Department or Program

Classical Studies

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Raymond Starr


For a people with fierce nostalgia for republican governance, Roman authors were astonishingly negative about the common people who once gathered together to serve as their legislature and their army. This paper explores the relationships between civil war generals and their troops in Lucan’s Bellum civile, an Imperial historical epic that deals with the wars between Julius Caesar and Pompey in the late 40s BCE, with the traditional Roman scorn for crowds in mind. Specifically, the paper looks at moments of potential mutiny against each major general in the poem and how Lucan uses these moments to characterize the moral qualities of each general, investigate the psyche of the common soldier, and deliberate on the meaning of civil war. The common soldiers have the power to change the tide of events if they stand together, but any crowd is also made up of individuals whom Lucan wishes would think for themselves and recognize the immorality of their behavior – an act that could undermine the commander for each individual but would make them lose their collective power. Ultimately, though there are four major potentially mutinous situations throughout the poem, Caesar’s great mutiny against Roma – the civil war itself – is the only one that succeeds. Unlike many Classical historical texts, in Lucan’s poem it is not the mob that is the enemy but the one man, and thus the poet can lament the fact that the common soldiers fail to use their power rather than fear the fact that they could.