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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Plautus, Titus Maccius

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PLAUTUS, TITUS MACCIUS (originally perhaps Maccus; cf. Asin. Prol. 11), the great comic dramatist of ancient Rome, was born at Sarsina in Umbria according to the testimony of Festus, who calls him Umber Sarsinas, and Jerome. The date of his death was 184 B.C. (Cicero, Brutus, xv. 60). The date of his birth depends upon an inference based on the statement of Cicero (De senectute, xiv. 50) that he was an old man when he wrote his Truculentus and Pseudolus. The latter play was produced in 191 B.C.; hence we get 254–251 B.C. as the approximate date of his birth. The only record that we possess as to his life is that contained in Aulus Gellius iii. 3, 14 (based on Varro), the historical character of which is doubted by Leo (Plautinische Forschungen, p. 60, sqq.). According to this statement he left his native town at an early age and settled at Rome, where he got employment in a theatre, though it is not clear in what capacity. The words of Gellius in operis artficum scaenicorum, are interpreted by F. Marx as indicating that Plautus was a member of the theatrical staff of Livius Andronicus. At Rome he saved a little money, and embarked on some mercantile enterprise, probably abroad. Having lost his money he returned to Rome penniless, and was driven to support himself by manual labour in a mill (cum ... ad circumagendas molas quae trusatiles appellantur operam pistori locasset); and in this pistrinum he wrote three of his plays (the Saturio, the Addictus and another). The main body of his works belongs, so far as can be ascertained from the scanty evidence which we have, to the latter half of his life; 206 B.C. is the approximate date of the Miles gloriosus; cf. line 211 seq., quoi bini custodes . . . occubant (present tense), which alludes to the imprisonment of Naevius, an event which cannot be proved to be earlier than 206 B.C. The defects of construction and the absence of “cantica” in the Miles also point to this as one of his early plays. On the other hand it is hardly likely that all his comedies (which greatly exceeded in number the extant twenty) were produced during the last twenty years of his life. Radermacher assigns the Asinaria to a date as early as 212 B.C. Of the extant plays the Cistellaria and the Stichus must be associated with the Miles as comparatively early works; for the former was clearly produced before (though not long before) the conclusion of the Second Punic War, see l. 201 seq.; and the Stichus is proved by its didascalia to have been produced in 200 B.C. The Pseudolus and the Truculentus fall within the last seven years of his life. The dates of the rest of the extant plays, here given in alphabetical order, are quite uncertain, namely, Amphitruo, Aulularia, Bacchides, Captivi, Casina, Curculio, Epidicus, Menaechmi, Mercator (probably later than the Rudens, as shown by F. Marx), Mostellaria, Persa, Poenulus, Rudens, Trinummus (later than 194 B.C.; cf. novi aediles in l. 990). Of the Vidularia we possess only the fragments contained in the Codex Ambrosianus.

The plays of Plautus are all based on Greek originals.[1] To what extent he is dependent on these originals, and how far he departed from them, we shall perhaps never know exactly. But such evidence as we have points to a pretty close imitation on the part of the Roman poet: there are passages in which he does not hesitate to take over from his originals allusions which can hardly have been intelligible to a Roman audience, e.g. the reference to Stratonicus, a musician of the time of Alexander the Great (Rudens, 932); and in the delineation of character we have no reason to suppose that he improved on his models (cf. Aul. Gell. ii. 23). Even the prologues, which later researches have shown to be in the main by the hand of Plautus himself, though certain passages were clearly added at a later date, e.g. Cas. prol. 5–20, may in most cases have formed part of the Greek original. Plautus must therefore be regarded as primarily a translator or adapter, so far as our present knowledge goes. Where he varies his plot on lines of his own by amalgamating the plots of two distinct Greek comedies (e.g. in the Miles and the Poenulus) the result is generally not happy; and the romanization of the plays by way of allusions to towns in Italy, to the streets, gates and markets of Rome, to Roman magistrates and their duties, to Roman laws and the business of Roman law-courts, banks, comitia and senate, &c., involves the poet in all the difficulties of attempting to blend two different civilizations. The inconsistency of his attitude is shown by his use, side by side, of the contemptuous expressions barbarus (applied to the Romans) and pergraecari (applied to the Greeks). In some passages the poet seems to take delight in casting dramatic illusion to the winds (e.g. Pseudolus, 720; Poenulus, 550).

