Marcus Anneus Lucan


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Marcus Annaeus Lucanus was born on November 3rd, 39 AD in what is now modern day Cordoba in Spain. He is more commonly known in English as Lucan and regarded as one of the outstanding and most celebrated Roman Poets of the Imperial Latin period. In his youth he was admired for the speed at which he could compose his verse. Much of the facts of his life are unknown and the available accounts differ in agreed facts. Lucan was born into a wealthy family and the son of Marcus Annaeus Mela and grandson of Seneca the Elder. His early years were under the tutelage of his uncle Seneca the Younger. From him he was given a philosophical and Stoic education. It is also believed Lucan studied rhetoric in Athens. He found success under Nero and became one of the emperor's close friends and was rewarded with a quaestorship (a public official in Ancient Rome. It was a low ranking position in the cursus honorum) in advance of the required legal age. In 60 AD, he won a prize for extemporizing Orpheus and Laudes Neronis at the quinquennial Neronia, and was again rewarded when the emperor appointed him to the augurate (a body of religious officials who observed and interpreted omens and signs to help guide the making of public decisions). It was during these years that he composed the first three books of what is considered his masterpiece; Pharsalia (titled De Bello civili in the manuscripts), which told the story of the civil war between Julius Caesar and the forces of the Senate under Pompey. At this point the relationship between Nero and Lucan fell apart. There are two accounts which offer different viewpoints of what happened next. According to Tacitus, Nero became jealous of Lucan and forbade any further poems to be published. But according to Suetonius, Nero had lost interest in Lucan who responded by writing insulting poems about Nero that were ignored. However, works by the grammarian Vacca and the poet Statius give weight to the claim that Lucan did indeed write insulting poems about Nero. Vacca mentions that one of Lucan's works was entitled De Incendio Urbis (On the Burning of the City). Statius's ode to Lucan mentions that Lucan described how the “unspeakable flames of the criminal tyrant roamed the heights of Remus.” Additionally, the later books of Pharsalia are anti-Imperial and pro-Republic. This criticism of both Nero and the office of the Emperor in verse seems a more likely trigger for the ban. Lucan later joined the 65 AD conspiracy of Gaius Calpurnius Piso against Nero. With his treason discovered, he was commanded, at age 25, to commit suicide by opening a vein. In the hopes of a pardon he incriminated his mother and others to no avail. According to Tacitus there is an idealized and romantic story that, as Lucan bled to death, “he recalled some poetry he had composed in which he had told the story of a wounded soldier dying a similar kind of death and he recited the very lines.”
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