The Gnomic Sententiae of Lucan's Pothinus and the Way of the World (BC 8.484-535)

Seán M. Easton

Arizona State University

Pothinus, the palace minister of Ptolemy XIII, when he advocates murdering Pompey, mounts a concentrated defense of utile ('expediency'). As such, he speaks not only to the issue at hand, but also against the sympathies of the narrator, who favors action based on honestum ('moral rectitude'). The rhetorical character of this speech is remarkable for the fact that it uses 13 gnomic sententiae (generalizing reflections), a number which makes up more than a quarter of the poem's total.  Using evidence from Quintilian on the proper use of sententiae, I argue that Lucan deploys Pothinus's sententiae to mark the speech as bad rhetoric, both morally and technically, Pothinus himself as the embodiment of a bad orator, and expediency as a futile agenda.


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