translation and notes by the honored S. H. Braund
Notes follow translation and are organized by line numbers. Lines that have explanatory notes have the line number in brackets at the end of the line.
SELECTIONS FROM BOOK SIX: lines 413-437, 507-588, 685-718, 776-end
When the leaders had pitched their camps in this land [413-506]
doomed by the Fates, each mind is troubled by a sense
of future war, and it is clear that the hideous hour of greatest
crisis is approaching, that now the Fates draw ever nearer.
Base spirits tremble, pondering the worst;
a few fortify themselves ahead and rehearse both hope and fear
to face uncertainty. But mingled with the timid
multitude was Sextus, a son unworthy of his parent Magnus.  420
who later, prowling as an exile in Scylla's waves, [421-22]
as a Sicilian pirate stained his father's triumphs at sea.
Fear goaded him to know ahead of time Fate's course:
impatient of delay and sick at heart at all to come,
he consults not Delos' tripods, not Pythian caves 
nor does he wish to ask what sound Dodona, nurse of humankind 
with earliest fruits, makes from the bronze of Jupiter; 
nor did he ask who knows the Fates from entrails, who explains the birds, who watches
lightning-flashes in the sky and with Assyrian zeal examines stars,
or anything secret yet permitted. He knew about
the mysteries of savage magicians, detested
by the gods above, and altars grim with dreadful rites,
proof of the truth that Dis and ghosts exist; it was clear to the unfortunate
that the gods above know too little. His foolish, cruel frenzy
is fostered by the place itself with cities of Thessalian witches
near the camp: they can be surpassed by no invented horror
of a free imagination; their art is the unbelievable
These rites of wickedness, these crimes of savage race [507-69]
beastly Erichtho had condemned for their excessive holiness
and had applied her filthy skill to unknown rites.
For her it is wrong to rest her deathly head 510
beneath a city's roof or home, so in abandoned tombs she lives
and, driving out the ghosts, is mistress of the graves, the darling
of the gods of Erebus. To hear the meetings of the silent dead,
to know the Stygian homes and mysteries of hidden Dis
is not prevented by the gods or life. The blasphemer's face 
is gaunt and loathsome with decay: unknown to cloudless sky
and terrifying, by Stygian pallor it is tainted,
matted with uncombed hair: if rain and black
clouds obscure the stars, then out comes the Thessalian woman
from bare tombs and catches at night's thunderbolts. 520
She tramples and she scorches up the seeds of fertile corn
and with her breath corrupts the breezes not fatal before.
She does not pray to gods above nor with suppliant chant
ask help of heaven nor does she know of propitiating
entrails: it is her joy to place on altars
funeral flames with incense she has stolen from the kindled pyre.
The gods above grant every wickedness to her at her first
utterance of prayer: they dread to hear a second spell.
Souls living, still in charge of their own limbs,
she has buried in the tomb and, while the Fates yet owe them years 530
unwillingly death steals on; funerals she has brought back from the grave,
reversing the procession; corpses have escaped from death.
Smoking ashes of the young and blazing bones
she grabs from the middle of the pyre and even the torch [534-35]
held by the parents; she gathers fragments of the funeral
bier which fly about in black smoke, and clothes
crumbling into cinders, and ashes with the smell of limbs.
But when dead bodies are preserved in stone, which draws the inmost 
moisture off, and once the marrow's fluid is absorbed and they grow hard,
then greedily she vents her rage on the entire corpse: 540
she sinks her hands into the eyes, she gleefully digs out
the cold eyeballs and gnaws the pallid nails 
on withered hand. With her own mouth has she burst
the noose and knots of the criminal, mangled bodies as they hung,
scraped clean the crosses, torn at guts beaten 
by the rains, at marrows exposed and baked by the sun.
She has stolen the iron driven into hands, the black and putrid
liquid trickling through the limbs and the congealed slime
and, if muscle resisted her bite, she has tugged with all her weight.
And if any corpse lies on the naked earth, she camps 550
before the beasts and birds come; she does not want to tear
the limbs with knife or her own hands, but awaits
the bites of wolves, to grab the bodies from their dry throats.
Nor do her hands refrain from murder, if she needs
some living blood which first bursts out when throat is slit 555
and if her funeral feast demands still-quivering organs. 557
So through a wound in the belly, not nature's exit,
the foetus is extracted to be put on burning altars.
And whenever she has need of cruel, determined spirits, 560
herself she creates ghosts. Every human death is to her advantage.
She plucks from young men's faces the bloom of cheek
and from a dying boy cuts off a lock of hair with her left hand.
Often, even at a kinsman's funeral, the hideous Thessalian
bends over well-loved limbs and, while planting kisses, mutilates
the head and with her teeth she opens up the tight-closed
mouth and, biting off the tip of tongue which sticks
to parched throat, pours mumbles into icy lips
and sends a secret outrage to the Stygian shades.
When local rumour revealed her to Pompey, in the sky's [570-88] 570
deep night - the time when Titan ushers in
midday beneath our earth - through deserted fields
he picks his way. His usual, loyal aides in wickedness
roamed round the broken-open graves and tombs
and spotted her, sitting far away on a precipitous crag
where Haemus slopes down, stretching out Pharsalian ridges.
