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Suetonius - The Life of Lucan, translated by Alexander Thomson and Thomas Forester

Julius Caesar | Augustus | Tiberius | Caligula | Claudius | Nero | Galba | Otho | Vitellius | Vespasian | Titus | Domitian

M. Annaeus Lucanus -- known in English as Lucan.

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Suetonius - Life of Nero
Suetonius Lives of the Poets

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C. Svetoni Tranqvillvi De Poetis Vita Lucani
Suetonius Life of Lucan in Latin

The Life of Lucan.

(544) M. Annaeus Lucanus a native of Corduba [976], first tried the powers of his genius in an encomium on Nero, at the Quinquennial games. He afterwards recited his poem on the Civil War carried on between Pompey and Caesar. His vanity was so immense, and he gave such liberty to his tongue, that in some preface, comparing his age and his first efforts with those of Virgil, he had the assurance to say: "And what now remains for me is to deal with a gnat." In his early youth, after being long informed of the sort of life his father led in the country, in consequence of an unhappy marriage [977], he was recalled from Athens by Nero, who admitted him into the circle of his friends, and even gave him the honour of the quaestorship; but he did not long remain in favour. Smarting at this, and having publicly stated that Nero had withdrawn, all of a sudden, without communicating with the senate, and without any other motive than his own recreation, after this he did not cease to assail the emperor both with foul words and with acts which are still notorious. So that on one occasion, when easing his bowels in the common privy, there being a louder explosion than usual, he gave vent to the hemistych of Nero: "One would suppose it was thundering under ground," in the hearing of those who were sitting there for the same purpose, and who took to their heels in much consternation [978]. In a poem also, which was in every one's hands, he severely lashed both the emperor and his most powerful adherents.

At length, he became nearly the most active leader in Piso's conspiracy [979]; and while he dwelt without reserve in many quarters on the glory of those who dipped their hands in the (545) blood of tyrants, he launched out into open threats of violence, and carried them so far as to boast that he would cast the emperor's head at the feet of his neighbours. When, however, the plot was discovered, he did not exhibit any firmness of mind. A confession was wrung from him without much difficulty; and, humbling himself to the most abject entreaties, he even named his innocent mother as one of the conspirators [980]; hoping that his want of natural affection would give him favour in the eyes of a parricidal prince. Having obtained permission to choose his mode of death [981], he wrote notes to his father, containing corrections of some of his verses, and, having made a full meal, allowed a physician to open the veins in his arm [982]. I have also heard it said that his poems were offered for sale, and commented upon, not only with care and diligence, but also in a trifling way. [983]

Lucan footnotes

[976] Cordova. Lucan was the son of Annaeus Mella, Seneca's brother.

[977] This sentence is very obscure, and Ernesti considers the text to be imperfect.

[978] They had good reason to know that, ridiculous as the tyrant made himself, it was not safe to incur even the suspicion of being parties to a jest upon him.

[979] See Nero, c. xxxvi.

[980] St. Jerom (Chron. Euseb.) places Lucan's death in the tenth year of Nero's reign, corresponding with A.U.C. 817. This opportunity is taken of correcting an error in the press, p. 342, respecting the date of Nero's accession. It should be A.U.C. 807, A.D. 55.

[981] These circumstances are not mentioned by some other writers. See Dr. Thomson's account of Lucan, before, p. 347, where it is said that he died with philosophical firmness.

[982] We find it stated ib. p. 396, that Lucan expired while pronouncing some verses from his own Pharsalia: for which we have the authority of Tacitus, Annal. xv. 20. 1. Lucan, it appears, employed his last hours in revising his poems; on the contrary, Virgil, we are told, when his death was imminent, renewed his directions that the Aeneid should be committed to the flames.

[983] The text of the concluding sentence of Lucan's life is corrupt, and neither of the modes proposed for correcting it make the sense intended very clear.

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