But as a translator Plautus is nothing less than masterly. His command of the art is such that his plays read like original works, and it may be at least said that some of his characters stand out so vividly from his canvas that they have ever since served as representatives of certain types of humanity, e.g. Euclio in the Aulularia, the model of Moliere's miser. Alliteration, assonance, plays upon words and happy coinages of new terms, give his plays a charm of their own. “To read Plautus is to be once for all disabused of the impression that Latin is a dry and uninteresting language” (Skutsch, in Die Cultur der Gegenwart; 1905). It is a mistake to regard the Latin of Plautus as “vulgar” Latin. It is essentially a literary idiom, based in the main upon the language of intercourse of the cultivated Roman society of the day (cf. Cic. De oratore, iii. 12, 45); though from the lips of slaves and other low persons in the plays we no doubt hear expressions which, while they are quite in keeping with the characters to whom they are allotted, would have shocked the ears of polite society in the 2nd century B.C. The characters in his plays are the stock characters of the new comedy of Athens, and they remind us also of the standing figures of the Fabulae atellanae (Maccus, Bucco, Dossennus, &c.). We may miss the finer insight into human nature and the delicate touch in drawing character which Terence presents to us in his reproductions of Menander, but there is wonderful life and vigour and considerable variety in the Plautine embodiments of these different types. And the careful reader will take note of occasional touches of serious thought, as in the enumeration of the ten deadly political sins (Persa, 5 55 seq.) and allusions to ethical philosophy (Pseud. 972 seq.; Stich. 124; Trin. 305 sqq., 320 sqq., 363 seq., 447; Rud. 767, 1235-1248, &c.). Virtue is often held up for admiration, and vice painted in revolting colours or derided. The plots of Plautus also are more varied than those of Terence. We have from him one mythological burlesque, the Amphitruo, and several plays dealing with domestic subjects like the Captivi, Cistellaria, Rudens, Stichus and Trinummus; but most of his plays depend for their main interest on intrigue, such as the Pseudolus, Bacchides, Mostellaria. In the Menaechmi and, as a subordinate incident, in the Amphitruo we have a “comedy of errors.”

In one respect Plautus must be regarded as distinctly original, viz. in his development of the lyrical element in his plays. The new comedy of Greece was probably limited for the most part to scenes written in the metres of dialogue; it remained for Plautus, as Leo has shown, to enliven his plays with cantica modelled on the contemporary lyric verse of Greece or Magna Graecia, which was in its turn a development of the dramatic lyrics of Euripides. A new light has been thrown on the παρακλανσίθνρον of the Curculio (147–155) by the discovery of the Alexandrian erotic fragment published by Grenfell and Hunt (Oxford, 1896). The lyrical metres of Plautus are wonderfully varied, and the textual critic does well not to attempt to limit the possibilities of original metrical combinations and developments in the Roman comedian. Recent investigation has considerably extended the list of his numeri innumeri.

Plautus was a general favourite in the days of republican Rome. Cicero, though he found fault with the iambics of the Latin comedians generally as abiecti, “prosaic” (Orator, lv. 184), admired Plautus as elegans, urbanus, ingeniosus, facetus (De offic. i. 29, 104). To the fastidious critics of the Augustan age, such as Horace, he seemed rude (cf. Ars Poetica, 270–274), just as Addison declared Spenser to be no longer fitted to please “a cultivated age.” In another passage (Epist. ii. 1, 170–176) Horace accuses him of clumsiness in the construction of his plays and the drawing of his characters, and indifference to everything excepting immediate success: gestit enim nummum in loculos demittere, post hoc securus cadat an recto stet fabula talo. That there are many inconsistencies and signs of carelessness in his work has been proved in detail by Langen. But that he found many admirers, even in the Augustan age, Horace himself bears witness (ibid. l. 58), where he says that Plautus was regarded as a second Epicharmus: Plautus ad exemplar Siculi properare Epicharmi—a passage which is important as suggesting that Plautus was under some obligation to the Sicilian representatives of the old Dorian comedy; cf. Varro's statement (in Priscian ix. 32), deinde ad Siculos se applicavit. It is possible that Plautus may have been working on the lines of the old comedy in the tell-tale names which he is so fond of inventing for his characters, such as Polymachaeroplagides (Pseud. 988), Pyrgopolinices (Mil. 56), Thensaurochrysonicochrysides (Capt. 285) —names which stand in remarkable contrast to the more commonplace Greek names employed by Terence.

