1679 Plautus Delphin Ancient Comedy Plays Roman Rome Latin Literature Plautine For Sale
M. Accii Plauti Comoediae Interpretatione et Notis Illustravit. Jacobus Operarius . In Usum Serenissimi Delphini.
Parisiis: Apud Fredericum Leonard Regis Serenissimi Delphini & Cleri Gallicani Typograhum via Jacobea, 1679. Pars II.
The Delphin edition of Plautus, considered to be
one of the best edited of that series. It also is one of the notable
examples of where all the 'inappropriate' passages have been gathered
together in an appendix, as Byron says, 'which saves the trouble of an
index'. This is Vol II of II, only. Original c1600s leather boards, with inlaid borders, the spine taped over nicely with raised bands and a handwritten title, as shown. Main text block all present, including illustrated initials and title vignette, the front hinge, after the title page, has opened up, also, under the spine cover, there is a central split, thus halving the book when opening. Otherwise, all leaves bound and book complete. Measures 10.25" x 58" x 2.5". Good luck!
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
c. 254 BC
William Shakespeare, Molière
Titus Maccius Plautus (/ˈplɔːtəs/; c. 254–184 BC), commonly known as "Plautus", was a Roman playwright of the Old Latin period. His comedies are the earliest surviving intact works in Latin literature. He wrote Palliata comoedia, the genre devised by the innovator of Latin literature, Livius Andronicus. The word Plautine /ˈplɔːtaɪn/ refers to both Plautus's own works and works similar to or influenced by his.
Not much is known about Titus Maccius Plautus' early life. It is believed that he was born in Sarsina, a small town in Umbria in central Italy, in around 254 BC. According to Morris Marples, Plautus worked as a stage-carpenter or scene-shifter in his early years.
It is from this work, perhaps, that his love of the theater originated.
His acting talent was eventually discovered; and he adopted the names
"Maccius" (a clownish stock-character in popular farces) and "Plautus"
(a term meaning either "flat-footed" or "flat-eared," like the ears of a
hound). Tradition holds that he made enough money
to go into the nautical business, but that the venture collapsed. He is
then said to have worked as a manual laborer and to have studied Greek
drama—particularly the New Comedy of Menander—in
his leisure. His studies allowed him to produce his plays, which were
released between c. 205 and 184 BC. Plautus attained such a popularity
that his name alone became a hallmark of theatrical success.
Plautus's comedies are mostly adapted from Greek models
for a Roman audience, and are often based directly on the works of the
Greek playwrights. He reworked the Greek texts to give them a flavour
that would appeal to the local Roman audiences. They are the earliest
surviving intact works in Latin literature.
Plautus's epitaph read:
postquam est mortem aptus Plautus, Comoedia luget,
scaena est deserta, dein Risus, Ludus Iocusque
et Numeri innumeri simul omnes conlacrimarunt.
Since Plautus is dead, Comedy mourns,
Deserted is the stage; then Laughter, Jest and Wit,
And Melody's countless numbers all together wept.
Plautus wrote around 52 plays,
of which 20 have survived, making him the most prolific ancient
dramatist in terms of surviving work. Despite this, the manuscript
tradition of Plautus is poorer than that of any other ancient dramatist,
something not helped by the failure of scholia on Plautus to survive. The chief manuscript of Plautus is a palimpsest, in which Plautus' plays had been scrubbed out to make way for Augustine's
Commentary on the Psalms. The monk who performed this was more
successful in some places than others. He seems to have begun furiously,
scrubbing out Plautus' alphabetically arranged plays with zest, before
growing lazy, before finally regaining his vigour at the end of the
manuscript to ensure not a word of Plautus was legible. Although modern
technology has allowed classicists to view much of the effaced material,
plays beginning in letters early in the alphabet have very poor texts
(e.g. the end of Aulularia and start of Bacchides are lost), plays with letters in the middle of the alphabet have decent texts, while only traces survive of the play Vidularia.
The historical context within which Plautus wrote can be seen, to
some extent, in his comments on contemporary events and persons. Plautus
was a popular comedic playwright while Roman theatre was still in its
infancy and still largely undeveloped. At the same time, the Roman Republic was expanding in power and influence.
Roman society deities
Plautus was sometimes accused of teaching the public indifference and
mockery of the gods. Any character in his plays could be compared to a
god. Whether to honour a character or to mock him, these references were
demeaning to the gods. These references to the gods include a character
comparing a mortal woman to a god, or saying he would rather be loved
by a woman than by the gods. Pyrgopolynices from Miles Gloriosus (vs. 1265), in bragging about his long life, says he was born one day later than Jupiter. In Curculio, Phaedrome says "I am a God" when he first meets with Planesium. In Pseudolus, Jupiter is compared to Ballio the pimp. It is not uncommon, too, for a character to scorn the gods, as seen in Poenulus and Rudens.
However, when a character scorns a god, it is usually a character of
low standing, such as a pimp. Plautus perhaps does this to demoralize
the characters. Soldiers often bring ridicule among the gods. Young men,
meant to represent the upper social class, often belittle the gods in
their remarks. Parasites, pimps, and courtesans often praise the gods
with scant ceremony. Tolliver argues that drama both reflects and
foreshadows social change. It is likely that there was already much skepticism
about the gods in Plautus’ era. Plautus did not make up or encourage
irreverence to the gods, but reflected ideas of his time. The state
controlled stage productions, and Plautus’ plays would have been banned,
had they been too risqué.
