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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a work of
C. Suetonius Tranquillus

published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


 p501  Suetonius
The Life of Lucan

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Marcus Annaeus Lucanus of Corduba made his first appearance as a poet with a "Eulogy of Nero" at the emperor's Quinquennial Contests,1 and then gave a public reading of his poem on the "Civil War" waged between Pompey and Caesar. In a kind of introduction to the latter, comparing his time of life and his first essays with those of Vergil, he had the audacity to ask:

"How far, pray, do I fall short of the Culex"?2

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] In his early youth, learning that his father was living in the remote country districts because of an unhappy marriage . . . . He was recalled from Athens by Nero and made one of his intimate friends, besides being honoured with the quaestorship; but he could not keep the emperor's favour. For piqued because Nero had suddenly called a meeting of the senate and gone out when he was giving a reading, with no other motive than to throw cold water on the performance,3 he afterwards did not refrain from words and acts of hostility to the prince, which are still notorious. Once for example in a public privy, when he relieved his bowels with  p503 an uncommonly loud noise, he shouted out this half line of the emperor's, while those who were there for the same purpose took to their heels:

"You might suppose it thundered 'neath the earth."

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] He also tongue-lashed not only the emperor but also his most powerful friends in a scurrilous poem. Finally he came out almost as the ringleader4 in the conspiracy of Piso, publicly making great talk about the glory of tyrannicides, and full of threats, even going to the length of offering Caesar's head to all his friends. But when the conspiracy was detected, he showed by no means equal firmness of purpose; for he was easily forced to a confession, descended to the most abject entreaties, and even named his own mother among the guilty parties, although she was innocent, in hopes that this lack of filial devotion would win him favour with a parricidal prince. But when he was allowed free choice of the manner of his death, he wrote a letter to his father, containing corrections for some of his verses, and after eating heartily, offered his arms to a physician, to cut his veins. I recall that his poems were even read in public,5 while they were published and offered for sale by editors lacking in taste, as well as by some who were painstaking and careful.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 See Nero xii.3.

2 Or perhaps, "How much younger am I than the author of the Culex?" Lucan compares his great epic, written at an earlier age, with Vergil's early work. Cf. Stat. Silv. 2.7.73, haec (= Pharsaliam) primo iuvenis canes sub aevo, Ante annos culicis Maroniani.

3 Cf.  Claud. xli.1.

4 Literally, standard-bearer.

5 That is, lectured on by grammarians; see Gr. i.

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Page updated: 16 Jul 08