She was trying out words unknown to wizards and the gods
of wizardry and shaping a spell for novel purposes.
Because she feared that wandering war might pass into another
sphere and the Emathian land lose such abundant bloodshed, 580
the witch forbade Philippi -- defiled by spells
and by dreadful juices spattered -- to shift the warfare,
soon to claim for herself so many deaths, soon to enjoy
the world's blood; she hopes to mangle corpses of slain
kings, to steal the ashes of the Hesperian race
and bones of noblemen and to acquire such mighty shades.
This is her passion and her sole concern: what can she grab from Magnus'
outstretched body? on which of Caesar's limbs swoop down? 588
Last comes her voice, bewitching the gods of Lethe [685-718] 685
more potently than any drug, first composed of jumbled noises,
jarring, utterly discordant with human speech:
the bark of dogs and howl of wolves,
the owl's cry of alarm, the screech-owl's night-time moan,
the wild beasts' shriek and wail, the serpent's hiss; 690
it utters too the beating of the cliff-smashed wave,
the sound of forests, and the thunderings of the fissured cloud;
of so many noises was one voice the source. Then she speaks
in Haemonian incantation and pierces Tartarus with utterance thus:
'I invoke the Eumenides, Hell's horror, and the Avengers; 
I invoke Chaos, eager to disorder countless worlds; 
I invoke the ruler of the earth, tormented for long future ages 
by the drawn-out death of the gods; I invoke the Styx, and the Elysian fields
no witch of Thessaly may reach; I invoke Persephone, loathing sky
and mother; and the lowest form of our Hecate, through whom  700
the shades and I in silent utterance may commune;
I invoke the porter of the wide abode, who tosses human entrails
to the savage hound; I invoke the Sisters soon to spin a second thread
of life, and you, a ferryman of the blazing water, 
old man already tired out by shades returning to me:
heed my prayers. Do I summon you with mouth sufficiently
abominable and polluted? Do I ever chant these spells
without consuming human entrails? How many times have I cut out
breasts filled by deity and washed them with warm brains?
Are there no babes, about to enter life, who laid 710
their head and heart upon your dishes? Then obey my prayer.
A soul I ask for, not one lying hid in the cave of Tartarus
and long accustomed to the darkness, but a soul on its way down,
life's light just fled, a soul still hesitating at the door
to pallid Orcus' chasm, a soul which, though he drain these drugs, 
will join the dead once only. Let the ghost of a soldier with us 
recently foretell all Pompey's future to the leader's son,
if civil wars have earned your gratitude.'
lines 776 to end of book six
With flowing tears the mournful corpse [776-820]
said 'Recalled from the silent river-bank, 
myself I have not seen the grim threads of the Parcae,
yet this from all the ghosts I learnt,
that wild discord disturbs the Roman shades 780
and wicked war has shattered the underworld's repose.
Latian generals variously have left the Elysian abodes
and gloomy Tartarus: these have made plain
the intentions of the Fates. Grim were the faces
of the blessed ghosts: I saw the Decii, both son and father
lives given to expiate war, and Camillus weeping,
and the Curii and Sulla complaining, Fortune, of you; 
Scipio laments for his unlucky posterity, doomed to die 
on Libyan lands; a greater enemy of Carthage,
Cato mourns the fate of his descendant who refuses slavery. 790
You alone among the holy shades I saw rejoicing,
Brutus, first consul when the tyrants were expelled.
Threatening Catiline exults, his fetters burst
and shattered, and savage Marii and bare Cethegi;
myself I saw rejoice those radical names: 
the Drusi with their laws excessive, the Gracchi of enormous daring 
Their hands applauded, though eternal knots of iron
and Dis's prison confined them, and the guilty multitude
demands the fields of the blest. The lord of the stagnant
realm opens wide his pale abodes, he sharpens broken rocks 800
and hard steel for shackles and prepares the punishment
for the conqueror. Take back with you this consolation,
O young man, that in a calm retreat the shades await
both your father and your house, and in a cloudless region of the realm
keep a place for the Pompeys. And be not troubled by the glory [805-06]
of a short life: the hour will come which levels
all the leaders. Make haste to die; exultant
in your mighty spirit, go down from tombs however small
and trample on the shades of the gods of Rome. 
The question is, whose grave Nile and whose Tiber will lap 810
with waves: for the leaders, the battle concerns their burial alone.
Ask not about your own fate: though I keep silent,
the Parcae will grant you knowledge; a surer prophet will foretell [813-14]
all to you in the fields of Sicily, your father Pompey, himself,
even he uncertain where to summon you or drive you back,
which zones, which regions of the world to bid you shun.
Unhappy men! Be in dread of Europe, Libya. Asia: [817-18]
Fortune has distributed your graves between your triumphs.
O pitiable house, in all the world you will see nothing safer than Emathia.'
After so recounting destiny, [820-30] 820
he mournful stands with silent face and asks for death once more.
Magic spells and drugs are needed for the corpse to die:
the Fates cannot regain his soul, their power
over him exhausted already at one go. Then the witch heaps up
a pyre with plenteous timber; the dead man comes to the fire.
