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Victrix causa deis placuit sed victa Catoni.

If the victor had the gods on his side, the vanquished had Cato.

Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (November 3, 39April 30, 65), better known in English as Lucan, was a Roman epic poet. In A.D. 65, at the age of 25, he was charged with treason against Nero, and was commanded to commit suicide.

Despite his short life, Lucan is regarded as one of the outstanding figures of the Imperial Latin period. His youth and speed of composition set him apart from other poets. His epic poem Bellum Civile (or Pharsalia) deals with the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey.


The purpose of the sword is to save every man from slavery.
English quotations from translations by Brian Walters (Hackett Publishing, 2015), Matthew Fox (Penguin Classics, 2012), Susan H. Braund (Oxford World's Classics, 2008), Jane Wilson Joyce (Cornell University Press, 1993), J. D. Duff (London: 1928), Sir Edward Ridley (London: 1896) and Christopher Marlowe (London: 1600). See also Nicholas Rowe's translation (1718).
  • quam civilia.
    • Wars worse than civil.
    • Book I, line 1 (tr. Christopher Marlowe).
  • Iusque datum sceleri.
    • Legality conferred on crime.
    • Book I, line 2 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Nulli penitus descendere ferro
    contigit; alta sedent civilis volnera dextrae.
    • No—foreign swords could never pierce so deeply.
      The deadliest wounds are dealt by citizen hands.
    • Book I, line 31 (tr. Brian Walters).
  • Invida fatorum series summisque negatum
    stare diu nimioque graves sub pondere lapsus
    nec se Roma ferens.
    • It was the chain of jealous fate, and the speedy fall which no eminence can escape; it was the grievous collapse of excessive weight, and Rome unable to support her own greatness.
    • Book I, line 70 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • In se magna ruunt: laetis hunc numina rebus
    crescendi posuere modum.
    • Great things come crashing down upon themselves – such is the limit of growth ordained by heaven for success.
    • Book I, line 81 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Nulla fides regni sociis, omnisque potestas
    inpatiens consortis erit.
    • There will be no loyalty between associates in tyranny
      and no power will tolerate a partner.
    • Book I, line 92 (tr. Susan H. Braund).
  • Concordia discors.
    • Discordant concord.
    • Book I, line 98 (tr. Matthew Fox).
  • Quis iustius induit arma
    scire nefas: magno se iudice quisque tuetur;
    Victrix causa deis placuit sed victa Catoni.
    • Which had the fairer pretext for warfare, we may not know: each has high authority to support him; for, if the victor had the gods on his side, the vanquished had Cato.
    • Book I, line 128 (tr. J. D. Duff).
    • Tho. Hobbes's translation:
      The side that won the Gods approved most,
      But Cato better lik'd the side that lost.
    • Jane Wilson Joyce's translation:
      The conquering cause pleased the gods, but the conquered pleased Cato.
  • Stat magni nominis umbra.
    • The mere shadow of a mighty name he stood.
    • Book I, line 135 (tr. J. D. Duff); of Pompey the Great.
  • Sed non in Caesare tantum
    nomen erat nec fama ducis, sed nescia virtus
    stare loco, solusque pudor non vincere bello.
    • But Caesar had more than a mere name and military reputation: his energy could never rest, and his one disgrace was to conquer without war.
    • Book I, line 143 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Fecunda virorum
    paupertas fugitur totoque accersitur orbe
    quo gens quaeque perit.
    • Poverty was scorned,
      Fruitful of warriors; and from all the world
      Came that which ruins nations.
    • Book I, line 165 (tr. Edward Ridley).
  • Mensuraque juris
    vis erat.
    • Might became the standard of right.
    • Book I, line 175 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Postquam leges bello siluere coactae
    pellimur e patriis laribus patimurque volentes
    • But silenced now are laws in war: we driven from our homes; yet is our exile willing.
    • Book I, line 277 (tr. E. Ridley).
  • Tolle moras: semper nocuit differre paratis.
    • Make haste; delay is ever fatal to those who are prepared.
    • Book I, line 281 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Arma tenenti
    omnia dat, qui justa negat.
    • He who denies his due to the strong man armed grants him everything.
    • Book I, line 348 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Vos quoque qui fortes animas, belloque peremptas
    Laudibus in longum vates dimittitis aevum,
    Plurima securi fudistis carmina, Bardi.
    • The Bards also, who by the praises of their verse transmit to distant ages the fame of heroes slain in battle, poured forth at ease their lays in abundance.
    • Book I, line 447 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Vana quoque ad veros accessit fama timores.
    • Then empty rumour to well-grounded fear gave strength.
    • Book I, line 469 (tr. E. Ridley).
  • Sic quisque pavendo
    dat vires famae, nulloque auctore malorum
    quae finxere timent.
    • Thus each by his fears adds strength to rumour, and all dread the unconfirmed dangers invented by themselves.
    • Book I, line 484 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • O faciles dare summa deos eademque tueri
    • How ready are the gods to grant supremacy to men, and how unready to maintain it!
    • Book I, line 510 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Sit caeca futuri
    mens hominum fati; liceat sperare timenti.
    • Let the mind of man be blind to coming doom; he fears, but leave him hope.
    • Book II, line 14 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Sed quo fata trahunt virtus secura sequetur.
    Crimen erit superis et me fecisse nocentem.
    • But Virtue will follow fearless wherever destiny summons her. It will be a reproach to the gods, that they have made even me guilty.
    • Book II, line 287 (tr. J. D. Duff).
Such was the character, such the inflexible rule of austere Cato – to observe moderation and hold fast to the limit, to follow nature, to give his life for his country, to believe that he was born to serve the whole world and not himself.
  • Hi mores, haec duri inmota Catonis
    secta fuit, servare modum finemque tenere
    naturamque sequi patriaeque inpendere vitam
    nec sibi sed toti genitum se credere mundo.
    • Such was the character, such the inflexible rule of austere Cato – to observe moderation and hold fast to the limit, to follow nature, to give his life for his country, to believe that he was born to serve the whole world and not himself.
    • Book II, line 380 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Non tam portas intrare patentis
    quam fregisse juvat.
    • He would rather burst a city gate than find it open to admit him.
    • Book II, line 443 (tr. J. D. Duff).

