Lucan was born in Cordoba in present-day Spain, and was the nephew of Seneca the Younger. He mentioned Mevania, and may have spent time there. There is reason to believe he studied under the Stoic philosopher Cornutus.
He found success under Nero, and won a prize for poetry in AD 60. His epic poem, Pharsalia (but labelled in the manuscripts Bellum civile), which told the story of the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey, was much acclaimed. However, he soon fell out of favor, and was lured into the conspiracy of Piso. His treason having been discovered, he was obliged to commit suicide by opening a vein.
As with Vergil's masterpiece, Lucan's epic poem was unfinished at the time of his death, and its untidy condition is reflected in its 400 complete and partial copies. As A.E. Housman stated in the preface to his edition of 1926, "the manuscripts group themselves not in families but in factions; their dissidences and agreements are temporary and transient . . . and the true line of division is between the variants themselves, not between the manuscripts which offer them." Pharsalia was perhaps most celebrated during the Middle Ages, but his work had tremendous influence in the poetry and drama of the 17th century. Shelley, Southey and Macaulay all praised his work.