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CAESAR CRISS-CROSSING THE RUBICON: A PALINDROMIC ACROSTIC IN LUCAN (1.218–22)*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 May 2015

E. Giusti*
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow

Extract

Lucan's account of Caesar crossing the Rubicon (1.213–22) is dense with metapoetic allusion. Although the river has been specified as a small stream at Caesar's arrival (ut uentum est parui Rubiconis ad undas, 1.185), it becomes swollen, tumidus, as soon as Caesar ‘breaks the delay of war’ and ‘carries his standards in haste over the [now] swollen river’ (inde moras soluit belli tumidumque per amnem | signa tulit propere, 1.204-5). This has been pinpointed both as a metapoetic signpost of Lucan's engagement with the anti-Callimachean swollen river of grandiose epic (Callim. Hymn 2.108-9) at the outbreak of (his) Civil War, and as a programmatic statement that the whole Bellum Ciuile will set up a series of contrasts between Caesar's urgency in crossing boundaries and Lucan's narrative obstructions to or compliances with Caesar's progress. In fact, as Jamie Masters notes, ‘in spite of the “undoing of delay,” the perfect “tulit” and the adverb “propere,” Caesar has not crossed the river yet; or if he has, he must do it again’, precisely at 1.213–22. Within this densely self-reflexive passage, Lucan inserts a palindromic acrostic which signals both the doubling of Caesar's action (or at least the poet's double mention of the action) and Lucan's poetic representation of Caesar taming the forces of nature.

Type
Shorter Notes
Copyright
Copyright © The Classical Association 2015 

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Footnotes

*

I am indebted to John Henderson for believing in this fervently when my enthusiasm was tepid; to Danielle Frisby, whose handout brought my attention to it; to Emily Gowers, Alessandro Schiesaro and the anonymous referee of CQ for their helpful suggestions.

References

1 See McNelis, C., Statius’ Thebaid and the Poetics of Civil War (Cambridge, 2007), 121CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Chaudhuri, P., The War with God: Theomachy in Roman Imperial Poetry (Oxford, 2014), 213CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and D. Frisby, ‘Horses as the vehicle for metapoetic challenge: to what extent can we understand implicit self-referentiality at the appearance of a quadriga?’, unpublished paper presented at the Metapoetics Workshop, King's College, Cambridge, 27 March 2014.

2 Masters, J., Poetry and Civil War in Lucan's ‘Bellum Civile’ (Cambridge, 1992), 23 Google Scholar.

3 Masters (n. 2), 2.

4 The acrostic is listed among the ‘Zufallsakrosticha’ by Hilberg, I., ‘Ist die Ilias Latina von einem Italicus verfasst oder einem Italicus gewidmet?’, WS 21 (1899), 264305 Google Scholar, at 303. It is there placed next to another ‘accidental acrostic’: TEPES at Verg. Aen. 6.252–6, the description of Aeneas’ sacrifice before entering the underworld, perhaps signalled, if deliberate, at Aen. 6.248 tepidum … cruorem. A very intriguing acrostic in Pompey's bull simile of Book 2 was recently discovered by Kersten, M., ‘Ein Akrostichon im zweiten Buch De Bello Civili? Lucan. 2,600–608’, RhM 156 (2013), 161–71Google Scholar.

5 puniceus Rubicon (1.214), hinting at the Rubicon's etymology from ruber.

6 See especially Livy 21.31.12 et tum forte imbribus auctus ingentem transgredientibus tumultum fecit, with the assonance tum … tem … tumultum para-etymologically becoming Lucan's tumidum at 1.204.

7 Roche, P., Lucan De Bello Ciuili Book I (Oxford, 2009), 219Google Scholar, following Haskins, C.E., M. Annaei Lucani Pharsalia (London, 1887), 15Google Scholar and Getty, R.J., M. Annaei Lucani De Bello Ciuili Liber I (Cambridge, 1940), 57Google Scholar, does not find the mention of the Alps (as a metonymy rather than a geographical mistake) particularly noteworthy here. On the similarities between Hannibal and Lucan's Caesar, see Ahl, F.M., Lucan: An Introduction (Ithaca, 1976), 107–12Google Scholar.

8 VNDIS, at Verg. Ecl. 9.34–8, confirmed in line 39 ludus in undis: see Grishin, A.A., ‘ Ludus in undis: an acrostic in Eclogue 9’, HSPh 104 (2008), 237–40Google Scholar.

9 Acrostics are normally ‘announced’ by certain key-words: see Feeney, D. and Nelis, D., ‘Two Virgilian acrostics: certissima signa?’, CQ 55 (2005), 644–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 The signature acrostic PU- VE- MA- ( Pu blius Vergilius Maro, to be read in reverse order from lines 433, 431 and 429) was discovered by Brown, E., Numeri Vergiliani: Studies in “Eclogues” and “Georgics” (Brussels, 1963), 102–5Google Scholar; on the possibility of a further ‘window allusion’ to an acrostic in Homer (Il. 24.1–5), see Somerville, T., ‘Note on a reversed acrostic in Vergil Georgics 1.429–33’, CPh 105 (2010), 202–9Google Scholar.

11 I owe this intriguing suggestion to CQ's anonymous reader.

12 It could be argued that the verb tepesco may be preferred to tepeo in this context. However, it is difficult to imagine that Lucan would have produced an acrostic as long as tepescit, which would not have provided him, in any case, with a palindrome.

13 Roche (n. 7), 218–19, referring to the question posed by Fantham, E., Lucan De Bello Ciuili Book II (Cambridge, 1992), 202Google Scholar: ‘is there some sense of providential care for human safety?’.

14 See Caesar's rescue by a tenth wave at 5.672–6, where Lucan seems to allude to the Virgilian model of Neptune in Aen. 1.145–7 in order to draw attention ‘to the replacement of a divine agent by a “natural” phenomenon’, as noted by Matthews, M., Caesar and the Storm: A Commentary on Lucan De Bello Ciuili, Book 5 lines 476–721 (Oxford and New York, 2008), 250Google Scholar.

15 On the problematic identification, see Aebischer, P., ‘Considérations sur le cours du Rubicon’, MH 1 (1944), 258–69Google Scholar.