigate the destructive force of Strife, such as 'virtus' and 'clementia', are deliberately neglected or perverted. Paradoxically, the only form of Love that finds space in the poem is the utterly destructive Love for Strife. Lucan, in fact, reverses the elegiac notion of 'militia amoris', and turns it into the more threatening 'amor militiae': instead of fighting for love, as the elegiac characters do, the epic characters of the 'Bellum Civile' love fighting; and if elegy describes love affairs as warfare, and lovers as soldiers, Lucan describes warfare as love affairs, and soldiers as lovers. This scheme is so groundbreaking that Lucan's epic successors inevitably have to deal with it, either to accept it, as Statius does, or to reject it and restore a more traditional–and Vergilian, so to speak–narrative structure, as Valerius Flaccus and Silius Italicus do.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Classics in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Tim Stover, Professor Directing Dissertation; David Levenson, University Representative; Laurel Fulkerson, Committee Member; Francis Cairns, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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