Second Punic War and Macedonian War
The Second Punic War
occurred from 218–201 BC; its central event was Hannibal's invasion of
Italy. M. Leigh has devoted an extensive chapter about Plautus and Hannibal in his recent book, Comedy and the Rise of Rome. He says that “the plays themselves contain occasional references to the fact that the state is at arms...” One good example is a piece of verse from the Miles Gloriosus, the composition date of which is not clear but which is often placed in the last decade of the 3rd century BC. A. F. West believes that this is inserted commentary on the Second Punic War. In his article “On a Patriotic Passage in the Miles Gloriosus of Plautus”, he states that the war “engrossed the Romans more than all other public interests combined”. The passage seems intended to rile up the audience, beginning with hostis tibi adesse, or “the foe is near at hand”.
At the time, the general Scipio Africanus wanted to confront Hannibal, a plan “strongly favored by the plebs”.
Plautus apparently pushes for the plan to be approved by the senate,
working his audience up with the thought of an enemy in close proximity
and a call to outmaneuver him. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that
Plautus, according to P.B. Harvey, was “willing to insert [into his
plays] highly specific allusions comprehensible to the audience”.
M. Leigh writes in his chapter on Plautus and Hannibal that “the
Plautus who emerges from this investigation is one whose comedies
persistently touch the rawest nerves in the audience for whom he
Later, coming of the heels of the conflict with Hannibal, Rome was
preparing to embark on another military mission, this time in Greece.
While they would eventually move on Philip V in the Second Macedonian War,
there was considerable debate beforehand about the course Rome should
take in this conflict. In the article “Bellum Philippicum: Some Roman
and Greek Views Concerning the Causes of the Second Macedonian War”, E.
J. Bickerman writes that “the causes of the fateful war … were vividly
debated among both Greeks and Romans”.
Under the guise of protecting allies, Bickerman tells us, Rome was
actually looking to expand its power and control eastward now that the
Second Punic War was ended.
But starting this war would not be an easy task considering those
recent struggles with Carthage—many Romans were too tired of conflict to
think of embarking on another campaign. As W. M. Owens writes in his
article “Plautus’ Stichus and the Political Crisis of 200 B.C.”,
“There is evidence that antiwar feeling ran deep and persisted even
after the war was approved."
Owens contends that Plautus was attempting to match the complex mood of
the Roman audience riding the victory of the Second Punic War but
facing the beginning of a new conflict. For instance, the characters of the dutiful daughters and their father seem obsessed over the idea of officium, the duty one has to do what is right. Their speech is littered with words such as pietas and aequus, and they struggle to make their father fulfill his proper role.
The stock parasite in this play, Gelasimus, has a patron-client
relationship with this family and offers to do any job in order to make
ends meet; Owens puts forward that Plautus is portraying the economic
hardship many Roman citizens were experiencing due to the cost of war.
With the repetition of responsibility to the desperation of the lower
class, Plautus establishes himself firmly on the side of the average
Roman citizen. While he makes no specific reference to the possible war
with Greece or the previous war (that might be too dangerous), he does
seem to push the message that the government should take care of its own
people before attempting any other military actions.
Greek Old Comedy
In order to understand the Greek New Comedy of Menander
and its similarities to Plautus, it is necessary to discuss, in
juxtaposition with it, the idea of Greek Old Comedy and its evolution
into New Comedy. The ancient Greek playwright that best embodies Old
Comedy is Aristophanes. Aristophanes, a playwright of 5th century Athens, wrote plays of political satire such as The Wasps, The Birds and The Clouds. Each of these plays and the others that Aristophanes wrote are known for their critical political and societal commentary.
This is the main component of Old Comedy. It is extremely conscious of
the world in which it functions and analyzes that world accordingly.
Comedy and theater were the political commentary of the time – the
public conscience. In Aristophanes’ The Wasps,
the playwright’s commentary is unexpectedly blunt and forward. For
example, he names his two main characters “Philocleon” and “Bdelycleon”,
which mean “pro-Cleon” and “anti-Cleon”, respectively. Simply the names
of the characters in this particular play of Aristophanes make a
political statement. Cleon
was a major political figure of the time and through the actions of the
characters about which he writes Aristophanes is able to freely
criticize the actions of this prominent politician in public and through
his comedy. Aristophanes underwent persecution for this.
Unlike Aristophanes, Plautus avoided current politics (in the narrow sense of the term) in his comedies.
Greek New Comedy
Greek New Comedy greatly differs from those plays of Aristophanes.
The most notable difference, according to Dana F. Sutton is that New
Comedy, in comparison to Old Comedy, is “devoid of a serious political,
social or intellectual content” and “could be performed in any number of
social and political settings without risk of giving offense”.
The risk-taking for which Aristophanes is known is noticeably lacking
in the New Comedy plays of Menander. Instead, there is much more of a
focus on the home and the family unit—something that the Romans,
including Plautus, could easily understand and adopt for themselves
later in history.
One main theme of Greek New Comedy is the father–son relationship. For example, in Menander’s Dis Exapaton
there is a focus on the betrayal between age groups and friends. The
father-son relationship is very strong and the son remains loyal to the
father. The relationship is always a focus, even if it’s not the focus
of every action taken by the main characters. In Plautus, on the other
hand, the focus is still on the relationship between father and son, but
we see betrayal between the two men that wasn’t seen in Menander. There
is a focus on the proper conduct between a father and son that,
apparently, was so important to Roman society at the time of Plautus.
This becomes the main difference and, also, similarity between
Menander and Plautus. They both address “situations that tend to develop
in the bosom of the family.” Both authors, through their plays, reflect a patriarchal society in which the father-son relationship is essential to proper function and development of the household.
It is no longer a political statement, as in Old Comedy, but a
statement about household relations and proper behavior between a father
and his son. But the attitudes on these relationships seem much
different – a reflection of how the worlds of Menander and Plautus
For the Italian tradition of farce, see Atellan farce.