Once the youth was laid upon the kindled heap, Erichtho left him,
finally permitting him to die, and goes as Sextus' companion
to his father's camp, and though the sky was taking on day's colour,
until they safely brought their steps within the tents,
night was told to hold back the day and gave them shadows thick. 830
413-506 Both sides pitch camp and await battle. Pompey's son Sextus goes to consult Thessalian witches about the outcome: their powers are described. Thessaly was a classic locale for witches, and these are classic witches: this is another Lucanian tour de force. Roman writers of all periods show an interest in the supernatural; this is particularly evident in Neronian writers.
420 Sextus: younger son of Pompey by his wife Mucia.
421-2 After he was outlawed in 43 BC Sextus occupied Sicily and used it as a base for blockading Italy: his plundering of supplies to Rome earned him the name of pirate. His father's triumphs at sea were over the pirates.
425 Delos' tripods: Delos was evidently an oracle-centre early in the archaic period, cf. Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo 131-2.
426 Dodona: the oracle of Zeus/Jupiter in Epirus, said to use one or more bronze cauldrons in prophecy.
427 earliest fruits: i.e. acorns, from Dodona's oak-trees.
507-69 Lucan describes Erichtho, the most foul and extreme of the Thessalian witches. He caps his set piece on witches in general with a tour de force of gruesomeness and hideousness.
515 life: = the fact that she is living.
534-5 the torch held by the parents: it was the parents' duty to set alight the funeral pyre of their own children.
538 preserved in stone: in a stone sarcophagus. Cf. Pliny, Nat. Hist. 2. 211, 36. 131.
542 the pallid nails: lit. 'growths'; the nails continue to grow after death.
545 the crosses: where slaves were executed.
570-88 Sextus Pompey goes to Erichtho in the middle of the night and finds her casting spells to keep the war in Thessaly, to provide her with corpses.
685-718 The necromancy 6. Lucan describes Enchtho's voice: after the catalogue of magical substances, a catalogue of weird noises. Then Erichtho invokes the powers of the Underworld to release the corpse's soul to her. Cf. Medea's invocation, Seneca, Med. 740-51.
695 the Avengers: avenging goddesses, cf. Statius, Theb. 5. 60. ..
696 Chaos: variously conceived as the abyss from which all things arose and as one of the gods of darkness; in the latter sense here, as at Virgil, Aen. 4. 510.
697 the ruler of the earth: i.e. Pluto; in the division of the world, Jupiter received Heaven, Neptune the Sea, and Pluto the Underworld.
tormented: Pluto is tonnented either because the gods do not die and therefore do not enter his realm as his subjects or because he wishes to die and regrets that he is immortal.
700 the lowest form of our Hecate: Hecate had three manifestations: as the moon in the sky, as Diana on earth, and as Hecate in the Underworld, cf. Ovid, Met. 7. 194 'three-formed Hecate'. She is called 'our' here because of her association with witches.
704 ferryman: Charon.
715 Orcus: another name for the god of the Underworld.
716 will join the dead once only: she specifies that it is a recent corpse whose soul has hardly entered the Underworld; hence it will join the dead only once because it has not yet joined them.
776-820 The necromancy 9. The corpse reports the sadness of the Roman shades at the civil war, the joy of the shades of those Romans who were prepared to attack their fellow countrymen, and hints that Pompey and his sons will die soon. This passage is evidently designed as an inversion of the parade of future Roman heroes shown to Aeneas in the Underworld by his father Anchises, Virgil, Aen. 6. 756-885. Some of the plurals in these lines are generic, i.e. 'Curius and his sort'.
777 silent river-bank: of Lethe in the Underworld.
787 Sulla ...Fortune: Fortune was Sulla's guardian god (hence he took the name Felix, cf. 2. 221) and Sulla's faction was to be worsted in the civil war.
788 Scipio: cf. 306-13 n.
790 Cato: Marcus Porcius Cato the censor, 234-149 BC, who demanded the destruction of Carthage. His great-grandson was the Cato of the civil war.
795 those radical names: the Latin word popularis combines the meanings of 'favourites with the masses' and 'pursuing a political programme designed to favour the masses (as opposed to the elite)'; to be described as a popularis was generally an insult. [for an elite -AF]
796 the Drusi: a reference to Marcus Livius Drusus, tribune in 122 BC, and his son of the same name, tribune in 91 BC, who took up some of the measures of the Gracchi.
805-6 the glory of a short life: i.e. Caesar's short-lived rule.
809 the gods of Rome: a reference to deified emperors, of whom Julius Caesar was the first.
813-14 Evidently Lucan planned an episode in a later book which either was not written or does not survive in which the ghost of Pompey appeared to his son, as did Anchises to Aeneas in the Aeneid.
817-18 Lucan says that Pompey and his sons will die in lands over which Pompey had triumphed. Pompey dies in Egypt, Gnaeus in Spain, and Sextus in Miletus (Asia). Pompey's triumphs were awarded for victories over Numidia, Spain, and Asia. Thus Libya here stands for Africa.
820-30 The necromancy 10. Erichtho burns the corpse and Sextus returns to camp.