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The Pharsalia by Lucan: Epic Poem on the Roman Civil War

by on October 8, 2021

By Ed Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Roman literature has been enormously influential in the history of Western culture. The Pharsalia, an Epic poem by Lucan, was once widely read, and inspired many great Renaissance writers, such as Christopher Marlowe and Dante. This work tells the story of the great Roman Civil War between Julius Caesar and his legions on one side, and Pompey and his supporters in the Senate on the other. The Epic is one of the masterpieces of the Silver Age of Roman literature, and it is not only a remarkable work of art, but it also offers many insights into the history of Rome.
The Poet and his Epic
The author of the Pharsalia was Lucan (39 AD – 65 AD) who was born in what is now southern Spain. He was the grandson of Seneca the Elder, and the nephew of the Stoic philosopher and statesman, Seneca the Younger. He became a close friend of Nero, who helped Lucan to secure the post of Quaestor. Lucan managed to write the Epic which consists of ten books in a remarkably short period of time.  In this he was assisted by his loyal wife. At some point, Lucan and Nero had a falling out. Some sources suggest that Lucan dared to criticise the work of Nero. In 65 AD, Lucan became involved in a conspiracy led by Piso.  This plot was discovered, and Lucan was implicated. Ancient sources alleged that the poet revealed information about the other conspirators, including his family members, in a bid to save his life. This failed and he was forced to commit suicide by opening his veins by Nero.

Athena in Ancient Literature

by on October 6, 2021

by Sean Kelly, Managing Editor, Classical Wisdom
She’s one of the most famous and prominent of the Greek deities. Her symbol – the owl – still stands proudly, millennia later, as an emblem of wisdom.
Yet what do the ancient texts actually say about her? Who is she, and what does she do?
What do we know about the Goddess of Wisdom?

The Melian Dialogue – the Brutal Reality of Power

by on October 5, 2021

by Ed Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Down the centuries people have referred to the works of ancient historians to understand contemporary events. Many have studied the work of Thucydides to understand present-day international relations and politics. In particular, The Melian Dialogue provides a perennial insight into politics, power and international relations.
The dialogue takes place in 416 BC at a point during the Peloponnesian War when the Athenians and Spartans were in a stalemate after both sides agreed to the Peace of Nicias.  In 406 BC, the island of Melos (today Milos) refused to submit to the Athenians. The demands of the Athenians were that the Melians should pay tribute to them and join the Delian League. Athens sent the fleet of the Delian League to the island with orders to attack Melos if the island did not accept its terms and become, in effect, part of its Empire.
The Melian Dialogue

Die Young & Famous or Live Long & Unknown?

by on October 4, 2021

The stunning Jodie Turner-Smith, playing “Queen”, was sitting on her car probably somewhere in Florida when the timeless question was brought up. Dusty lighting behind, the two actors discussed the conundrum which ambitious world changers have asked from the beginning of civilization. 
I was thrilled to find such an excellent ancient philosophical discussion in such an excellent modern movie! 
You see, just this week I was watching Queen & Slim, self referenced as a Black Bonnie & Clyde movie. Clearly drawing on modern events, the plot follows a tinder date that goes horribly wrong when, after a traffic stop results in the self-defense shooting of a cop, the couple find themselves on the run and hotly pursued. As they flee, their fame (and dash cam footage) goes viral, turning them into icons of resistance. 
The protagonists eventually face a modern version of the ancient dilemma, the very same one presented to Achilles in Homer’s great epic the Iliad

The Differences Between Roman and Greek Tragedy

by on September 29, 2021

by Lydia Serrant, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
There is no doubt that the Romans drew a lot from the Greeks. This included their love of theatre.
Roman theatre took a while to take hold, but once it did, it was popularised across the Empire and evolved over the centuries. The Romans adopted many of the Greek gods, so the mythological plays of Attica were a natural choice for the Roman Theatre. However, the Romans had a bloodthirst that was unrivaled by the Greeks, and overall they preferred a violent comedy to the slower and more philosophical tragedies.
That was not to say that Roman theatre was void of popular tragedies. The earliest surviving tragedies by Ennius (239 – 169 BC) and Pacuvius (220 – 130BC) were widely circulated and therefore, preserved for later audiences.