There are differences not just in how the father-son relationship is
presented, but also in the way in which Menander and Plautus write their
poetry. William S. Anderson discusses the believability of Menander
versus the believability of Plautus and, in essence, says that Plautus’
plays are much less believable than those plays of Menander because they
seem to be such a farce in comparison. He addresses them as a
reflection of Menander with some of Plautus’ own contributions. Anderson
claims that there is unevenness in the poetry of Plautus that results
in “incredulity and refusal of sympathy of the audience.”
The poetry of Menander and Plautus is best juxtaposed in their
prologues. Robert B. Lloyd makes the point that “albeit the two
prologues introduce plays whose plots are of essentially different
types, they are almost identical in form…”
He goes on to address the specific style of Plautus that differs so
greatly from Menander. He says that the “verbosity of the Plautine
prologues has often been commented upon and generally excused by the
necessity of the Roman playwright to win his audience.” However, in both Menander and Plautus, word play is essential to their comedy. Plautus might seem more verbose, but where he lacks in physical comedy he makes up for it with words, alliteration and paronomasia (punning). See also "jokes and wordplay" below.
Plautus is well known for his devotion to puns, especially when it comes to the names of his characters. In Miles Gloriosus,
for instance, the female concubine’s name, Philocomasium, translates to
“lover of a good party”—which is quite apt when we learn about the
tricks and wild ways of this prostitute.
Plautus’ characters—many of which seem to crop up in quite a few of
his plays—also came from Greek stock, though they too received some
Plautine innovations. Indeed, since Plautus was adapting these plays it
would be difficult not to have the same kinds of characters—roles such
as slaves, concubines, soldiers, and old men. By working with the
characters that were already there but injecting his own creativity, as
J.C.B. Lowe wrote in his article “Aspects of Plautus’ Originality in the
Asinaria”, “Plautus could substantially modify the characterization,
and thus the whole emphasis of a play.”
The Clever Slave
One of the best examples of this method is the Plautine slave, a form
that plays a major role in quite a few of Plautus’ works. The “clever
slave” in particular is a very strong character; he not only provides
exposition and humor, but also often drives the plot in Plautus’ plays.
C. Stace argues that Plautus took the stock slave character from New
Comedy in Greece and altered it for his own purposes. In New Comedy, he
writes, “the slave is often not much more than a comedic turn, with the
added purpose, perhaps, of exposition”.
This shows that there was precedent for this slave archetype, and
obviously some of its old role continues in Plautus (the expository
monologues, for instance). However, because Plautus found humor in
slaves tricking their masters or comparing themselves to great heroes,
he took the character a step further and created something distinct.
Understanding of Greek by Plautus’ audience
Of the approximate 270 proper names in the surviving plays of Plautus, about 250 names are Greek.
William M. Seaman proposes that these Greek names would have delivered a
comic punch to the audience because of its basic understanding of the
This previous understanding of Greek language, Seaman suggests, comes
from the “experience of Roman soldiers during the first and second Punic
wars. Not only did men billeted in Greek areas have opportunity to
learn sufficient Greek for the purpose of everyday conversation, but
they were also able to see plays in the foreign tongue.”
Having an audience with knowledge of the Greek language, whether
limited or more expanded, allowed Plautus more freedom to use Greek
references and words. Also, by using his many Greek references and
showing that his plays were originally Greek, “It is possible that
Plautus was in a way a teacher of Greek literature, myth, art and
philosophy; so too was he teaching something of the nature of Greek
words to people, who, like himself, had recently come into closer
contact with that foreign tongue and all its riches.”
At the time of Plautus, Rome was expanding, and having much success
in Greece. W.S. Anderson has commented that Plautus “is using and
abusing Greek comedy to imply the superiority of Rome, in all its crude
vitality, over the Greek world, which was now the political dependent of
Rome, whose effete comic plots helped explain why the Greeks proved
inadequate in the real world of the third and second centuries, in which
the Romans exercised mastery".
Plautus was known for the use of Greek style in his plays, as part of the tradition of the variation on a theme.
This has been a point of contention among modern scholars. One argument
states that Plautus writes with originality and creativity—the other,
that Plautus is a copycat of Greek New Comedy and that he makes no
original contribution to playwriting.
A single reading of the Miles Gloriosus leaves the reader with
the notion that the names, place, and play are all Greek, but one must
look beyond these superficial interpretations. W.S. Anderson would steer
any reader away from the idea that Plautus’ plays are somehow not his
own or at least only his interpretation. Anderson says that, “Plautus
homogenizes all the plays as vehicles for his special exploitation.
Against the spirit of the Greek original, he engineers events at the
end... or alter[s] the situation to fit his expectations.”
Anderson’s vehement reaction to the co-opting of Greek plays by Plautus
seems to suggest that they are in no way like their originals were. It
seems more likely that Plautus was just experimenting putting Roman
ideas in Greek forms.
Greece and Rome, although often put into the same category,
were different societies with different paradigms and ways of life. W.
Geoffrey Arnott says that “we see that a set of formulae [used in the
plays] concerned with characterization, motif, and situation has been
applied to two dramatic situations which possess in themselves just as
many difference as they do similarities.”
It is important to compare the two authors and the remarkable
similarities between them because it is essential in understanding
Plautus. He writes about Greeks like a Greek. However, Plautus and the
writers of Greek New Comedy, such as Menander, were writing in two
completely different contexts.
One idea that is important to recognize is that of contaminatio,
which refers to the mixing of elements of two or more source plays.
Plautus, it seems, is quite open to this method of adaptation, and quite
a few of his plots seem stitched together from different stories. One
excellent example is his Bacchides and its supposed Greek predecessor, Menander’s Dis Exapaton. The original Greek title translates as “The Man Deceiving Twice”, yet the Plautine version has three tricks. V. Castellani commented that:
Plautus’ attack on the genre whose material he pirated was, as
already stated, fourfold. He deconstructed many of the Greek plays’
finely constructed plots; he reduced some, exaggerated others of the
nicely drawn characters of Menander and of Menander’s contemporaries and
followers into caricatures; he substituted for or superimposed upon the
elegant humor of his models his own more vigorous, more simply
ridiculous foolery in action, in statement, even in language. 