Nil actum credens, cum quid superesset agendum.

[Caesar] thought nothing done
while anything remained to do.
  • Sed Caesar in omnia praeceps,
    nil actum credens, cum quid superesset agendum.
    • But Caesar, headlong in all his designs,
      thought nothing done while anything remained to do.
    • Book II, line 656 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Aut nihil est sensus animis a morte relictum
    aut mors ipsa nihil.
    • Either no feeling remains to the soul after death, or death itself matters not at all.
    • Book III, line 39 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Usque adeo solus ferrum mortemque timere
    auri nescit amor.
    • So true it is that love of money alone is incapable of dreading death by the sword.
    • Book III, line 118 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Non sibi sed domino grauis est quae seruit egestas.
    • The hungry slave
      Brings danger to his master, not himself.
    • Book III, line 152 (tr. E. Ridley).
  • Jamque comes semper magnorum prima malorum
    saeva fames aderat.
    • And now cruel famine came – famine that is ever first in the train of great disasters.
    • Book IV, line 93 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Discite, quam parvo liceat producere vitam,
    Et quantum natura petat.
    • Learn what life requires,
      How little nature needs!
    • Book IV, line 377 (tr. E. Ridley).
    • Compare: "But would [men] think with how small allowance / Untroubled nature doth herself suffice", Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, B. I, C. 9, st. 15.
  • Vita brevis nulli superest qui tempus in illa
    quaerendae sibi mortis habet.
    • No life is short that gives a man time to slay himself.
    • Book IV, line 478 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Ignorantque datos, ne quisquam seruiat, enses.
    • Men are ignorant that the purpose of the sword is to save every man from slavery.
    • Book IV, line 579 (tr. J. D. Duff).
    • E. Ridley's translation:
      The sword was given for this, that none need live a slave.
  • Audendo magnus tegitur timor.
    • Boldness is a mask for fear, however great.
    • Book IV, line 702 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Nec tantum prodere vati
    quantum scire licet.
    • [She] is not permitted to reveal as much as she is suffered to know.
    • Book V, line 176 (tr. J. D. Duff).
The sin of thousands always goes unpunished.
  • Quidquid multis peccatur inultum est.
    • The sin of thousands always goes unpunished.
    • Book V, line 260 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Facinus quos inquinat aequat.
    • Crime levels those whom it pollutes.
    • Book V, line 290 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • O vitae tuta facultas
    pauperis angustique lares! o munera nondum
    intellecta deum!
    • How safe and easy the poor man's life and his humble dwelling! How blind men still are to Heaven's gifts!
    • Book V, line 527 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Cum tot in hac anima populorum vita salusque
    pendeat et tantus caput hoc sibi fecerit orbis,
    saevitia est voluisse mori.
    • When the existence and safety of so many nations depend upon your single life, and so large a part of the world has chosen you for its head, it is cruel of you to court death.
    • Book V, line 685 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • A prima descendit origine mundi
    causarum series.
    • The chain of causes comes down from the creation of the world.
    • Book VI, line 611 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Multos in summa pericula misit
    venturi timor ipse mali. Fortissimus ille est
    qui, promptus metuenda pati, si comminus instent,
    et differre potest.
    • But many are driven to utmost peril by the mere dread of coming danger. He is truly brave, who is both quick to endure the ordeal, if it be close and pressing, and willing also to let it wait.
    • Book VII, line 104 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Nil opus est uotis, iam fatum accersite ferro.
    in manibus uestris, quantus sit Caesar, habetis.
    • Prayed for so oft, the dawn of fight is come.
      No more entreat the gods: with sword in hand
      Seize on our fates; and Caesar in your deeds
      This day is great or little.
