Month: September 2017

144. The Girl from Andros by Terence (166 BC)

144. The Girl from Andros by Terence (166 BC)

Plot:  Pamphilus wants to marry disgraced Glycerium, a girl from Andros and sister of a immigrant prostitute, who he has fallen in love with and made pregnant.  But his father Simo has arranged for him to marry instead Philumena, the daughter of his friend Chremes. To further complicate things, Pamphilus’ friend Charinus is in love with Philumena. The slave Davos convinces Pamphilus that the planned wedding is a ruse by Simo, as he knows Chremes has called it off, and convinces Pamphilus to agree to the ‘wedding’ to confuse and delay Simo long enough to allow the real wedding of Pamphilus and Glycerium. But of course things don’t go according to plan. And is Glycerium really the sister of a courtesan from Andros?

My copies of the comedies of Terence are all taken from the Penguin Classic The Comedies, translated by Betty Radice (ISBN 014044324X)


My thoughts: At first glance, this seems like a rather tame Plautine comedy, with a slave trying to fool his master so that the son can marry his true love. And like Plautus, Terence is using plays from the Greek New Comedy corpus as inspiration (in this case, two Menander plays, The Girl from Samos, and The Girl from Perinthos). But as the translator Radice points out in her introduction, Terence treats his characters with more realism and less caricature, resulting in less raucousness. Whether this is an improvement depends on your taste – I  like my comedy both clever and a bit raucous.

What Terence did introduce to drama was the double plot – having two plots intertwine – in this case, two sets of lovers entangled in misunderstandings – very Shakespearean – although the second love affair is given very little stage time.

Terence was a young man, a freed slave of a Roman senator, when he wrote the first of his six plays. He went missing, presumed dead, on a trip to Greece to search for more material, but no more is known on what exactly happened, and a number of theories have arisen over the years.

He was accused of plagiarism, and at the same time ruining Greek plays by cherry-picking parts to form a different whole. His most vociferous critic went by the gloriously villainous name of Luscius Lanuvinus. It was also claimed that his plays were really written or at least heavily influenced by his more illustrious friends, but the fact that new plays did not surface after his disappearance seems to disprove that rumour.

Personal rating:  5/10

Also in that year:  In the twenty odd years since 188 BC, Philip V of Macedonia dies (179 BC) and is succeeded by Perseus who is hostile to Rome, leading to the Third Macedonian War (171-167 BC), ending in Perseus’ imprisonment and death. Roman forces takes some Greek hostages to Italy, including the historian Polybius (167 BC).

The Chinese have discovered porcelain, while the Romans have started making stone bridges and laying pavements.

Next : Terence’s next play, The Mother-in-Law

143. Mostellaria (The Ghost) by Plautus (c.188 BC)

143. Mostellaria (The Ghost) by Plautus (c.188 BC)

Plot:   Young Philolaches has been spending his absent father’s money on wine, women and song, abetted by the slave Tranio. On the return of the father Theopropides, Tranio sets out to hide the goings-on, firstly by suggesting that the house is haunted (to hide the current drinking party) and that they have bought the house next door (to wangle money out of Theopropides, to pay a moneylender). But Tranio is not as clever as he thinks ….

This was the last of the plays in Plautus’ The Rope and other plays, translated by E. F. Watling and published by Penguin (ISBN 0140441360)

My thoughts:  An extra complication allows the play to take another swerve before coming to a sudden and too-convenient ending. The frequent mention of crucifixion also leaves an uneasy echo to the antics of the slaves. 

Favourite lines/passages:

Another great insult :

Tranio : “Phew you stink – mud-begotten clod of goat and pig dung; you stink of dog and goat and garlic!”            page 27

….  and to balance, a compliment

Scapha : “What do you want with a mirror? You can show it more than it can show you.”   page 37

Diversions and digressions:

quinsy : an abcess on the tonsils   (Philolaches : “Oh, that I were a quinsy, to choke the life out of the poisonous old hag!”)

titivate : to make minor improvements to one’s appearance; to groom or spruce oneself up

Personal rating: 5/10

Also in that year:  Rome continues to flex her muscles as a world superpower; defeating Antiochus III again at Magnesia (190 BC), and forcing him to relinquish Asia Minor to Rhodes and Pergamum.

The read in between:  Mr. Mercedes, the first in a crime trilogy by Stephen King. An absorbing read (as he usually is) but very uncomfortable given the recent attacks in  London, Barcelona and most specifically Manchester, which are foreshadowed (without the religious or political motivations) in this book.

Next : Jumping twenty or so years to more Latin comedy with Terence and The Girl from Andros.

142. Pseudolus by Plautus (191 BC)

142. Pseudolus by Plautus (191 BC)

Plot:  Pseudolus the slave pledges to find enough money in one day to buy the girl that his owner’s son has fallen in love with, before she is sold off to a Macedonian soldier.

The last play in the Penguin Classic collection The Pot of Gold and other plays by Plautus, translated by E. F. Watling.

My thoughts:  Back to the clever and tricky Plautine slave who outfoxes the villain to save himself and his masters. I expected the shenanigans to be more intricate, or a last minute hitch to give the play a bit more suspense and comedy. Good but could have been better. Nevertheless it would be a joy to  watch on stage with great comic parts in Pseudolus and the pimp Ballio.

Favourite lines/passages:

Ballio : “I’d as soon trust you as tie up a stray dog with a string of sheep’s guts!”     page 229

Personal rating:  6/10

Kimmy’s rating:  Did someone say sheep’s guts??

 Also in that year: Roman forces crush the Syrian Antiochus III at Thermopylae and expel his army from mainland Greece.

The sanity in between:  Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, a great read for ages 10 to 110. Imagine Harry Potter written by Joss Whedon.

