M. Annaeus Lucanus, Bellum Civile II. 326-371

woman veiled

Marcia, the daughter of L. Marcius Philippus (consul 56 BCE), was born (c. 80 BCE) into one of Rome’s most ancient and revered families, the gens Marcia (see coin of Ancus Marcius). When, after the death of her mother, her father married the widow Atia maior in 59 BCE, Marcia became the stepsister of Octavia and Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus). Marcia was more than a worthy match for M. Porcius Cato; fifteen years his junior, she became his second wife sometime before 61 BCE. After five years of marriage, during which she bore him three children, Cato, in consultation with Marcia’s father Philippus, divorced his wife in order that his friend, the famous orator Q. Hortensius Hortalus, a man thirty-five years her senior, could marry her. While Julius Caesar questioned Cato's motives, it is said Cato acted out of consideration for Hortensius' situation as a wealthy widower without a male heir (Hortensia is thought to have been his daughter by his wife Lutatia). Marcia, out of wifely fidelity and obedience, consented to this highly controversial arrangement, but it is worth noting that Cato obtained the approval of her father first. Marcia fully experiences the impact of the looming internecine struggle between Caesar and Pompey on the fragile stability of both public and private life in late Republican Rome. At this moment of intense uncertainty for the house of Cato, aligned as he was on the side of Pompey, and more generally for Rome, Lucan explores the themes of civil war and chaos through a deft conflation of the rites and rituals of marriage and funeral. The first half of this passage (326-349) alludes to Hortensius' funeral rites and contains Marcia's poignant petition to Cato for the renewal of her status as his wife; the second half (350-371) describes the bittersweet nuptials, a grimly foreboding perversion of the traditional marriage ceremony. Marcia lived on as an exemplum of marital fidelity and wifely obedience, first in the exercises produced in the rhetorical schools (see Quintilian, Institutiones 3.5.11, 13; 10.5.13) and then in the writings of the early Church Fathers (see Tertullian, Apologeticum 39.12-13). An epic poem, the Bellum civile is written in dactylic hexameter. For further interpretation of this passage (including its relationship to another “Marcia” episode in Silius Italicus, Punica 6.415-451 and 497-520), see Henriette Harich, “Catonis Marcia: Stoisches Kolorit eines Frauenportraits bei Lucan (II 326-350),” Gymnasium 97 (1990), 212-223.

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    Interea Phoebo gelidas pellente tenebras

    pulsatae sonuere fores, quas sancta relicto

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    Hortensi maerens irrupit Marcia busto.

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    quondam virgo toris melioris iuncta mariti,

330 mox, ubi conubii pretium mercesque soluta est

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    tertia iam suboles, alios fecunda penates

    impletura datur geminas et sanguine matris

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    permixtura domos; sed, postquam condidit urna

    supremos cineres, miserando concita vultu,

335 effusas laniata comas contusaque pectus

    verberibus crebris cineresque ingesta sepulchri,

    non aliter placitura viro, sic maesta profatur:

    “dum sanguis inerat, dum vis materna, peregi

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    iussa, Cato, et geminos excepi feta maritos:

340 visceribus lassis partuque exhausta revertor

    iam nulli tradenda viro. da foedera prisci

    illibata tori, da tantum nomen inane

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    conubii; liceat tumulo scripsisse ‘Catonis

    Marcia’, nec dubium longo quaeratur in aevo

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345 mutarim primas expulsa an tradita taedas.

    non me laetorum sociam rebusque secundis

    accipis: in curas venio partemque laborum.

    da mihi castra sequi: cur tuta in pace relinquar

    et sit civili propior Cornelia bello?”

350 Hae flexere virum voces, et, tempora quamquam

    sint aliena toris iam fato in bella vocante,

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    foedera sola tamen vanaque carentia pompa

    iura placent sacrisque deos admittere testes.

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    festa coronato non pendent limine serta,

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355 infulaque in geminos discurrit candida postes,

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    legitimaeque faces, gradibusque acclinis eburnis

    stat torus et picto vestes discriminat auro,

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    turritaque premens frontem matrona corona

    translata vitat contingere limina planta;

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360 non timidum nuptae leviter tectura pudorem

    lutea demissos velarunt flammea vultus,

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    balteus aut fluxos gemmis astrinxit amictus,

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    colla monile decens, umerisque haerentia primis

    suppara nudatos cingunt angusta lacertos.

365 sicut erat, maesti servat lugubria cultus

    quoque modo natos hoc est amplexa maritum.

    obsita funerea celatur purpura lana.

    non soliti lusere sales, nec more Sabino

    excepit tristis convicia festa maritus.

370 pignora nulla domum, nulli coiere propinqui:

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    iunguntur taciti contentique auspice Bruto.

   

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