    • Book VII, line 252 (tr. E. Ridley).
  • Et primo ferri motu prosternite mundum;
    sitque palam, quas tot duxit Pompeius in urbem
    curribus, unius gentes non esse triumphi.
    • One stroke of sword and all the world is yours.
      Make plain to all men that the crowds who decked
      Pompeius' hundred pageants scarce were fit
      For one poor triumph.
    • Book VII, line 278 (tr. E. Ridley).
I have a wife, I have sons; all these hostages have I given to fortune.
  • Libertas ultima mundi
    quo steterit ferienda loco.
    • The vulnerable points of Liberty now making her last stand on earth.
    • Book VII, line 580 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Plus est quam vita salusque
    quod perit: in totum mundi prosternimur aevum.
    • More was lost there than mere life and existence: we were overthrown for all time to come.
    • Book VII, line 639 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Coniunx
    est mihi, sunt nati; dedimus tot pignora fatis.
    • I have a wife, I have sons; all these hostages have I given to fortune.
    • Book VII, line 661 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Libera fortunae mors est; capit omnia tellus
    quae genuit; caelo tegitur qui non habet urnam.
    • The dead are free from Fortune; Mother Earth has room for all her children, and he who lacks an urn has the sky to cover him.
    • Book VII, line 818 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Vivit post proelia Magnus
    sed fortuna perit.
    • Pompey lives after his battles, but his fortune has perished.
    • Book VIII, line 84.
  • Quod defles, illud amasti.
    • That which you weep for is what you really loved.
    • Book VIII, line 85 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Dat poenas laudata fides, cum sustinet inquit
    quos fortuna premit.
    • We praise loyalty, but it pays the price when it supports those whom Fortune crushes.
    • Book VIII, line 485 (tr. J. D. Duff).
All that we see is God; every motion we make is God also.
  • Exeat aula
    qui volt esse pius. Virtus et summa potestas
    non coeunt; semper metuet quem saeva pudebunt.
    • If a man would be righteous, let him depart from a court. Virtue is incompatible with absolute power. He who is ashamed to commit cruelty must always fear it.
    • Book VIII, line 493 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Clarum et venerabile nomen
    • A name illustrious and revered by nations.
    • Book IX, line 202 (tr. H. T. Riley).
  • Scire mori sors prima viris, sed proxima cogi.
    • Best gift of all
      The knowledge how to die; next, death compelled.
    • Book IX, line 211 (tr. E. Ridley).
  • Serpens, sitis, ardor harenae
    dulcia virtuti; gaudet patientia duris;
    laetius est, quotiens magno sibi constat, honestum.
    • Serpents, thirst, burning-sand – all are welcomed by the brave; endurance finds pleasure in hardship; virtue rejoices when it pays dear for its existence.
    • Book IX, line 402 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Estque dei sedes nisi terra et pontus et aer
    et caelum et virtus? superos quid quaerimus ultra?
    Jupiter est quodcumque vides, quocumque moveris.
    • Has he any dwelling-place save earth and sea, the air of heaven and virtuous hearts? Why seek we further for deities? All that we see is God; every motion we make is God also.
    • Book IX, line 578 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Si veris magna paratur
    fama bonis et si successu nuda remoto
    inspicitur virtus, quidquid laudamus in ullo
    maiorum, fortuna fuit.
    • If great renown is won by true merit, and if virtue is considered in itself and apart from success, then all that we praise in any of our ancestors was Fortune's gift.
    • Book IX, line 593 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Ecce parens verus patriae.
    • Behold the true father of his country.
    • Book IX, line 601 (tr. J. D. Duff).
You have taken from me the one privilege of civil war – the power of granting life to the defeated.
  • Etiam periere ruinae.
    • The very ruins have been destroyed.
    • Book IX, line 969 (tr. J. D. Duff).
  • Unica belli
    praemia civilis, victis donare salutem,
    • You have taken from me the one privilege of civil war – the power of granting life to the defeated.
    • Book IX, line 1066 (tr. J. D. Duff).

