Virtus, Clementia, and Caesar’s Left-Hand Man: Lucan’s Lament of Republican Ethics

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Virtus, Clementia, and Caesar’s Left-Hand Man: Lucan’s Lament of Republican Ethics

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Title: Virtus, Clementia, and Caesar’s Left-Hand Man: Lucan’s Lament of Republican Ethics
Author: Liscovitz, Matthew
Advisor: Mulligan, Bret
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Classics.
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2013
Abstract: Lucan wrote the Bellum Civile, an epic about the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, under a firmly entrenched Empire that had presided over political violence and personal excess for decades. Lucan’s epic is about the origin of this political system and how the Republican system gave way to autocratic rule. My thesis discusses Caesar’s role in Lucan’s epic, and how his character employs benevolence and Republican imagery to take advantage of and restructure a Roman society already weakened by the excesses of empire. This transformation from republican to imperial rule occurs through a restructuring of Roman moral vocabulary. Lucan’s Caesar takes traditional Roman virtues, like clementia, gentleness shown toward an inferior, and martial virtus, the physical expression of courage on the battlefield, and perverts them to bolster his authority as an autocratic leader. One of Caesar’s most important tools for this perversion is Scaeva, a centurion who single-handedly repels a Pompeian army in Book 6 of the epic. His fighting is reminiscent of the virtus shown by Republican heroes, who fought against the early Roman kings to establish a society based on political equality and freedom of expression. Though Scaeva demonstrates the same kind of physical virtus, he fights not for the betterment of society, but for Caesar’s victory. Through him, virtus becomes an attribute not of a free Roman, but of an imperial subject. His fighting also allows Caesar to remain removed from battle. Lucan’s Caesar never raises a hand against a fellow Roman citizen, instead forgiving defeated enemies when other generals would have called for execution. While it does not cause bloodshed like Scaeva’s virtus, Lucan portrays Caesar’s clementia as even more damaging to the soul of the Republic. When Caesar grants clemency to citizens, he creates a power dynamic within which he has authority over the lives of people who were formerly his equals. This transformation of Republican ethics is subtle but destructive, creating an authoritarian government under the guise of virtue, freedom, and benevolence.
Subject: Lucan, 39-65. Pharsalia
Subject: Lucan, 39-65 -- Criticism and interpretation
Subject: Caesar, Julius -- In literature
Terms of Use: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/us/
Permanent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10066/11464

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Liscovitz, Matthew. "Virtus, Clementia, and Caesar’s Left-Hand Man: Lucan’s Lament of Republican Ethics". 2013. Available electronically from http://hdl.handle.net/10066/11464.

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