This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.



Saturday, 3 November 2018

Saturday Rave: Pharsalia by Lucan.

If you'd mentioned the name Lucan to me until recently then my first thought would have been of Lord Lucan, the man who vanished in London in 1974 leaving behind the murdered nanny of his children.

But the other Lucan is extraordinary. 

We have, sadly, lost most of the works of Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, usually known as Lucan, but at first glance he looks to have been an extremely romantic figure, having died most satisfactorily at the age of twenty five.

Then you read more, and things become muddier.

We have three, partly contradictory, accounts of Lucan's short life, but his story seems to have gone something like this. He was born to a wealthy and famous Roman family, and carefully educated in Rome and Greece. When he was grown up he became a friend of the Emperor Nero (not, clearly, a sensible move) but then, after having received several favours and appointments from the emperor, Lucan fell out with him (not at all a sensible move) and began (it is said) writing rude verses about his old friend. As if this wasn't foolish enough, Lucan then joined a plot intended to bring the emperor down. Lucan was forced to commit suicide when it was found out (though not before dobbing in his mum as a conspirator in the hope of being pardoned). Lucan apparently died reciting his own verse.

But still, his poem Pharsalia (the only one that survives that we're sure is his) is fabulous. 

Here's a bit from near the end (it's very long, though even so the poem may not be finished). It's about Caesar's meeting with Cleopatra. The whole poem has been recently and marvellously translated by AS Kline, and can be found HERE.

There, kings, and Caesar, greater than they, were
seated. There too was Cleopatra, not content with
a crown of her own, or her brother for a husband,
her baleful beauty inordinately painted, covered
with Red Sea pearls, a fortune in her hair and
around her neck, weighed down with jewellery.
Her snowy breasts gleamed through the Sidonian
stuff, thread wound tight on the Seres' shuttles,
that Egyptian needleworkers loosen and extend
drawing out the silk. 

*****

I think the technical term is probably phwoar!

But oh, that poor silly genius of a Lucan!

Word To Use Today: caesar. This is the family name of Julius Caesar. Tsar and Kaiser are basically the same word.


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