By exploring ideas about Roman loyalty, Greek deceit, and differences in ethnicity, “Plautus in a sense surpassed his model.”
He was not content to rest solely on a loyal adaptation that, while
amusing, was not new or engaging for Rome. Plautus took what he found
but again made sure to expand, subtract, and modify. He seems to have
followed the same path that Horace did, though Horace is much later, in
that he is putting Roman ideas in Greek forms. He not only imitated the
Greeks, but in fact distorted, cut up, and transformed the plays into
something entirely Roman. In essence it is Greek theater colonized by
Rome and its playwrights.
In Ancient Greece during the time of New Comedy, from which Plautus
drew so much of his inspiration, there were permanent theaters that
catered to the audience as well as the actor. The greatest playwrights
of the day had quality facilities in which to present their work and, in
a general sense, there was always enough public support to keep the
theater running and successful. However, this was not the case in Rome
during the time of the Republic, when Plautus wrote his plays. While
there was public support for theater and people came to enjoy tragedy
and comedy alike, there was also a notable lack of governmental support.
No permanent theater existed in Rome until Pompey dedicated one in 55
BCE in the Campus Martius. The lack of a permanent space was a key factor in Roman theater and Plautine stagecraft.
This lack of permanent theaters in Rome until 55 BCE has puzzled
contemporary scholars of Roman drama. In their introduction to the Miles Gloriosus,
Hammond, Mack and Moskalew say that “the Romans were acquainted with
the Greek stone theater, but, because they believed drama to be a
demoralizing influence, they had a strong aversion to the erection of
This worry rings true when considering the subject matter of Plautus’
plays. The unreal becomes reality on stage in his work. T. J. Moore
notes that, “all distinction between the play, production, and ‘real
life’ has been obliterated [Plautus’ play Curculio]”.
A place where social norms were upended was inherently suspect. The
aristocracy was afraid of the power of the theater. It was merely by
their good graces and unlimited resources that a temporary stage would
have been built during specific festivals.
The importance of the ludi
Main article: Ludi
Roman drama, specifically Plautine comedy, was acted out on stage during the ludi or festival games. In his discussion of the importance of the ludi Megalenses
in early Roman theater, John Arthur Hanson says that this particular
festival “provided more days for dramatic representations than any of
the other regular festivals, and it is in connection with these ludi that the most definite and secure literary evidence for the site of scenic games has come down to us”. Because the ludi
were religious in nature, it was appropriate for the Romans to set up
this temporary stage close to the temple of the deity being celebrated.
S.M. Goldberg notes that “ludi were generally held within the precinct of the particular god being honored.”
T. J. Moore notes that “seating in the temporary theaters where
Plautus’ plays were first performed was often insufficient for all those
who wished to see the play, that the primary criterion for determining
who was to stand and who could sit was social status”.
This is not to say that the lower classes did not see the plays; but
they probably had to stand while watching. Plays were performed in
public, for the public, with the most prominent members of the society
in the forefront.
The wooden stages on which Plautus' plays appeared were shallow and
long with three openings in respect to the scene-house. The stages were
significantly smaller than any Greek structure familiar to modern
scholars. Because theater was not a priority during Plautus' time, the
structures were built and dismantled within a day. Even more
practically, they were dismantled quickly due to their potential as
Geography of the stage
Often the geography of the stage and more importantly the play
matched the geography of the city so that the audience would be well
oriented to the locale of the play. Moore says that, “references to
Roman locales must have been stunning for they are not merely references
to things Roman, but the most blatant possible reminders that the
production occurs in the city of Rome.”
So, Plautus seems to have choreographed his plays somewhat
true-to-life. To do this, he needed his characters to exit and enter to
or from whatever area their social standing would befit.
Two scholars, V. J. Rosivach and N. E. Andrews, have made interesting
observations about stagecraft in Plautus: V. J. Rosivach writes about
identifying the side of the stage with both social status and geography.
He says that, for example, “the house of the medicus lies offstage to the right. It would be in the forum or thereabouts that one would expect to find a medicus.”
Moreover, he says that characters that oppose one another always have
to exit in opposite directions. In a slightly different vein, N.E.
Andrews discusses the spatial semantics of Plautus; she has observed
that even the different spaces of the stage are thematically charged.
Plautus’ Casina employs these conventional tragic correlations
between male/outside and female/inside, but then inverts them in order
to establish an even more complex relationship among genre, gender and
dramatic space. In the Casina, the struggle for control between
men and women... is articulated by characters’ efforts to control stage
movement into and out of the house.
Andrews makes note of the fact that power struggle in the Casina
is evident in the verbal comings and goings. The words of action and
the way that they are said are important to stagecraft. The words
denoting direction or action such as abeo (“I go off”), transeo (“I go over”), fores crepuerunt (“the doors creak”), or intus
(“inside”), which signal any character’s departure or entrance, are
standard in the dialogue of Plautus’ plays. These verbs of motion or
phrases can be taken as Plautine stage directions since no overt stage
directions are apparent. Often, though, in these interchanges of
characters, there occurs the need to move on to the next act. Plautus
then might use what is known as a “cover monologue”. About this S.M.
Goldberg notes that, “it marks the passage of time less by its length
than by its direct and immediate address to the audience and by its
switch from senarii in the dialogue to iambic septenarii. The resulting shift of mood distracts and distorts our sense of passing time.”
