In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Lucan

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • General Overviews
  • Text and Scholia
  • Bibliography
  • Concordance
  • Collections of Papers
  • English Translations
  • Sources
  • Scope
  • Reception

Classics Lucan
Susanna Braund
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0033


Lucan was one of the major successors of Virgil in the genre of Latin epic poetry. In turn, he exercised a strong influence on later European epic and was seen as inspirational to anti-monarchists. Although he was a prolific poet, his epic on the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey, covering the years 49–48 BCE, is his only surviving work. The poem, known as Bellum ciuile (often spelled civile) or the Pharsalia, is a historical epic in the tradition of the early Republican epicists Naevius and Ennius. Lucan’s brief life, culminating in forced suicide, his relationship with the emperor Nero, the incompleteness of his poem (it breaks off at 10.546), and the nature of his republican sympathies still stimulate debate. Lucan quickly garnered admiration (Statius; Martial 1.61, 7.21–23, 10.64; Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 10.1.90). The Bellum ciuile was a school text throughout the medieval period and was early into print (1469).


Marcus Annaeus Lucanus was born in 39 CE at Corduba (modern Córdova), Spain. The rhetorician and historian Seneca the Elder was his grandfather, and the Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger, later tutor to the young Nero, was his uncle. At Rome Lucan received a typical elite education in literature and rhetoric and also studied Stoic philosophy. Nero initially accelerated him to the quaestorship and made him augur; in 60 CELucan performed a panegyric for Nero at the Neronia. Later (according to Tacitus and Vacca) Nero banned him from public recitation of his poetry and from practicing advocacy in the law courts. Early in 65 CELucan joined the so-called Pisonian conspiracy, which planned to replace Nero with Calpurnius Piso, but after the betrayal of the plot he betrayed his accomplices and chose, under duress, to commit suicide, in April 65 CE. Two biographies of Lucan survive, one by Suetonius and the other attributed to Vacca, a 6th-century grammarian; both works are known as Vita Lucani, usefully collected in Haskins 1887. The biographies agree on many points. Statius, in a poem addressed to his widow Polla ( Silvae 2.7), sketches his life and works, while Tacitus in Annals 15 narrates Lucan’s death and the events leading up to it (15.49, 56–57, 70).

  • Haskins, C. E. M. 1887. Annaei Lucani Pharsalia. Introduction by W. E. Heitland. London: George Bell.

    Heitland’s extensive introduction (100 pages) provides many of the ancient testimonia: Suetonius, Vacca, and Statius, as well as passages from Martial, Tacitus, Petronius, and Fronto.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.