In the middle ages Plautus was little regarded, and twelve of his plays (Bacchides–Truculentus) disappeared from view until they were discovered (in the MS. called D) by Nicholas of Treves in the year 1429. Apparently some early archetype had been divided into two volumes, of which only the first (containing eight plays, Amphitruo–Epidicus) had escaped oblivion or destruction. After the revival of learning Plautus was reinstated, and took rank as one of the great dramatists of antiquity; cf. Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1. ii. 420, where Polonius says, “The best actors in the world ... Seneca cannot be too heavy nor Plautus too light.”

Manuscripts.—The chief MSS. of Plautus belong to two families, which are proved by the errors which they have in common to be descended from a single source (Sicker, “ovae quaestiones plautinae”, in Philologus suppl. xi. 2; 1908): (i.) that represented by the– fragmentary palimpsest of the Ambrosian Library at Milan (A, 4th century A.D.), discovered in 1815 by Cardinal Mai and now accessible in the Aporaph of Studemun, edited by Seylfert (1889); (ii.) that represented by the Palatine MSS. (P, 10th–12th century), viz B, now in the Vatican, containing all the twenty plays preceded by the surious Querolus; C, now at Heidelberg, containing the last twelve plays, i.e. Bacchuies-Truculentus; D, now in the Vatican, containing the Amphitruo, Asinaria, Aulularia half of the Captivi and the last twelve plays: to the same family belong the following less important MSS.: E (at Milan), V (at Leiden), J (in the British Museum), O (in the Vatican).

Editions.—The editio princeps, based mainly on a transcript of D, was printed at Venice, 1472: the first scientific text, based on B, C and D, was that of Camerarius, completed 1552, in whose steps followed Lambinus (with a commentary which is still useful), 1576; Taubmann, 1605-1621; Pareus (a meritorious edition), 1619 and 1623; Guyet, edited by Marolles, 1658; Gronovius (the “Vulgate”), 1664-1684; then, after the lapse of more than a century, came the editions of Bothe, 1809-1811- Naudet, 1830; and Weise, 1837-1848. A new era began with the great critical edition of certain plays by Ritschl, 1848-1854, in which a collation of A was used, a revised and completed form of this work was commenced by Ritschl himself and continued by his disciples Goetz, Loewe and Schoell, 1871-1894: and of this an entirely rewritten editio minor by Goetz and Schoell appeared in 1893-1896 (continued by a 2nd ed. of Fasciculus ii. in 1904), which is still the most useful of modern editions for a critical study of the text, exhibiting, as it does, the MS. tradition with only such emendations as are securely established by the results of modern investigation. The other modern editions of the text are those of Fleckeisen (containing ten plays, excellent for his time), 1859; Ussing (with a commentary), 1875-1887, 2nd ed. of vol. iii. 1888; Leo (a very important work), 1895-1896; Lindsay, 1904-1905. Among modern editions of separate plays with commentaries the following are probably the most useful: Amphitruo by Palmer, 1890, and Havet, 1895; Asinaria by Gray, 1894; Aulularia by Wagner, 1866 and 1876; Captivi by Brix, 6th ed., revised by Niemeyer, 1910; an English edition of this work by Sonnenschein (with introduction on prosody), 1880; same play by Lindsay (with metrical introduction), 1900; Eptdicus by Gray, 1893; Menaechmi by Brix, 4th ed., revised by Niemeyer, 1891; Miles glorious by Lorenz, 2nd ed., 1886; by Brix, 3rd ed., revised by Niemeyer, 1901; by Tyrrell, 3rd ed., 1894; Mostellaria by Lorenz, 2nd ed., 1883; by Sonnenschein, 2nd ed., 1907; Pseudolus by Lorenz, 1876; Rudens by Sonnenschein, 1891, editio minor (with a metrical appendix), 1901; Trinummus (with a metrical introduction) by Brix, 5th ed., revised by Niemeyer, 1907; by Gray, 1897; Truculentus by Spengel and Studemund, 1898.

Criticism.—Good characterizations of Plautus, from the literary point of view, are given by Sellar in his Roman Poets of the Republic, and Wight Duff, in his Literary History of Rome (1909). A summary of recent critical works bearing on the text and interpretation is given by Seyffert in his admirable reports (in Bursian's Jahresrachte uber die Fortschritte der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft), 1883-1885, 1886-1889, 1890-1894, continued by Lindsay, 1895-1906. Important contributions to textual criticism are contained in Ritschl Parerga (1845), Neue plauttnische Excurse (1869), and his collected Opuscula philologtca; Studemund, Studia in priscos scriplofes latinos (vo. i. 1873, vol. ii. 1891); Langen, Beirrage (1877) and Plautinische Studien (1886); Leo, Plautinische Forschungen (1895); Lindsay, Codex Turnebt (1898). Bentley's Plautine Emendatzons were published by Sonnenschein partly in his edition of the Captivi (1880), partly in the Anecdota oxoniensia series (1883).