Relationship with the audience
The small stages had a significant effect on the stagecraft of
ancient Roman theater. Because of this limited space, there was also
limited movement. Greek theater allowed for grand gestures and extensive
action to reach the audience members who were in the very back of the
theater. However the Romans would have had to depend more on their
voices than large physicality. There was not an orchestra available as
there was for the Greeks and this is reflected in the notable lack of a
chorus in Roman drama. The replacement character that acts as the chorus
would in Greek drama is often called the “prologue.”
Goldberg says that, “these changes fostered a different relationship
between actors and the space in which they performed and also between
them and their audiences.”
Actors were thrust into much closer audience interaction. Because of
this, a certain acting style became required that is more familiar to
modern audiences. Because they would have been in such close proximity
to the actors, ancient Roman audiences would have wanted attention and
direct acknowledgement from the actors.
Because there was no orchestra, there was no space separating the
audience from the stage. The audience could stand directly in front of
the elevated wooden platform. This gave them the opportunity to look at
the actors from a much different perspective. They would have seen every
detail of the actor and hear every word he said. The audience member
would have wanted that actor to speak directly to them. It was a part of
the thrill of the performance, as it is to this day.
Plautus’ range of characters was created through his use of various
techniques, but probably the most important is his use of stock
characters and situations in his various plays. He incorporates the same
stock characters constantly, especially when the character type is
amusing to the audience. As Walter Juniper wrote, “Everything, including
artistic characterization and consistency of characterization, were
sacrificed to humor, and character portrayal remained only where it was
necessary for the success of the plot and humor to have a persona who stayed in character, and where the persona by his portrayal contributed to humor.”
For example, in Miles Gloriosus, the titular “braggart
soldier” Pyrgopolynices only shows his vain and immodest side in the
first act, while the parasite Artotrogus exaggerates Pyrgopolynices’
achievements, creating more and more ludicrous claims that
Pyrgopolynices agrees to without question. These two are perfect
examples of the stock characters of the pompous soldier and the
desperate parasite that appeared in Plautine comedies. In disposing of
highly complex individuals, Plautus was supplying his audience with what
it wanted, since “the audience to whose tastes Plautus catered was not
interested in the character play,”
but instead wanted the broad and accessible humor offered by stock
set-ups. The humor Plautus offered, such as “puns, word plays,
distortions of meaning, or other forms of verbal humor he usually puts
them in the mouths of characters belonging to the lower social ranks, to
whose language and position these varieties of humorous technique are
most suitable,” matched well with the stable of characters.
The clever slave
In his article "The Intriguing Slave in Greek Comedy," Philip Harsh
gives evidence to show that the clever slave is not an invention of
Plautus. While previous critics such as A. W. Gomme
believed that the slave was “[a] truly comic character, the devisor of
ingenious schemes, the controller of events, the commanding officer of
his young master and friends, is a creation of Latin comedy,” and that
Greek dramatists such as Menander did not use slaves in such a way that
Plautus later did, Harsh refutes these beliefs by giving concrete
examples of instances where a clever slave appeared in Greek comedy.
For instance, in the works of Athenaeus, Alciphron, and Lucian there
are deceptions that involve the aid of a slave, and in Menander’s Dis Exapaton there was an elaborate deception executed by a clever slave that Plautus mirrors in his Bacchides. Evidence of clever slaves also appears in Menander’s Thalis, Hypobolimaios, and from the papyrus fragment of his Perinthia.
Harsh acknowledges that Gomme’s statement was probably made before the
discovery of many of the papyri that we now have. While it was not
necessarily a Roman invention, Plautus did develop his own style of
depicting the clever slave. With larger, more active roles, more verbal
exaggeration and exuberance, the slave was moved by Plautus further into
the front of the action.
Because of the inversion of order created by a devious or witty slave,
this stock character was perfect for achieving a humorous response and
the traits of the character worked well for driving the plot forward.
The lusty old man
Another important Plautine stock character, discussed by K.C. Ryder, is the senex amator.
A senex amator is classified as an old man who contracts a passion for a
young girl and who, in varying degrees, attempts to satisfy this
passion. In Plautus these men are Demaenetus (Asinaria), Philoxenus and Nicobulus (Bacchides), Demipho (Cistellaria), Lysidamus (Casina), Demipho (Mercator), and Antipho (Stichus). Periplectomenos (Miles Gloriosus) and Daemones (Rudens) are regarded as senes lepidi
because they usually keep their feelings within a respectable limit.
All of these characters have the same goal, to be with a younger woman,
but all go about it in different ways, as Plautus could not be too
redundant with his characters despite their already obvious
similarities. What they have in common is the ridicule with which their
attempts are viewed, the imagery that suggests that they are motivated
largely by animal passion, the childish behavior, and the reversion to
the love-language of their youth.
In examining the female role designations of Plautus's plays, Z.M.
Packman found that they are not as stable as their male counterparts: a senex will usually remain a senex for the duration of the play but designations like matrona, mulier, or uxor at times seem interchangeable. Most free adult women, married or widowed, appear in scene headings as mulier, simply translated as “woman”. But in Plautus’ Stichus the two young women are referred to as sorores, later mulieres, and then matronae,
all of which have different meanings and connotations. Although there
are these discrepancies, Packman tries to give a pattern to the female
role designations of Plautus. Mulier is typically given to a
woman of citizen class and of marriageable age or who has already been
married. Unmarried citizen-class girls, regardless of sexual experience,
were designated virgo. Ancilla was the term used for female household slaves, with Anus reserved for the elderly household slaves. A young woman who is unwed due to social status is usually referred to as meretrix or “courtesan.” A lena, or adoptive mother, may be a woman who owns these girls.
Like Packman, George Duckworth uses the scene headings in the
manuscripts to support his theory about unnamed Plautine characters.
There are approximately 220 characters in the 20 plays of Plautus.
