QUIDQUID HOMO EST: MILITARY MANLINESS IN LUCAN’S CIVIL WAR

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Abstract

This article will discuss the Roman poet Lucan’s description, ‘everything a man is’ [quidquid homo est, Luc. 9.779], in his epic, Civil War. I will read selections from the Latin literature and incorporate discussions of masculinity across the disciplines of Classics and military theory to explore the embodiment of masculinity in relation to the Roman soldierly body.
Lucan’s unfinished and infamously violent narrative of Julius Caesar’s clash against the Republic features both the words homo (man/human, from Greek) and vir (man/hero). Where the former word tallies more closely with our understanding of homo sapiens, the latter is more common in Latin and fundamentally signifies strength, heroism and Roman manliness, underpinning qualities crucial to masculinity in Rome’s ‘military state’. The soldier’s comportment ‘stressed masculinity and a “tense” bodily stance resistant to weakening influences, a description which allows comparison with today’s gender debates, specifically the dynamic productive relation between defence institutions and masculine ideals.
During a graphic encounter with poisonous snakes, Lucan states, ‘the profane nature of the toxin lays bare everything a man is’ (9.779), implying that a male body in Bellum Civile comprises merely parts, guts and gore. In contrast, the centurion Scaeva is lauded as an exemplary vir (6.144ff.) even when his wounds render him with no insides left to be struck. Analysis of selected instances of vir or homo in Lucan’s poetry therefore helps to elucidate this conceptualisation of Roman ‘manliness’ as an em- or dis-embodied phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalHARTS & Minds
Volume3
Issue number2
Early online date1 Dec 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Dec 2017

Keywords

  • masculinity
  • bodies
  • Latin literature
  • Lucan
  • warfare
  • soldier

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