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Seminar Latin: More Than Civil War: Lucan’s Bellum Civile


Admission requirements

This class can be taken in fulfilment of the requirements of both the MA and the Research MA program in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (track Classics).

Admission requirements for other students: a BA degree in Classics obtained from a university in the Netherlands, or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands. Moreover, students with an international degree have to contact the coordinator of studies to check admissibility.

If you are interested in taking this course, but are not sure whether you fulfill the entry requirements, please, contact the instructor.


In April 65 AD Nero forced Lucan to commit suicide, not only because he had taken part in the Pisonian conspiracy against the princeps, if we are to believe Tacitus, but also for reasons of poetic jalousie de métier. Although Lucan did not live to complete his opus magnum, his horrifying epic on the civil war between Caesar and Pompey (49-48 BC) was instantly popular and exerted an enormous influence on later Latin literature (and beyond).

Like other post-Vergilian epics, Lucan’s Bellum Civile (alias Pharsalia) has been neglected for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, but recent decades have (deservedly) witnessed an explosion of scholarly interest. The poem has been labelled an anti-epic, since Lucan in various ways seems to take up arms against the epic tradition which he inherited. Unlike earlier epics, for instance, the poem does not concentrate on one protagonist: Caesar, Pompey and Cato (whose powerful characters are unforgettable) seem equally important. And the gods that traditionally inhabit epic poetry are nowhere to be found: something with which Petronius, in his Satyrica, seems to take issue in his parodic (if that is the right word) poem on the same theme. It has been argued that Lucan’s universe is governed by the more abstract principles of Stoic philosophy: but how should we reconcile a Stoic worldview with the nauseating necromancy of the witch Erictho (if you like horror, you will certainly like Lucan)? His anti-epicism also shows on a stylistic level, as his Latin often surprises with its prosaic vocabulary. And on an intertextual level, the Bellum Civile not only imitates and transforms its poetic models (Vergil above all), but often seems to invert or even pervert them. Lucan’s anti-Vergilian poetics has an unmistakable political aspect: whereas Vergil’s Aeneid celebrates the Imperium Romanum and the principate, Lucan’s Bellum Civile can be read as a lament for the Roman Republic and, by implication, an incrimination of the principate. If this reading is correct, however, how should we read the laus Neronis in the proem?

In this course, we will read substantial parts of the Bellum Civile in Latin (with commentaries) and explore the many questions that surround this fascinating poem (with relevant secondary literature). At the end of the semester, there will be a written exam (50%). In addition, students will give a presentation (20%) and write a paper (30%) that addresses one particular passage and a related interpretative issue. All students are expected to be well-prepared and to participate in the discussion.

Course objectives


  • Broadening knowledge of Latin literature;

  • Enlarging reading and interpretative competence of Latin texts;

  • Reflection on intertextuality, literature and (imperial) power, poetry and rhetoric, historical epic and historiography;

  • Practising intertextuality and textual criticism;

  • Practising critical assessment of secondary literature.


  • Enhancing presentational skills;

  • Enhancing writing skills;

  • Enhancing research skills.

This research seminar contributes to the achievement of learning outcomes 4a and 4c (to give and write a clear and well-argued oral and written presentation on a research topic in accordance with academic standards) of the study programme Classics and Ancient Civilizations.


The timetable is available on the MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations website and the Research MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours:

  • Class: 28 hours;

  • Weekly preparation: 98 hours;

  • Reading prescribed primary literature (pensum): 60 hours;

  • Preparation of presentation: 31 hours;

  • Writing paper: 60 hours;

  • Written exam: 3 hours.

Assessment method

  • Written exam (50%), consisting of (a) two translations (seen) and grammatical questions (25%) and (b) other questions (25%);

  • Oral presentation (20%);

  • Written presentation: paper (ca. 3000, Research MA students ca. 4000 words) (30%).

Research MA students are expected to write a more substantial paper and to show a more independent scholarly attitude (in formulating and working out the research question, quantity/complexity of secondary literature).


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average of the examinations mentioned above. A sufficient score for the translations and grammatical questions is a condicio sine qua non.


If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the student can revise his/her paper and/or retake the written examination (after consultation with the teacher). There is no resit for the oral presentation.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for announcements, secondary literature, etc.

Reading list

Students are expected to have:

  • D.R. Shackleton Bailey (ed.) (19972) Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, De bello civili libri X. Teubner, Stuttgart;
    and to read the entire poem in translation (Dutch or English):

  • S.H. Braund (1992) Lucan Civil War. OUP, Oxford;

  • P.H. Schrijvers (2013) Lucanus: Burgeroorlog. Athenaeum, Amsterdam.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs


Dr. J. Soerink


Students are advised to read the poem in translation before the start of the semester.