Thirty are unnamed in both the scene headings and the text and there are
about nine characters who are named in the ancient text but not in any
modern one. This means that about 18% of the total number of characters
in Plautus are nameless. Most of the very important characters have
names while most of the unnamed characters are of less importance.
However, there are some abnormalities—the main character in Casina
is not mentioned by name anywhere in the text. In other instances,
Plautus will give a name to a character that only has a few words or
lines. One explanation is that some of the names have been lost over the
years; and for the most part, major characters do have names.
Language and style
The language and style of Plautus are not easy or simple. He wrote in
a colloquial style far from the codified form of Latin that is found in
Ovid or Virgil.
This colloquial style is the everyday speech that Plautus would have
been familiar with, yet that means that most students of Latin are
unfamiliar with it. Adding to the unfamiliarity of Plautine language is
the inconsistency of the irregularities that occur in the texts. In one
of his prolific word-studies, A.W. Hodgman noted that:
the statements that one meets with, that this or that form is
"common," or "regular," in Plautus, are frequently misleading, or even
incorrect, and are usually unsatisfying.... I have gained an increasing
respect for the manuscript tradition, a growing belief that the
irregularities are, after all, in a certain sense regular. The whole
system of inflexion—and, I suspect, of syntax also and of
versification—was less fixed and stable in Plautus’ time than it became
The diction of Plautus, who used the colloquial speech of his own
day, is distinctive and non-standard from the point of view of the
later, classical period. M. Hammond, A.H. Mack, and W. Moskalew have noted in the introduction to their edition of the Miles Gloriosus
that Plautus was “free from convention... [and] sought to reproduce the
easy tone of daily speech rather than the formal regularity of oratory
or poetry. Hence, many of the irregularities which have troubled scribes
and scholars perhaps merely reflect the everyday usages of the careless
and untrained tongues which Plautus heard about him.”
Looking at the overall use of archaic forms in Plautus, one notes that
they commonly occur in promises, agreements, threats, prologues, or
speeches. Plautus's archaic forms are metrically convenient, but may
also have had a stylistic effect on his original audience.
These forms are frequent and of too great a number for a complete list here, but some of the most noteworthy features which from the classical perspective will be considered irregular or obsolete are:
the use of uncontracted forms of some verbs such as mavolo ("prefer") for later malo
the emendation of the final -e of singular imperatives
the retention of -u- in words such as maxumus, proxumus, lacrumare etc., and of -vo- before r, s or t, where the use after ca. 150 BC would favor -ve- (as vostrum for later vestrum)
the use of the -ier ending for the present passive and deponent infinitive
the forms of sum often joined to the preceding word (as bonumst "it's good" for bonum est "it is good")
the dropping of the final -s of 2nd-singular verb forms and the final -e of the question-particle -ne when the two are joined (as viden? for videsne? "you see? you get it?")
the rention of short -ǒ in noun endings in the second declension for later -ŭ
the retention in many words of qu- instead of later c- (as in quom instead of cum)
the use of the -ai genitive singular ending (as on early inscriptions, from original -as)
the retention of final -d on nouns and pronouns in the ablative singular (the -d was later lost, its vestige felt in compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel)
the occasional addition of a final -pte, -te, or -met to pronouns
the use of -is as a nominative plural ending.
These are the most common linguistic peculiarities (from the later
perspective) in the plays of Plautus, some of them being also found in Terence, and noting them helps in the reading of his works and gives insight early Roman language and interaction.
Means of expression
There are certain ways in which Plautus expressed himself in his
plays, and these individual means of expression give a certain flair to
his style of writing. The means of expression are not always specific to
the writer, i.e., idiosyncratic, yet they are characteristic of the
writer. Two examples of these characteristic means of expression are the
use of proverbs and the use of Greek language in the plays of Plautus.
Plautus employed the use of proverbs in many of his plays. Proverbs
would address a certain genre such as law, religion, medicine, trades,
crafts, and seafaring. Plautus’ proverbs and proverbial expressions
number into the hundreds. They sometimes appear alone or interwoven
within a speech. The most common appearance of proverbs in Plautus
appears to be at the end of a soliloquy. Plautus does this for dramatic
effect to emphasize a point.
Further interwoven into the plays of Plautus and just as common as
the use of proverbs is the use of Greek within the texts of the plays.
J. N. Hough suggests that Plautus’s use of Greek is for artistic
purposes and not simply because a Latin phrase will not fit the meter.
Greek words are used when describing foods, oils, perfumes, etc. This is
similar to the use of French terms in the English language such as garçon or rendezvous.
These words give the language a French flair just as Greek did to the
Latin-speaking Romans. Slaves or characters of low standing speak much
of the Greek. One possible explanation for this is that many Roman
slaves were foreigners of Greek origin.
Plautus would sometimes incorporate passages in other languages as
well in places where it would suit his characters. A noteworthy example
is the use of two prayers in Punic in Poenulus, spoken by the Carthaginian elder Hanno, which are significant to Semitic linguistics
because they preserve the Carthaginian pronunciation of the vowels.
Unlike Greek, Plautus most probably did not speak Punic himself, nor was
the audience likely to understand it. The text of the prayers
themselves was probably provided by a Carthaginian informant, and
Plautus incorporated it to emphasize the authenticity and foreignness of
Plautus also used more technical means of expression in his plays. One tool that Plautus used for the expression of his servus callidus
stock character was alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of
sounds in a sentence or clause; those sounds usually come at the
beginning of words. In the Miles Gloriosus, the servus callidus
is Palaestrio. As he speaks with the character, Periplectomenus, he
uses a significant amount of alliteration in order to assert his
cleverness and, therefore, his authority. Plautus uses phrases such as
“falsiloquom, falsicum, falsiiurium” (MG l. 191). These words
express the deep and respectable knowledge that Palaestrio has of the
Latin language. Alliteration can also happen at the endings of words as
well. For example, Palaestrio says, “ linguam, perfidiam, malitiam atque
audaciam, confidentiam, confirmitatem, fraudulentiam” (MG ll. 188-9). Also used, as seen above, is the technique of assonance, which is the repetition of similar sounding syllables.
