136. Menaechmi (The Brothers Menaechmus) by Plautus (c.200 BC)

I haven’t been able to source a satisfactory copy of Plautus’ Mercator. Penguin and Oxford World’s Classics don’t publish all of Plautus, and Project Gutenberg only has one volume of what was presumably a set. The Great Books and Classics website don’t even mention Plautus! The complete works published by Johns Hopkins University are full of Americanisms and jargon which sound too far removed from the original. This might sound contradictory given I enjoyed the modern filmed farces but you go into those aware that they are not attempting a faithful recreation of Plautus comedies. I am obviously not the only reader to think so as the library copy had pencil crosses and comments through the entire script!

So I have reluctantly settled for only reading those nine published by Penguin, so this post is on the next in chronological order – The Brothers Menaechmus.

Plot:  Menaechmus steals from his wife to give gifts to his mistress Erotium. He and his insatiably hungry friend Peniculus (“the Sponge”) make arrangements to meet at her house later for a sumptuous lunch. Meanwhile his long-lost identical twin Sosicles (also known as Menaechmus) has been searching for him for six years, and on the verge of ruin, finds himself in the same city and being mistaken for his brother by everyone.

My copy is the Penguin Classic The Pot of Gold and other plays, translated by E. F. Watling (ISBN 0140441492)

My thoughts:  Inspiration for Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. Good fun throughout as the brothers are mistaken for each other in various combinations. It’s a shame the final revelation is lacklustre, but still an enjoyable read. would be a good show to watch and even better to perform.

Favourite lines/passages:

Peniculus accosts the wrong twin when he realises he has missed out on his lunch

“And what have you got to say for yourself, you base, vain, fickle and flighty, false and faithless, crooked and inconstant man? What have I done to deserve such infamous treatment at your hands? I know how you gave me the slip down in town not an hour ago, how you put away a luncheon without me there to assist at the obsequies. How dare you? Had I not as much right to be at the graveside as you?”                                                   page 120

Diversions and digressions: Except that I know I will get there some time down the track, it would be interesting to read The Comedy of Errors to see how Shakespeare treated and built on this material.

Personal rating:  7/10

Also in that year:  Rome continues to defeat Carthaginian forces in Africa (203 and 202 BC) and Hannibal is recalled from Italy. The Second Punic War hence ends, with Carthage surrendering all its Mediterranean lands to Rome. In other news, China will be ruled now by the Western Han dynasty for the next two hundred years.

The sanity in between:  Black Coffee, a novelization of Agatha Christie’s play from 1930, written by Charles Osborne. Unfortunately he doesn’t have the light touch of dear old Agatha, and in such a brief story, there is not the time for effective red herrings or detailed characterization. He also fails to capture Poirot convincingly (surely he would never wear tweed!)  so guessing the rather melodramatic murderer before the ending didn’t provide me with a glow of achievement.  Pleasant but not worth buying for my own library.

Next :  Rudens (The Rope) by Plautus

Oh! I promised you a Roman orgy upon reaching the 2nd century BC, didn’t I? Here it is below – leave your sandals at the door. Bit of a Gaulish influence but I’m sure you’ll forgive me. (Actually Kimmy chose the venue – can you spot her playmate Dogmatix?)

One comment

  1. Tweed! Good grief! *faints* We just don’t insult each other with the same aplomb as these ancients used to, do we? Mind you, I don’t suppose it would be easy to fit all that base, vain, fickle stuff into 140 characters…


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