m = reading of part of the MS tradition
P = reading on a papyrus
M. Annaeus Lucanus patrem habuit M. Annaeum Melam ex prouincia Baetica Hispaniae interioris, Cordubensem, equitem Romanum, inlustrem inter suos, notum Romae et propter Senecam fratrem, clarum per omnes uirtutes uirum, et propter studium uitae quietioris, quod sequens magis a turba recedebat, minus latebat. matrem habuit et regionis eiusdem et urbis Aciliam nomine, Acilii Lucani filiam, oratoris operae apud proconsules frequentis et apud clarissimos uiros non nullius ingenii: adeo non inprobandus, ut in scriptis aliquibus hodieque perduret eius memoria; cuius cognomen huic poetae poetae susp. Reifferscheid et al. inditum apparet. natus est III Nonas Nouembris C. Caesare Augusto Germanico II L. Apronio Caesiano consulibus. sed in patria sua non ualuit educari, fatorum credo decretis, ut id ingenium, quod orbem fama sui inpleturum cresceret, et in domina mundi aleretur urbe. octauum enim mensem agens Romam translatus est. ac ne dispar euentus in eo narraretur eius, qui in Hesiodo refertur, cum opinio tunc non dissimilis maneret, cunas infantis, quibus ferebatur, apes circumuolarunt osque insidere conplures, aut dulcem iam tum spiritum eius haurientes aut facundum et qualem nunc aestimamus, futurum significantes. a praeceptoribus tunc eminentissimis est eruditus eosque intra breue temporis spatium ingenio adaequauit, una uero studentes superauit profectibus. declamauit et Graece et Latine cum magna admiratione audientium. ob quod, puerili mutato in senatorium cultum, et in notitiam Caesaris Neronis facile peruenit et honore uixdum aetati debito dignus iudicatus est. gessit autem quaesturam, in qua cum collegis more tunc usitato munus gladiatorium edidit secundo populi fauore; sacerdotium etiam accepit auguratus. equidem hactenus tempora habuit secunda. quae sequuntur autem, mutata inuidia et odio Neronis, ipsi exitium, domesticis luctum miserabilem adtulerunt. cum inter amicos enim Caesaris tam conspicuus fieret profectus profectus M: profectus (eius) Reifferscheid: profectibus Weber. in poetica, frequenter offendebat frequenter offendebat Weber: frequenter (Nero) offendabatur Reifferscheid: offendebatur vel ostendebatur M; quippe et certamine pentaeterico acto in Pompei theatro laudibus recitatis in Neronem fuerat coronatus et ex tempore Orphea scriptum in experimentum aduersum conplures ediderat poetas et tres libros, quales uidemus. quare inimicum sibi fecit imperatorem. quo ambitiosa uanitate, non hominum tantum, sed et artium sibi principatum uindicante, interdictum est ei poetica, interdictum est etiam causarum actionibus. hoc factum Caesaris iuuenili aestimans animi calore speransque ultionem a coniuratis in caedem Neronis socius adsumptus est, sed parum fauste. deceptus est enim a Pisone et consularibus aliisque praetura perfunctis inlustribus uiris: dum uindictam expetit, in mortem inruit. nam sua sponte coactus uita excedere uenas sibi praecidit periitque pridie Kal. Maias Attico Vestino et Nerua Siliano consulibus, XXVI aetatis annum agens, non sine iactura utilitatis cum patriae, quae tantam inmature amisit indolem, tum studiorum quoque. reliqui enim VII Belli ciuilis libri locum calumniantibus tamquam mendosi non darent, qui tametsi sub uero crimine non egent patrocinio: in isdem dici, quod in Ouidii libris praescribitur, potest: ‘emendaturus, si licuisset, erat’ Ov. Tr. 1.7.40.. extant eius complures et alii, ut Iliacon, Saturnalia, Catachthonion, Siluarum X, tragoedia Medea imperfecta, salticae fabulae XIV et epigrammata; prosa oratione in Octauium Sagittam et pro eo, de incendio urbis, epistolarum ex Campania: non fastidiendi quidem omnes, tales tamen, ut Belli ciuilis uideantur accessio.
M. Annaeus Lucan’s father was M. Annaeus Mela, from the province of Baetica in Hispania Interior; a Cordovan and a Roman knight, famous among his own people, he was also known at Rome both on account of his brother Seneca, a man outstanding in every virtue, and on account of his devotion to a quieter life, following which he set himself apart from the crowd rather than hide.
His mother, Acilia, was from the same region and city, the daughter of Acilius Lucan, an orator who worked frequently with proconsuls and a man of no small talent among the great men of Rome; he was so unimpeachable that in certain documents his memory endures even today; his cognomen was given to Lucan. He was born on 3rd November in the year when Caligula and Lucius Apronius Caesianus were consuls [i.e. AD 39]. But he could not be brought up in his own country: I believe it was by the fates’ decree that the talent which grew to fill the world with its fame should also be nourished in the city that rules the world. He moved to Rome at the age of eight months.
Moreover, let a tale similar to that which is told about Hesiod be told about Lucan too, since a similar reputation then awaited him: bees flew around the baby’s cradle in which he was carried and many of them settled on his mouth, either drinking in his already sweet spirit, or prophesying the eloquence we admire today.
He was instructed by the most eminent teachers of the day and in a short space of time simultaneously equalled them in talent and outstripped all the other students in his achievements. He declaimed in both Greek and Latin to the great admiration of his audience.
It was on this account that, having changed a boy’s toga for a senator’s garb, he easily caught Nero’s attention and was deemed worthy of an honour scarcely given to a man of his age. He held the office of a quaestor, and along with his partners in office, following the custom at the time, he put on a gladiatorial show according to popular favour; he also joined the collegium of augurs.
Indeed, up until then, he enjoyed a favourable period. Yet the times which followed, altered by the envy and hatred of Nero, brought death to the poet and wretched grief to his household.
Since he became so conspicuous among Caesar’s friends because of his achievements in poetry, he was a frequent object of irritation: he had been crowned victor in the quinquennial contest in Pompey’s theatre with a recital of the Praises of Nero and published his Orpheus, which he had composed ex tempore in a contest involving many poets, as well as three books of the Bellum ciuile. It was for this reason that he incurred the emperor’s enmity.
Because of Nero’s ambitious vanity, which demanded that he be recognised not only as supreme leader over men but also over art, Lucan was banned from practising poetry and oratory. Imagining that this was done by Caesar in the passion of a young mind and hoping that revenge would come from those who conspired for Nero’s downfall, he joined them, but with little luck. For he was deceived by Piso and the consuls and the other illustrious men who had discharged the office of praetor: he sought vengeance, but in fact rushed to his own death. For he was compelled to commit suicide by slitting his veins on 30th April in the year when Atticus Vestinus and Nerva Silianus were consuls [i.e. AD 65], in his twenty-sixth year, and not without loss of benefit both to our country, which lost so great a genius at such a young age, and to scholarship.
For the other seven books of the Bellum Civile, although deficient, would not give grounds for criticism to his detractors on the basis that they are full of faults – although charged with a real crime, they do not lack a defence. Of them we can say what is written in Ovid’s books, too: ‘He was going to emend them, if it had been possible.’
We also have many other compositions of his, like the Iliacon, Saturnalia, Catachthonion, ten books of Silvae, the unfinished tragedy Medea, fourteen Salticae Fabulae and epigrams, a prose oration against Octavius Sagitta and one for him, De incendio Urbis, and Letters from Campania: all these are not to be dismissed, but they are best seen as ancillary to Lucan’s epic.