Jokes and wordplay
Plautus' comedies abound in puns and word play, which is an important component of his poetry. One well known instance in the Miles Gloriosus is Sceledre, scelus.
Some examples stand in the text in order to accentuate and emphasize
whatever is being said, and others to elevate the artistry of the
language. But a great number are made for jokes, especially riddle
jokes, which feature a "knock knock - who's there?" pattern. Like Shakespeare, Plautus is especially fond of making up and changing the meaning of words.
Further emphasizing and elevating the artistry of the language of the
plays of Plautus is the use of meter, which simply put is the rhythm of
the play. There seems to be great debate over whether Plautus found
favor in strong word accent or verse ictus, stress. Plautus did not
follow the meter of the Greek originals that he adapted for the Roman
audience. Plautus used a great number of meters, but most frequently he
used the trochaic septenarius.
Iambic words, though common in Latin, are difficult to fit in this
meter, and naturally occur at the end of verses. G.B. Conte has noted
that Plautus favors the use of cantica instead of Greek meters.
This vacillation between meter and word stress highlights the fact that
Latin literature was still in its infancy, and that there was not yet a
standard way to write verse.
Vigor and immediacy
The servus callidus functions as the exposition in many of
Plautus' plays. According to C. Stace, "slaves in Plautus account for
almost twice as much monologue as any other character... [and] this is a
significant statistic; most of the monologues being, as they are, for
purposes of humor, moralizing, or exposition of some kind, we can now
begin to see the true nature of the slave's importance." Because humor, vulgarity,
and "incongruity" are so much a part of the Plautine comedies, the
slave becomes the essential tool to connect the audience to the joke through his monologue and direct connection to
the audience. He is, then, not only a source for exposition and
understanding, but connection—specifically, connection to the humor of
the play, the playfulness of the play. The servus callidus is a
character that, as McCarthy says, "draws the complete attention of the
audience, and, according to C. Stace, 'despite his lies and abuse,
claims our complete sympathy.'"
He does this, according to some scholarship, using monologue, the
imperative mood and alliteration—all of which are specific and effective
linguistic tools in both writing and speaking.
The specific type of monologue (or soliloquy) in which a Plautine slave engages is the prologue.
As opposed to simple exposition, according to N.W. Slater,
“these…prologues…have a far more important function than merely to
provide information.” Another way in which the servus callidus asserts his power over the play—specifically the other characters in the play—is through his use of the imperative mood.
This type of language is used, according to E. Segal, for “the forceful
inversion, the reduction of the master to an abject position of
supplication … the master-as-suppliant is thus an extremely important
feature of the Plautine comic finale.”
The imperative mood is therefore used in the complete role-reversal of
the normal relationship between slave and master, and “those who enjoy
authority and respect in the ordinary Roman world are unseated,
ridiculed, while the lowliest members of society mount to their
pedestals…the humble are in face exalted”.
The influence of Plautus
Intellectual and academic critics have often judged Plautus's work as
crude; yet his influence on later literature is impressive—especially
on two literary giants, Shakespeare and Molière.
Playwrights throughout history have looked to Plautus for character,
plot, humor, and other elements of comedy. His influence ranges from
similarities in idea to full literal translations woven into plays. The
playwright’s apparent familiarity with the absurdity of humanity and
both the comedy and tragedy that stem from this absurdity have inspired
succeeding playwrights centuries after his death. The most famous of
these successors is Shakespeare—Plautus had a major influence on the
Bard’s early comedies.
The Middle Ages and early Renaissance
Plautus was apparently read in the 9th century. His form was too
complex to be fully understood, however, and, as indicated by the Terentius et delusor, it was unknown at the time if Plautus was writing in prose or verse.
W. B. Sedgwick has provided a record of the Amphitruo,
perennially one of Plautus’ most famous works. It was the most popular
Plautine play in the Middle Ages, and publicly performed at the
Renaissance; it was the first Plautine play to be translated into
The influence of Plautus's plays was felt in the early 16th century.
Limited records suggest that the first known university production of
Plautus in England was of Miles Gloriosus at Oxford in 1522-3. The magnum jornale of Queens College contains a reference to a comoedia Plauti
in either 1522 or 1523. This fits directly with comments made in the
poems of Leland about the date of the production. The next production of
Miles Gloriosus that is known from limited records was given by the Westminster School in 1564. Other records also tell us about performances of the Menaechmi. From our knowledge, performances were given in the house of Cardinal Wolsey by boys of St. Paul’s School as early as 1527.
Plautus and Shakespeare
Shakespeare borrowed from Plautus as Plautus borrowed from his Greek
models. C.L. Barber says that “Shakespeare feeds Elizabethan life into
the mill of Roman farce, life realized with his distinctively generous
creativity, very different from Plautus’ tough, narrow, resinous
The Plautine and Shakespearean plays that most parallel each other are, respectively, The Menaechmi and The Comedy of Errors. According to Marples, Shakespeare drew directly from Plautus “parallels in plot, in incident, and in character,”
and was undeniably influenced by the classical playwright’s work. H. A.
Watt stresses the importance of recognizing the fact that the “two
plays were written under conditions entirely different and served
audiences as remote as the poles.”
The differences between The Menaechmi and The Comedy of Errors are clear. In The Menaechmi,
Plautus uses only one set of twins—twin brothers. Shakespeare, on the
other hand, uses two sets of twins, which, according to William
Connolly, “dilutes the force of [Shakespeare’s] situations.” One suggestion is that Shakespeare got this idea from Plautus’ Amphitruo, in which both twin masters and twin slaves appear.
