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TITUS MACCIUS PLAUTUS (originally per...

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Originally appearing in Volume V21, Page 830 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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TITUS MACCIUS PLAUTUS (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. 6o). 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 ' Some doubt has been expressed as to whether the eggs are extruded or hatched within the body. At a scientific meeting of the Zoological Society of London, on the 17th of December 1901, Mr Oldfield Thomas read a letter from Mr G. Metcalfe, who had lived many years in a region inhabited by these animals. He had made special inquiries of the authorities of the Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Hobart museums, and published questions in the newspapers, but no evidence has reached him that the eggs of Ornithorhyncus have ever been obtained except by the dissection of the mother. Mr Thomas laid stress on what had been advanced on the other side by Mr Caldwell (Philosophical Transactions, clxxviii. 463), Professor Spencer (Nature, xxxi. 132) and Mr J. Douglas Ogilby (Catalogue of Australian Mammals, p. 1, Sydney, 1902), but expressed the hope " that further inquiries might be made by naturalists in Australia as to the actual finding of such eggs in the burrows, so that this most interesting point might be finally settled." 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. 6o, 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 artificum rcaenicorum, 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 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 1. 201 seq.; and the Stichus is proved by its didascalia to have been produced in zoo 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 1. 990). Of the Vidularia we possess only the fragments contained in the Codex Ambrosianus. The plays of Plautus are all based on Greek originals.' 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). 'See further i . E. Legrand, Daos: tableau de la comedie grecque pendant la piriode elite nouvelle (zoto). 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 znd 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, 555 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 rapaxAavoLOvpov 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 wonder-fully 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 numeei 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, 17o–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. 1. 58), where he says that Plautus was regarded as a second Epicharmus: Plautus ad exemplar Skull 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, ii. 420, where Polonius says, " The best actors in the world . . . Seneca cannot be too heavy nor Plautus too light."
End of Article: TITUS MACCIUS PLAUTUS (originally perhaps MACCUS; cf. Asin. Prol. 11)

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