In book 6 of Lucan’s Civil War, Sextus Pompey attempts to foresee the result of the final battle between Caesar and Pompey the Great by consulting the necromancer Erictho. With the notable exceptions of Clauser and Masters, the scholarly opinion on Erictho is that she is the most powerful witch in the ancient world, capable of new and powerful arts that surpass the magical prowess of witches like Medea and Circe. There is much evidence in the text that Erictho is meant to be read as a powerful figure, but perhaps Lucan lingers on Erictho’s “power” to trick the reader into giving Erictho legitimacy as a necromancer. I will argue that Lucan dwells on the power and accomplishments of Erictho, supplemented by the intertexts with Ovid’s Medea of book 7 of the Metamorphoses, in order to make Erictho seem like a credible, realistic figure.
When the prophecy, which was supposed to reveal everything that the other prophecies up to this point had kept shrouded, fails, it acts as a social commentary on the power of prophecy. Lucan uses the intertextual associations with Medea to create the illusion of power and give Erictho’s actions credibility; however, ultimately Erictho’s prophecy, like any other prophecy, fails to offer any meaningful information. Lucan’s grotesque description of Erictho’s power, coupled with the associations with Thessalian witches and magical objects, keeps the readers thinking that this ritual will be successful and that Erictho’s power is genuine, yet ultimately the ritual proves to be in vain.
Phillip Gallagher, ’11
Majors: Classical Studies, Biology
Sponsor: John Gruber-Miller