Marcus Annaeus Lucanus

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Bust of the Roman poet Lucan, Córdoba, Spain

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.



› English quotations are taken from the translation by J. D. Duff, Lucan (London: Heinemann, 1962)
› Some of the English quotations are taken from the translation by Sir Edward Ridley (Longmans, Green, and Co., London, 1896)

  • 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.
  • Stat magni nominis umbra.
    • The mere shadow of a mighty name he stood.
    • Of Pompey the Great.
    • Variant translations:
      • There stands the shade of a great name.
      • There stands the ghost of a great name.
    • Book I, line 135.
  • 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.
  • Leges bello siluere coactae.
    • But silenced now
      Are laws in war.
    • Book I, line 277 (translated by Sir Edward Ridley).
  • Nec sibi sed toti genitum se credere mundo.
    • His all, as not for self
      Brought into being, but for all the world:
      Such was his creed.
    • Book II, line 383 (translated by Sir Edward Ridley).
  • 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.
  • Discite, quam parvo liceat producere vitam,
    Et quantum natura petat.
    • Learn what life requires,
      How little nature needs!
      • Book IV, lines 377-378; translation by Sir Edward Ridley
  • ...Datos, ne quisquam seruiat, enses.
    • ...The sword
      Was given for this, that none need live a slave.
    • Book IV, line 579 (translated by Sir Edward Ridley).
  • Quidquid multis peccatur inultum est.
    • The sin of thousands always goes unpunished.
    • Book V, line 260.
  • Quod defles, illud amasti
    • What you cry for, that you have loved.
    • Book VII, line 85
  • Multos in summa pericula misit
    venturi timor ipse mali.
    • But many are driven to utmost peril by the mere dread of coming danger.
    • Book VII, line 104.
  • 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.
    • Book VII, line 252 (translated by Sir Edward 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 (translated by Sir Edward Ridley).
  • ...Coniunx
    est mihi, sunt nati; dedimus tot pignora fatis.
    • I have a wife, I have sons; all these hostages have I given to fortune.
    • Variant translation: I have a wife, I have sons: we have given so many hostages to the fates.
    • Book VII, line 661.
  • Jupiter est quodcumque vides, quocumque moveris.
    • Jupiter is whatever you see, whichever way you move.
    • Book IX, line 580.


  • Oh glory of Haemonia, that hast the power to divulge the fates of men, or canst turn aside fate itself from its prescribed course, I pray thee to exercise thy gift in disclosing events to come. Not the meanest of the Roman race am I, the offspring of an illustrious chieftain, lord of the world in the one case, or in the other, the destined heir to my father's calamity. I stand on a tremendous and giffy height; snatch me from this posture of doubt; let me not blindly rush on, and blindly fall; exort this secret from the gods, or force the dead to confess what they know.
  • Ye Furies, and dreadful Styx, ye sufferings of the damned, and Chaos for ever eager to destroy the fair harmony of words, and thou, Pluto, condemned to an eternity of ungrateful existence, Hell and Elysium, of which no Thessalian witch shall partake, Prosperine, for ever cut off from thy health-giving mother, and horrid Hecate, Cerberus, cursed with incessant hunger, ye Destinies, and Charon, endlessly murmuring at the task I impose of bringing back the dead again to the land of the living, hear me! -if I call on you with a voice sufficiently impious and abominable, if I have never sung this chant unsated with human gore, if I have frequently laid on your altars the fruit of the pregnant mother, bathing its contents with the reeking brain if I have placed on a dish before you the head and entrails of an infant on the point to be born-
I ask not of you a ghost, already a tenant of the Tartarian abodes, and long familiarized to the shades below, but one who has recently quitted the light of day, and who yet hovers over the mouth of hell: let him hear these incantations, and immediately after descent to his destined place! Let him articulate suitable omens to the son of his general, having so late been himself a soldier of the great Pompey! Do this, as you love the very sound and rumour of a civil war!
    • Erichtho, Pharsalia as quoted by William Godwin in Lives of the Necromancers pg. 112-113

Quotes about Lucanus[edit]

  • 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
  • He displays the prolific exuberance of a young poet, who had not yet taught himself the multiplied advantages of compression. He had not learned the principle, Relinquere quae desperat tractata nitescere posse.
    • William Godwin Lives of the Necromancers pg. 114

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