Thomas May, Lucan's Pharsalia (1627)
Lauded after his death as 'champion of the English Commonwealth', but also derided as a 'most servile wit, and mercenary pen', the poet, dramatist and historian Thomas May ( c .1595-1650) produced the first full translation into English of Lucan's Bellum Ciuile shortly before a ruinous civil war engulfed his own country. Lucan, whose epic had lamented the Roman Republic's doomed struggle to preserve liberty and inevitable enslavement to the Caesars, and who was forced to commit suicide at the behest of the emperor Nero, was a figure of fascination in early modern Europe. May's accomplished rendition of his challenging poem marked an important moment in the history of its English reception. This is a modernized edition of the first complete (1627) edition of the translation. It includes prefatory materials, dedications and May's own historical notes on the text. Besides an introduction contextualising May's life and work and the key features of his translation, it offers a full commentary to the text highlighting how May responded to contemporary editions and commentaries on Lucan, and explaining points of literary, political, philosophical interest. There is also a detailed glossary and bibliography, and a set of textual notes enumerating the chief differences between the 1627 edition and the others produced in May's lifetime. This volume aims not just to provide an accessible path into the dense, sometimes provocative poem May shapes from Lucan, but also a broader appreciation of the translator's literary merits and the role his work plays in the history of the English reception of Roman literature and culture.
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