Metre and Prosody.—The most important treatises (apart from those mentioned under “Editions”) are Muller, Plautinische Prosodze (1869); Spengel, Reformvorschlage zur Metrik der lyrischen Versarten (1882), Klotz, Grundzuge altromtscher Metrik (1890), Skutsch, Farschungen zur lateinischen Grammattk und Metrik (1892), Iambenkurzung und Synizese (Satura Viadrina) (1896), continued by the author in a work called Pépas (1903); Leo, Die plautinischen Cantua und die hellenistische Lyrik (1897); Maurenbrecher, Hiatus und Verschleifung im alten Latein (1899); Ahlberg, De proceleusmaticis (1900), De correptione iambica plautina (1901); Jacobsohn, Quaestiones plautinae (1904); Radfo, on the “Recession of the Latin Accent” (in Amer. Journ. Phil., 1904), “Studies in Latin Accent and Metric” (in Trans. Amer. Phil. Assoc., 1904), “Plautine synthezesis” (ibid., 1905, continued in Amer. Journ. Phil., 1906), (a work on cognate subjects is promised by Exon); Sudhaus, Der Aufbau der plautinischen Canttca (1909).

Syntax.—The most recent works bearing on Old Latin syntax, are Sjogren, Zum Gebrauch des Futurums im Altlateinischen (1906); Lindsay, Syntax of Plautus (1907); Sonnenschein, The Unity of the Latin Subjunctve (1910). A work by H. Thomas, entitled A catalogue raisonné of the Subjunctve in Plautus, in support of the theory of the unity of origin of the Latin Subjunctive, is announced as in preparation.

Lexica.—The only completed lexicon (alpart from the Indices of Naudet, 1832, and Weise, 1838) is that of Pareus (2nd ed., 1634). New lexica have been begun by Waltzing (1900; apparently not to be continued) and Lodge (1901; in progress). The latter work, when completed, will be indispensable.

Translations and Adaptations.—A comprehensive view of the influence of Plautus on modern literature's is given by Reinhardstoettner, Spatere Bearbeitungen plautinischer Lustspiele (1886). Many adaptations for the Italian stage were produced between the years 1486 and 1550, the earliest (the Menaechmi) under the direction of Ercole I., duke of Ferrara. From Italy the practice spread to France, Spain, England and other countries.

Of English plays, the interlude called Jack Juggler (between 1547 and 1553) was based on the Amphitruo, and the lost play called the Historie of Error (acted in 1577) was probably based on the Menae-chmi; Nicholas Udall's Ralph Royster Doyster, the first English comedy (acted before 1551, first printed 1566), is founded on the Miles glorious; Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors (about 1591) is an adaptation of the Menaechmi; and his Falstaff may be regarded as an idealized reproduction or development of the braggart soldier of Plautus and Terence—a type of character which reappears in other forms not only in English literature (eg. in Shakespeare's Parolles and Ben Johnson's Captain Bobadil) but also in most of the literature's of modern Europe. Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew has been influenced in several respects (including the names Tranio and Grumio) by the Mostellarta. Ben Jonson produced a skilful amalgamation of the Aulularta and the Captivi in his early play The Case is Altered (written before 1599). Thomas Heywood adapted the Amghttruo in his Silver Age (1613), the Rudens in his Captives (license 1624), and the Mostellaria in his English Traveller (1633). Dryden's Amphitryon or the two Sosias (1690) is based partly on the Amphitruo, partly on Molière's adaptation thereof; Fielding's Miser (acted 1732) on Molière's L'Avare rather than on the Aulularia, and his Intriguing Chambermaid (acted 1733) on Regnard's Le Retour imprévu rather than on the Mostellaria. There was no English translation, strictly so called, of any play of Plautus in the 16th or 17th century, except that of the Menaechmi by W. W. (probably William Warner), first printed in 1595, which Shakespeare may possibly have used (in MS.) for his Comedy of Errors. A translation of the whole of Plautus in “familiar blank verse” by Bonnell Thornton and others appeared in 1767 (2nd ed., 1769-l774). Five plays have been translated in the metres of the original by Sugden (1893).  (E. A. So.) 

  1. See further P. E. Legrand, Daos: tableau de la comédie grecque pendant la période dite nouvelle (1910).