Quotes about Lucan

When I consider that Lucan died at twenty-six, I cannot help ranking him among the most extraordinary men that ever lived. ~ Thomas Babington Macaulay
Lucan is fiery and passionate and remarkable for the grandeur of his general reflexions, but, to be frank, I consider that he is more suitable for imitation by the orator than by the poet. ~ Quintilian
  • Lucan is the most philosophical and the most public-spirited poet of all antiquity.
    • Hugh Blair, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1784), Lecture XLIV: 'The Pharsalia of Lucan', p. 413
  • The Pharsalia is not sufficiently appreciated—though harsh and irregular I consider it an epic poem of great merit which read on classic ground is by no means uninteresting.
    • Lord Byron, note in his copy of Lucan, as quoted in Ancilla to Classical Reading (1999) by Moses Hadas, p. 355
  • No reasonable judgment can rank Lucan among the world's great epic poets. He does not tell his story well: the successive episodes are neither skilfully connected nor well proportioned. His frequent digressions are often irrelevant and much too long. His geographical descriptions are obscure and wearisome. His account of military operations is hard to follow: he is concise where detail is needed and dwells at length on trivial or irrelevant matters. To him the narrative is of secondary importance: his interest lies elsewhere; the words said matter more in his view than the things done. His power and force are undeniable; but he lacks the chief gifts that a great epic poet must possess. He ventured on one innovation which seemed bold to his contemporaries. He discarded all that supernatural machinery which Virgil had taken over from Homer. The gods play no part in the action; Venus never comes down from Olympus to protect Caesar, her descendant. The later epic poets did not follow Lucan's example in this matter; but there is no doubt that he was right. He was dealing with Roman history and with fairly recent events; and the introduction of the gods as actors must have been grotesque. [...] The truth is, that Lucan is not a poet in the sense in which Lucretius and Virgil are poets; he is read, not for any poetical quality but for his rhetorical invective and his pungent epigrams. His diction and rhythm are monotonous: he makes no attempt to imitate the elaborate harmonies of Virgil. It appears that his purpose is less to charm his readers than to startle them and make their flesh creep; and with this object he has constant recourse to extravagant exaggeration or repulsive detail. Whether he would have written better if he had lived longer we cannot tell; but, for all his faults, he won a high reputation among his own countrymen; and Statius and Martial, writing long after his death, do not scruple to name him as the writer of Latin epic poetry who comes nearest to Virgil.
  • When Lucan's age is considered, it is impossible not to allow that the poem is a very extraordinary one: more extraordinary, perhaps, than if it had been of a higher kind; for it is more common for the imagination to be in full vigor at an early time of life than for a young man to obtain a complete mastery of political and philosophical rhetoric. I know no declamation in the world, not even Cicero's best, which equals some passages in the Pharsalia. As to what were meant for bold poetical flights,—the sea-fight at Marseilles, the Centurion who is covered with wounds, the snakes in the Libyan desert,—it is all as detestable as Cibber's Birthday Odes. The furious partiality of Lucan takes away much of the pleasure which his talents would otherwise afford. A poet who is, as has often been said, less a poet than a historian, should to a certain degree conform to the laws of history. The manner in which he represents the two parties is not to be reconciled with the laws even of fiction. The senators are demigods; Pompey, a pure lover of his country; Cato, the abstract idea of virtue; while Caesar, the finest gentleman, the most humane conqueror, and the most popular politician that Rome ever produced, is a bloodthirsty ogre. If Lucan had lived, he would probably have improved greatly.
    • Thomas Babington Macaulay, remarks (30 August 1835) at the end of his copy of the Pharsalia, as reported in The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, Vol. I (1876), p. 459
  • When I consider that Lucan died at twenty-six, I cannot help ranking him among the most extraordinary men that ever lived.
  • Lucanus ardens et concitatus et sententiis clarissimus et, ut dicam quod sentio, magis oratoribus quam poetis imitandus.
    • Lucan is fiery and passionate and remarkable for the grandeur of his general reflexions, but, to be frank, I consider that he is more suitable for imitation by the orator than by the poet.
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria (c. 95 AD), X, i, 90 (tr. H. E. Butler)
  • I have also read the four first books of Lucan's Pharsalia, a poem as it appears to me of wonderful genius and transcending Virgil.
  • Exim Annaei Lucani caedem imperat is profluente sanguine ubi frigescere pedes manusque et paulatim ab extremis cedere spiritum fervido adhuc et compote mentis pectore intellegit, recordatus carmen a se compositum, quo vulneratum militem per eius modi mortis imaginem obisse tradiderat, versus ipsos rettulit, eaque illi suprema vox fuit.
    • Next [Nero] ordered the destruction of Marcus Annæus Lucanus. As the blood flowed freely from him, and he felt a chill creeping through his feet and hands, and the life gradually ebbing from his extremities, though the heart was still warm and he retained his mental power, Lucanus recalled some poetry he had composed in which he had told the story of a wounded soldier dying a similar kind of death, and he recited the very lines. These were his last words.
    • Tacitus, Annals 15.70 (tr. A. J. Church and W. J. Brodribb)
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