It can be noted that the doubling is a stock situation of Elizabethan
comedy. On the fusion between Elizabethan and Plautine techniques, T.
W. Baldwin writes, “…Errors does not have the miniature unity of Menaechmi, which is characteristic of classic structure for comedy.”
Baldwin notes that Shakespeare covers a much greater area in the
structure of the play than Plautus does. Shakespeare was writing for an
audience whose minds weren’t restricted to house and home, but looked
toward the greater world beyond and the role that they might play in
Another difference between the audiences of Shakespeare and Plautus is that Shakespeare’s audience was Christian. At the end of Errors, the world of the play is returned to normal when a Christian abbess interferes with the feuding. Menaechmi, on the other hand, “is almost completely lacking in a supernatural dimension.”
A character in Plautus’ play would never blame an inconvenient
situation on witchcraft—something that is quite common in Shakespeare.
The relationship between a master and a clever servant is also a
common element in Elizabethan comedy. Shakespeare often includes foils
for his characters to have one set off the other. In Elizabethan
romantic comedy, it is common for the plays to end with multiple
marriages and couplings of pairs. This is something that is not seen in
Plautine comedy. In the Comedy of Errors, Aegeon and Aemilia are
separated, Antipholus and Adriana are at odds, and Antipholus and
Luciana have not yet met. At the end, all the couples are happily
together. By writing his comedies in a combination of Elizabethan and
Plautine styles, Shakespeare helps to create his own brand of comedy,
one that uses both styles.
Also, Shakespeare uses the same kind of opening monologue so common in Plautus’s plays. He even uses a “villain” in The Comedy of Errors of the same type as the one in Menaechmi, switching the character from a doctor to a teacher but keeping the character a shrewd, educated man. Watt also notes that some of these elements appear in many of his works, such as Twelfth Night or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and had a deep impact on Shakespeare’s writing.
Later playwrights also borrowed Plautus's stock characters. One of
the most important echoes of Plautus is the stock character of the
parasite. Certainly the best example of this is Falstaff,
Shakespeare's portly and cowardly knight. As J. W. Draper notes, the
gluttonous Falstaff shares many characteristics with a parasite such as
Artotrogus from Miles Gloriosus. Both characters seem fixated on
food and where their next meal is coming from. But they also rely on
flattery in order to gain these gifts, and both characters are willing
to bury their patrons in empty praise.
Of course, Draper notes that Falstaff is also something of a boastful
military man, but notes, “Falstaff is so complex a character that he may
well be, in effect, a combination of interlocking types.”
As well as appearing in Shakespearean comedy, the Plautine parasite appears in one of the first English comedies. In Ralph Roister Doister,
the character of Matthew Merrygreeke follows in the tradition of both
Plautine Parasite and Plautine slave, as he both searches and grovels
for food and also attempts to achieve his master’s desires. Indeed, the play itself is often seen as borrowing heavily from or even being based on the Plautine comedy Miles Gloriosus.
H. W. Cole discusses the influence of Plautus and Terence
on the Stonyhurst Pageants. The Stonyhurst Pageants are manuscripts of
Old Testament plays that were probably composed after 1609 in
Lancashire. Cole focuses on Plautus’ influence on the particular Pageant
of Naaman. The playwright of this pageant breaks away from the
traditional style of religious medieval drama and relies heavily on the
works of Plautus. Overall, the playwright cross-references eighteen of
the twenty surviving plays of Plautus and five of the six extant plays
by Terence. It is clear that the author of the Stonyhurst Pageant of
Naaman had a great knowledge of Plautus and was significantly influenced
There is evidence of Plautine imitation in Edwardes’ Damon and Pythias and Heywood’s Silver Age as well as in Shakespeare's Errors.
Heywood sometimes translated whole passages of Plautus. By being
translated as well as imitated, Plautus was a major influence on comedy
of the Elizabethan era. n terms of plot, or perhaps more accurately plot
device, Plautus served as a source of inspiration and also provided the
possibility of adaptation for later playwrights. The many deceits that
Plautus layered his plays with, giving the audience the feeling of a
genre bordering on farce, appear in much of the comedy written by
Shakespeare and Molière. For instance, the clever slave has important roles in both L’Avare and L’Etourdi, two plays by Molière, and in both drives the plot and creates the ruse just like Palaestrio in Miles Gloriosus.
These similar characters set up the same kind of deceptions in which
many of Plautus’ plays find their driving force, which is not a simple
20th century musicals based on Plautus include A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Larry Gelbart, book, Stephen Sondheim, music and lyrics).
The British TV sitcom Up Pompeii uses situations and stock characters from Plautus's plays.
Only the titles and various fragments of these plays have survived.
Ambroicus, or Agroicus ("The Rustic Man")
Artamon ("The Compressa ("The Twice-Seduced Woman")
Caecus ("The Blind Man"), or Praedones ("Plunderers")
Calceolus ("The Little Shoe")
Carbonaria ("The Female Charcoal-Burner")
Clitellaria, or Astraba
Colax ("The Flatterer")
Commorientes ("Those Dying ("The Grouch")
Foeneratrix ("The Lady Moneylender")
Fretum ("The Strait," or "Channel")
Fugitivi ("The Runaways"—possibly by Turpilius)
Gastrion, or Gastron
Hortulus ("Little Garden")
Kakistus (possibly by Accius)
Lenones Gemini ("The Twin Pimps")
Medicus ("The Piger ("The Lazy Parasite"), or Lipargus
Phagon ("The Liturgus
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1679 Plautus Delphin Ancient Comedy Plays Roman Rome Latin Literature Plautine: $175