The Ancient Library

Scanned text contains errors.



only a few have been preserved. They are: -1. Colax. 2. Carbonaria. 3. Acharistio. 4. Bis compressa. 5. Anus. 6. Agroecus. 7. Dyscolus. 8. Phagon. (?) 9. Cornicula or Cornicularia. 10. Calceolus. 11. Baccaria. 12. Lipargus. (?) 13. Caecus or Praedones. Thus we have the titles of 21 Varronian comedies of the first class, 19 of the second and third classes, and 13 comedies not ac­knowledged by Varro, in all 53. Accordingly, if there were 130 comedies bearing the name of Plautus, we have lost all notice of 77. There is a play entitled Querolus or Aulularia, which bears the name of Plautus in the manuscripts, and is quoted under his name by Servius (ad Virg. Aen. iii. 226). It is evidently, however, not the pro­duction of our poet, and was probably written in the third or fourth century of the Christian aera. The best edition of it is by Klinkhammer, entitled, " Querolus sive Aulularia, incerti auctoris comoedia togata," Amsterdam, 1829.

The comedies of Plautus enjoyed unrivalled po­pularity among the Romans. Of this we have a proof in their repeated representations after the poet's death, to which we have already alluded. In a house at Pompeii a ticket was found for ad­mission to the representation of the Casina of Plautus (see Orelli, Inscript. No. 2539), which must consequently have been performed at that time, shortly before its destruction in a. d. 79 ; and we learn from Arnobius that the Amphitruo was acted in the reign of Diocletian. The continued popularity of Plautus, through so many centuries, was owing, in a great measure, to his being a national poet. For thougli his comedies belong to the Comoedia palliata, and were taken, for the most part, from the poets of the new Attic comedy, we should do great injustice to Plautus if we regarded him as a slavish imitator of the Greeks. Though he founds his plays upon Greek models, the characters in them act, speak, and joke like genuine Romans, and he thereby secured the sympathy of his audience more completely than Terence could ever have done. Whether Plautus borrowed the plan of all his plays from Greek models, it is impossible to say. The Cistellaria, Bac-chides, Poenulus, and Stichus were taken from Me-nander, the Casina and Rudens from Diphilus, and the Mercator and the Trinummus from Philemon, and many others were undoubtedly founded upon Greek originals. But in all cases Plautus allowed himself much greater liberty than Terence ; and in some instances h'e appears to 'have simply taken the leading idea of the play from the Greek, and to have filled it up in his own fashion. It has been inferred from a well-known line of Horace (Epist. ii. 1.58), "Plautus ad exemplar Siculi properare Epicharmi," that Plautus took great pains to imitate Epicharmus. But there is no correspondence between any of the existing plays of Plautus, and the known titles of the comedies of Epicharmus ; and the verb properare probably has reference only to the liveliness and energy of Plautus's style, in which he bore a resemblance to the Sicilian poet. Another mistake has arisen from the statement of Jerome (Ep. 57, 101) that Plautus imitated the poets of the old Attic co­medy, but the only resemblance he bears to them is in the coarseness and boldness of his jokes. He borrowed to a slight extent from the middle Attic comedy, from which the Amphitruo was taken ; but, Hh we have already remarked, it was the poets of


the new Attic comedy whom Plautus took as his models.

It was, however, not only with the common people that Plautus was a favourite ; educated Romans read and admired his works down to the latest times. The purity of his language and the refinement and good-humour of his wit are cele­brated in particular by the ancient critics. The grammarian L. Aelius Stilo used to' say, and Varro adopted his words, " that the Muses would use the language of Plautus, if they were to speak Latin." (Apud Quintil. x. 1. § 99.) In the same manner A. Gellius constantly praises the language of Plautus in the highest terms, and in one passage (vii. 17) speaks of him as "homo linguae atque elegantiae in verbis Latinae princeps." Cicero (de Off. i. 29) places his wit on a par with that of the old Attic comedy, and St. Jerome used to console himself with the perusal of the poet after spending many nights in tears, on account of his past sins.* The favourable opinion which the ancients enter­tained of the merits of Plautus has been confirmed by the judgment of the best modern critics, and by the fact that several of his plays have been imitated by many of the best modern poets. Thus the Amphitruo has been imitated by Moliere and Dry den, the Aulularia by Moliere in his Avare, the Mostellaria by Regnard, Addison, and others, the Menaechmi by Shakspere in his Comedy of Er-rours, the Trinummus by Lessing in his Schatz, and so with others. Lessing, who was undoubtedly one of the greatest critics of modern times, de­clares the Captivi of Plautus to be the finest comedy that was ever brought upon the stage, and says that he had repeatedly read it with the view of discovering some fault in it, and was never able to do so ; but, on the contrary, saw fresh reasons for admiring it on each perusal. Horace (De Arte Pott. 270), indeed, expresses a less favourable opinion of Plautus, and speaks with contempt of his verses and jests ; but it must be recollected that the taste of Horace had been formed by a different school of literature, and that he disliked the ancient poets of his country. Lessing, how­ever, has shown that the censure of Horace pro­bably does not refer to the general character of Plautus's poetry, but merely to his inharmonious verses and to some of his jests. And it must be admitted that only a blind admiration of the poet can fail to recognise some truth in the censure of Horace. Prosody and metre are not always strictly attended to, and there is frequently a want of harmony in his verses. His jests, also, are often coarse, and sometimes puerile ; but it must be recollected that they were intended to please the lower classes of Rome, and were accordingly adapted to the tastes of the day. The objections brought against the jokes of Plautus are equally applicable to those of Shakspere.

The text of Plautus has come down to us in a very corrupt state. It contains mamr lacunae and interpolations. Thus the Aulularia has lost its conclusion, the Bacchides its commencement, &c. ; and we find in the grammarians several quota­tions from the existing plays of Plautus which are not found in our present copies. The interpola­tions are still more numerous than the lacunae, and were for the most part made for the purpose of sup­plying gaps in the original manuscript. Some of these were introduced in ancient times, as is proved by their existence in the Palimpsest manuscript at

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