In my attempts to save what’s left of my rusty Latin, I have recently picked up Lucan. Lucan, a poet from the Silver Age of Roman poetry (meaning, what is classically considered the second rank of Roman poetry, the first being the Golden Age of poets like Virgil and Horace), was a member of Nero’s court. He is famous for his graphic and very moving anti-epic The Civil War, or Pharsalia, after the battle of Pharsalus. It is an “anti-epic” because it uses the epic meter and style to tell the horrid tales of the Roman civil war between the forces of Caesar and Pompey. The style indeed is epic, but there is no epic tale, only violence, horror, and a deep sense of pity.
If Lucan had meant to end his opus on a happy note, we shall never know. The work cuts off rather abruptly in book 10 due to an external disruption: Lucan had pissed Nero off and was ordered to commit suicide. Sad!
As in much Roman poetry from that era, Lucan provides the reader with true and profound pleasure. His metaphors are fresh, his tone authentic yet never too personal, and his language compact and elegant.
Eerily, the Pharsalia is very relevant to our lives in America right now. Both as a form of lamentation and as a piece of advice.
As to the lamentation, Lucan wonders what could have been. In several highly moving paragraphs, he tries to imagine what could have been had Rome not decided to destroy itself.
“Ah, with all this blood shed by our citizens, how much of the earth and sea could we have conquered instead? Lands where the Titan of the sun originates and where the night conceals the stars; lands where parched midday billows in the hot flaming airs, and where harsh winter, never-knowing of spring, traps within ice the frozen Scythian sea.”
Sounds familiar? Imagine America hasn’t decided to destroy itself. Instead of the idiotic and hysterical 1960s of civil rights excesses and creeping campus Marxism, imagine the happy-go-lucky world of Leave it to Beaver continuing uninterrupted. Imagine our economy remaining one of industry, not of cheap credit. By now we would command a base on the moon, an array of space elevators, and a fleet of shuttle services to Mars. And if that sounds too fantastic, how about just safe streets?
Imagine our not invading Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, and God knows where else. Imagine instead an America that invests her talents in the hard sciences. By now we would deploy powerful mini-reactors and fusion energy.
And what about immigration? Imagine us NOT admitting millions of third-worlders since 1965 and instead continuing with the immigration regime of the 1920s. We would be a lovely nation of 250 million people or so, a large Switzerland with a super-majority of European stock, spiced a bit (like cinnamon over vanilla ice cream, not too much) by newcomers from elsewhere. Imagine that reality, instead of our fast becoming a bumper-to-bumper heaving Babel of a thousand tongues and all the dysfunction of mankind’s most primitive grounds.
Whereas Lucan does not offer much optimism, one can interpret some of his passages in the spirit of resolve. Now that calamity is upon us, there is no way back. Those who wish to stem America’s suicidal fall must indeed have some stones. The battle lines are drawn, and per Lucan, it is a time to stand pila minantia pilis, spears pulled against spears.
Follow us on Twitter!
And sign up for updates here!
P.S. Notice all these quotes are from the rather early parts of Lucan’s lofty piece… I did say I was rusty.