Book Review by Melvadius
In preparing this new translation Matthew Fox has been ably assisted by his collaborator Ethan Adams. Together they have taken one of the classics of Roman literature and given it both a modern translation and extensive supplementary material which complement and expand on that available through existing works. It should also interest anyone wishing to learn more about two of the pivotal periods in Roman history; firstly the Civil War between Pompey and Caear during the late Republic and secondly the tensions found in the Court of Nero in the early Principate.
I therefore say two periods advisedly since Lucan wrote his retrospective view of the events of the Civil War between Caesar and Pompey during the time of Nero. Events of Lucan's own time, including his untimely forced suicide at Nero's orders, are reflected in how he wrote about the earlier events.
The forward to the book is the first area where this work rises above many others since it consists of an extensive Introduction and Notes section by the translators which provides the historical context and background to Lucan's work. Included in this are several key areas in which Lucan’s Civil War differs both from other poetry of the period and provides an often contradictory emphasis to that placed by Caesar on the same events.
The Suggestions for further reading should prove useful for students seeking to research further. While the Notes on the Text and Translation provides explanations for the choices made by the translators in undertaking this work. They also explain several of the peculiarities of the Latin dactylic hexameter verse form for the uninitiated.
The heart of the book, which follows the introductory text, is Fox’s free verse translation of the ten books of Lucan’s Civil War. At over 300 pages, it is complimented by a 13 page Appendix containing Adams translation of The Civil War of Eumolpus from Petronius, Satyricon 118-24. The satirical content of the later provides a counterbalance and useful comparison to the intent which can be read into Lucan’s work. Fox is to be commended that while it is not in the dactylic hexameter poetry style of the Lucan’s Latin text he has still managed to replicate or at least indicate some of the underlying word plays and poetic effects found in the original.
The final Notes section of the translations are extensive and the second area which students will find well worth reading. Over 10 pages are devoted to key phrases within the Civil War with another 4 relating to those found in the Satyricon extract. The Notes provide a wide range of what I found extremely useful supplementary information explaining not just the historical and mythological references but also the allusions to Greek and Roman literary traditions.
The book is rounded off with a 30 page glossary providing both explanations for key words and people listed as well as an index reference to where each term can be found in the text of the translation.
This review does not do full justice to an extremely well researched work. Ultimately I can see it becoming a sought after addition to any researchers’ library. I can also see it becoming a standard school or college literary reference when teaching these pivotal periods in Roman history. Overall it is a fine addition to the Penguins Classics series.