'Stat Magni Nominis Umbra.' Lucan on the Greatness of Pompeius Magnus

Classical Quarterly 36 (01):239- (1986)

At the age of twenty-five, Gn. Pompeius acquired the spectacular cognomen of Magnus. According to Plutarch , the name came either from the acclamation of his army in Africa, or at the instigation of Sulla. According to Livy, the practice began from the toadying of Pompeius' circle . The cognomen invited play. At the Ludi Apollinares of July 59, Cicero tells us, the actor Diphilus won ‘a dozen encores’ when he pronounced, from a lost tragedy, the line ‘nostra miseria tu es magnus’. Four or five years later Catullus scored a fine hit, filching Pompeius' cognomen and giving it to his zealously competitive father-in-law: ‘Caesaris uisens monimenta magni’ . In Lucan's Bellum Civile such plays on the cognomen are elevated into something of considerable power, testifying to a consistent controlling design, of the sort which many still deny the poem. When Pompeius first appears he is compared with Caesar, to his detriment: ‘nec coiere pares’ . So much for Pompeius' vaunted intolerance of an equal, of which we have just been reminded: ‘nec quemquam iam ferre potest Caesarue priorem | Pompeiusue parem’ . Many of the images in this introductory section have a programmatic power, and will recur. With ‘nec coiere pares’ Lucan presents the two as an ill-matched pair of gladiators. The metaphor is ubiquitous. Note, in particular, 5.1–3, and 6.3, ‘parque suum uidere dei’. We are further told that Pompeius seeks ‘fama’, is a ‘popularis’, indulges the people, basks in the applause he receives from the mob in his theatre: ‘famaeque petitor | multa dare in uolgus, totus popularibus auris | impelli plausuque sui gaudere theatri’ . We will return later to this complex of ideas
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DOI 10.1017/S0009838800010685
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Lucan as "Vates".Dolores O'Higgins - 1988 - Classical Antiquity 7 (2):208-226.

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