The Ancient Library

Scanned text contains errors.



poet has been erroneously given in all editions of Plautus from the revival of learning down to the present day. Ritschl first pointed out, in an essay published in 1842, that the real name of the poet was T. Maccius Plautus^ and not M. Accius Plautus) as we find in all printed editions. It would take too much space to copy the proofs of this fact, which are perfectly satisfactory. We need only state here that in not a single manuscript is the poet called M. Accius Plautus, but alnrost always Plautus simply, Plautus Comicus, or Plautus Comicus Poeta. Ritschl was first led to the discovery of the real name of the poet by finding, in the Pa­limpsest manuscript in the Ambrosian library at Milan, the plays entitled T. macci plavti, and not M. Acci Plauti. He has shown that the two names of M. Accius have been manufactured out of the one of Maccius, just as the converse has hap­pened to the author of the Noctes Atticae, whose two names of A. Gellius have been frequently con­tracted into Agellius. Ritschl has restored the true name of the poet in the prologues to two of his plays, where the present reading bears evident marks of corruption. Thus in the prologue to the Mercator (v. 10), we ought to read " Eadem Latine Mercator Macci Titi" instead of u Eadem Latine Mercator Marci Accii;" and in the prologue to the Asinaria (v. 11), "Demophilus scripsit> J\facciu> vortit barbare" is the true reading, and not " Demophilus scripsit, Marcus vortit barbare."

T. Maccius was the original name of the poet. The surname of Plautus was given him from the flatness of his feet, according to the testimony of Festus (p. 238, ed. Miiller), who further states that people with flat feet were called Ploti by the Umbrians. But besides Plautus we find another surname given to the poet in many manuscripts and several editions, namely, that of Asinius. In all these instances, however, he is always called Plautus Asinius, never Asinius Plautus, so that it would appear that Asinius was not regarded as his gentile name, but as a cognomen. Hence some modern writers have supposed that he had two cognomens, and that the surname of Asinus was given to him in contempt, from the fact of his working at a mill, which was usually the work of an ass (Asinus), and that this surname was changed by the copyists into Asinius. But this explana­tion of the origin of the surname is in itself ex­ceedingly improbable; and if Asinius were a regu­lar cognomen of the poet, it is inconceivable that we should find no mention of it in any of the ancient writers. Ritschl, however, has pointed out the true origin of the name, and has proved quite satisfactorily, however improbable the state­ment appears at first sight, that Asinius is a corruption of Sarsinas, the ethnic name of the poet. He has, by a careful examination of manuscripts, traced the steps by which Sarsinatis first became Arsinatis, which was then written Arsin., subse­quently Arsinii, and finally AsiniL

Having thus discussed the chief points con­nected with the life of our poet, we may sum up the results in a few words. T. Maccius Plautus was born at the Umbrian village of Sarsina, about'b. c. 254, He probably came to Rome at an early age, since he displays such a perfect mastery of the Latin language, and an acquaintance with Greek literature, which he could hardly have acquired in a provincial town. Whether he ever obtained the ( Roman franchise is doubtful. When he arrived


at Rome he "was in needy cireumstanceSj and was first employed in the service of the actors. With the money he had saved in this inferior station he left Rome and set up in business: but his speculations failed ; he returned to Rome, and his necessities obliged him to enter the service of a baker, who employed him in turning a hand-mill. While in this degrading occupation he wrote three plays, the sale of which to the managers of the public games enabled him to quit his drudgery, and begin his literary career. He was then probably about 30 years of age (b. c. 224), and accordingly commenced writing come­dies a few years before the breaking out of the Second Punic War. He continued his literary occupation for about forty years, and died b. c. 184, when he was seventy years of age. His contemporaries at first were Livius Andronicus and Naevius, afterwards Ennius and Caecilius: Te­rence did not rise into notice till almost twenty years after his death. During the long time that he held possession of the stage, he was always a great favourite of the people ; and he expressed a bold consciousness of his own powers in the epitaph which he wrote for his tomb, and which has been preserved by A. Gellius (i. 24) : —

" Postquam est mortem aptus Plautus, comoedia


Scena deserta, dein risus, ludus jocusque Et numeri innumeri simul omnes collacrumarunt."

We now come to the works of Plautus. In the time of Varro there were 130 plays, which bore the name of Plautus, but of these a large portion was considered by the best Roman critics not to be the genuine productions of the poet. Some of them were written by a poet of the name of Plautius, the resemblance of whose name to that of the great comic poet caused them to be attri­buted to the latter. Others were said to have been written by more ancient poets, but to have been retouched and improved by Plautus, and hence from their presenting some traces of the genuine style of Plautus, to have been assigned to him. The grammarian L. Aelius considered twenty-five only to have been the genuine pro­ductions of the poet; and Varro, who wrote a work upon the subject, entitled Quaestiones Plau-tinae, limited the undoubted comedies of the poet to twenty-one, which were hence called the Fabulae Varronianae. At the same time it ap­pears clearly from A. Gellius (iii. 3), to whom we are indebted for these particulars, that Varro looked upon other comedies as in all probability the works of Plautus, though they did not possess the same amount of testimony in their favour as the twenty-one. Ritschl, in his admirable essay on the Fabulae Varronianae of Plautus, published in 1843 and 1844, supposes, with much proba­bility, that Varro divided the genuine comedies of Plautus into three classes: 1. Those which were assigned to Plautus in all the authorities that Varro consulted. These were the twenty-one, all of which were probably written in the latter years of the poet's life, when he had already ac­quired a great reputation, and when, consequently, every piece that he produced was sure to attract attention, and to be entered in the didascaliae or lists of his pieces. 2. Those comedies which were attributed to Plautus in most of the authori­ties, and which appeared to Varro to bear internal

About | First



page #  
Search this site
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.
Ancient Library was developed and hosted by Tim Spalding of