Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Carin M. Green
This dissertation provides a new examination of the figure of Cato within Lucan's epic poem Bellum Civile by focusing on the theme of memory within the epic and its interaction with Cato's character specifically. It argues that one may read the epic as possessing the rhetorical function of a literary funeral monumentum, the purpose of which is to retell the death of Rome in the Roman Civil War, mourn its passing, and yet in so doing simultaneously preserve its memory so that future generations may remember the liberty Rome once possessed and may be influenced by that memory to action. In this reading, the epic itself--like Cato within the epic--offers a counter-memory of what the civil wars meant to Rome in competition with that promoted by Caesar and his descendants.
This study centers upon the speech of Cato found in Book 2 in which Cato states his two major goals for participation in the civil war: successfully commemorate a perishing Roma et Libertas and transform his own defeat into a self-sacrifice that is beneficial to his fellow Romans. The opening chapters place Cato's speech into its larger context by arguing that it is an integral part of a narrative arc spanning most of the first two books. The image of national suicide within the epic's proem reveals that gaining victory in civil war is what assures self-defeat. This economy of universal defeat pervades Lucan's epic and stands as the greatest threat facing Cato in the successful achievement of his goals. Lucan also shows that the very nature of civil war poses a threat to the viability of memory, as evidenced by scenes in which Roman soldiers and citizens forget and abandon the social ties that bind their identity to that of Rome.
Cato's speech illustrates that his chosen weapon against the epic's economy of defeat will be the power of memory. A careful analysis of the speech reveals that Cato's desired goal of enacting a self-sacrifice--a nod to his future suicidal martyrdom at Utica--can transform him into a monumentum of `Old Rome' (the pre-Caesarian Rome that still retained its libertas) which will in turn ensure his second goal of achieving funeral commemoration of what Rome used to be--and could still be again. The closing chapter examines key passages in Book 9 in which the power of memory is explicitly connected with renewal even in the midst of defeat, suggesting that Cato's (and the epic's) mission to preserve memory can be ultimately successful. This reading of Lucan's Cato has the benefit of showing that his success need no longer be based mainly upon whether or not he can be a virtuous sapiens but also upon what he can actually do for future generations of Romans by preserving the powerful memory of a Rome that still possessed her freedom from the Caesars.
2, iv, 223
Copyright 2010 Mark Allen Thorne
Thorne, Mark Allen. "Lucan's Cato, the defeat of victory, the triumph of memory." dissertation, University of Iowa, 2010.