Next : Plautus’ last surviving play Mostellaria (The Ghost)

141. Amphitryo by Plautus (c.192 BC)

141. Amphitryo by Plautus (c.192 BC)

Plot:  Jupiter has seduced Amphitryo’s wife Alcmena, by disguising himself as Amphitryo; the result of which will be the birth of Heracles. Mercury has assisted in the deception by posing as Sosia, their slave. When the real Amphitryo and Sosia return home from the war, Mercury must stall them, and convince them they are mad, and Jupiter must save Alcmena’s reputation.

As usual the Penguin Classic edition, The Rope and other plays, translated by E. F. Watling.

My thoughts: Firmly back in  comedy this time, particularly the scene where Mercury (disguised as Sosia) convinces Sosia that he is not himself.

Sosia : “Well, I don’t know …. Now I come to look at him, and look at myself – I mean I know what I look like, I’ve looked in a mirror before now – he is very like me. ……….. But I can’t understand it … I’m sure I’m the same man I always was. ………… So help me Gods, where did I lose myself?  Where was I translated?  Where did I shed my skin?  Have I gone and left myself at the harbour by mistake?  ……….. I’ll go back to the harbour and tell master all about it. But perhaps he won’t know me either. Well, by Jupiter, I hope he doesn’t! Then I’ll shave my head and stick a freeman’s cap on my noddle.”        pages 245-246

Unfortunately, the scene where Amphitryo confronts Jupiter has been lost, but the editor has again recreated the dialogue, and convincingly enough for my purposes.

Favourite lines/passages:    Mercury and Sosia bantering was a joy

Mercury : “I shall have to put that clever tongue of yours to bed.”

Sosia : “You can’t. She’s not allowed out with strange men.”                     page 241

Diversions and digressions:  Noddle??  Someone’s head, but also a fool.

Personal rating: 5/10

Also in that year:  Antiochus III the Great, king of Syria and self-styled “champion of the Greeks fighting against Roman oppression” tries to expand his Seleucid empire by invading Greece with a 10,000 man army, setting himself against the Romans, Achaeans and Macedonians.

Next : Plautus’ Pseudolus 


140. Captivi (The Prisoners) by Plautus (c.193 BC)

140. Captivi (The Prisoners) by Plautus (c.193 BC)

Plot:  Hegio, an elderly but rich Aetolian, has already lost one son, Tyndarus, abducted as a child of age four by an unscrupulous runaway slave. So he is frantic that his other son, Philopolemus, now a grown man, has been captured by the enemy in the war between Aetolia and Elis. He sets out to buy up captured Elian soldiers, trying to find someone important enough to ransom for the return of Philopolemus. He manages to buy a number of men, including Philocrates and his servant Tyndarus, who have exchanged identities to try and secure Philocrates’ freedom.

As before, my copy is the Penguin edition translated by E. F. Watling.

My thoughts:  No rude slaves or libidinous women, this play is not what I had gathered a typical Plautine comedy to be. With nearly everyone acting in the noblest of ideals I found it refreshingly clean and yet suspenseful leading up to its resolution, as Hegio has discovered he has been tricked into releasing Philocrates, and has unknowingly sent his own long lost son Tyndarus to his death working in the mines. It would have made a great tragedy with a little tweaking.

The only real comic figure is the parasite Ergasilus; yet even he has a good heart, running to Hegio (his last remaining sympathetic friend) to tell him of Philopolemus’ return.

Personal rating: a high 6/10


Next :  Amphitryon by Plautus


139. Trinummus (A Three Dollar Day) by Plautus (c.194 BC)

139. Trinummus (A Three Dollar Day) by Plautus (c.194 BC)

Plot:  While Charmides is away on business, his son Lesbonicus spends up big, and his father’s friend Callicles must hide the family fortune away to stop it disappearing too; and yet find a way to pay the daughter’s dowry.

My copy was part of The Rope and other plays, a Penguin Black Classic translated by E. F. Watling.

My thoughts:  Not so comic as the earlier plays, with quite a bit of moralising and not much else. A little disappointing after the fun with Aulularia. 

As mentioned in an earlier post, Plautus tended to quite openly purloin his plays from Greek authors, rewrite and rename them for his own audiences. Often the Prologue mentions the original author and title – this one was adapted from Philemon’s Thesaurus (Treasure). But Plautus’ choices of title for his versions are often based on a minor prop or aspect of the play ; the three dollar day in this instance refers to a payment for an impostor to pretend to be a messenger from Charmides to provide an excuse for Callicles to use the hidden treasure to provide a dowry for Lesbonicus’ sister.

Favourite lines/passages:   Upon his return, Charmides offers thanks to Neptune. The language is quite formal compared to his dialogue later, so I assume that is the translator’s way of demonstrating Charmides’ respect to the God.

Charmides : ” …… Treacherous they call thee? Nay, to me thou hast been loyal. But for thy saving hand, thy satellites the demons of the deep had torn in pieces, scattered asunder all that I possessed, and my poor self, athwart the dark grey waters …. What time, like yelping hounds, the whirling winds, … ay, like mad dogs, encompassing my ship, with rains and waves and angry hurricanes, were like to rend our sails, smash yards and tear down topmasts … had it not been for thee and thy propitious grace”                               page 200

Diversions and digressions:  I am working three jobs now : the supermarket, the bookshop and a new job delivering library books to the elderly in nursing homes, so my reading is a little fragmented which may have also contributed to a feeling that this play was a bit lacklustre.

I never realised that Thesaurus originally meant treasure. I like that quite a lot. Nice one, Roget!

Personal rating:  4/10

Next : Still more Plautus with Captivi (The Prisoners)