The Taste for Nothingness

A Study of Virtus and Related Themes in Lucan's Bellum Civile
R. Sklenar
The author explores the nihilistic view of the cosmos expressed by the poet and relates this perspective to the philosophical system of the Stoics


Lucan, the young and doomed epic poet of the Age of Nero, is represented by only one surviving work: the Bellum Civile, which takes as its theme the civil war that destroyed the Roman Republic. It is an epic unlike any other. Rejecting point by point the aesthetics of Vergil's Aeneid, it describes a society and a cosmos plunged into anarchy. Language is a casualty of this anarchy; all certitudes are lost, including those traditionally attached to the Latin word virtus: heroism on the battlefield, rectitude in the conduct of life. Lucan piteously exposes the inability of these concepts to survive in his nihilistic universe.

In The Taste for Nothingness , Sklenár applies a close-reading methodology to Lucan's Bellum Civile to analyze Lucan's distortions of traditional epic forms. Sklenar's work will not only illuminate many passages of this author for classicists but also capture the attention of comparatists, as he draws fascinating comparisons between Lucan's aesthetics and those of other literary traditions. Medievalists and Renaissance specialists will find The Taste for Nothingness a readable treatment of an ancient author who casts a long shadow over the literature of those eras. Sklenar's work will also intrigue scholars of the nineteenth century decadent tradition, elucidating connections between Lucan's aesthetics and those of the fin-de-siècle tradition. From Sklenár's unique study, an even bolder Lucan emerges: a committed aesthete who regards art as the only realm in which order is possible.

R. Sklenár is Visiting Assistant Professor of Classical Studies at Tulane University.

Praise / Awards

  • ". . . full of fascinating readings of many passages of the Bellum Civile and it is on these grounds that it can most thoroughly be recommended. In particular, the reader who is new to Lucan will find the application of the critical tools which have developed over the last thirty years to large portions of the text very useful."
    Bryn Mawr Classical Review

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 256pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2003
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11310-1

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  • $84.95 U.S.