Category: Latin literature

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)


138. Aulularia (The Pot of Gold) by Plautus (c.195 BC)

138. Aulularia (The Pot of Gold) by Plautus (c.195 BC)

Plot:  The old miser Euclio has found a pot of gold buried under his house, and spends all his days in a perpetual fear of being found out and robbed. His daughter Phaedria has been seduced by his neighbour’s nephew Lyconides, who now wants to marry her, but his uncle has already proposed. Then the pot gets stolen ….

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

My thoughts:  This play has not survived the centuries intact, with the ending lost. Based on some later Latin commentary, the editor Watling has written a quite satisfactory ending for the play which is in keeping with the tone and known resolution of the plot.

The rantings of the miser are great entertainment and although there is not a lot more to the story, they keep the play bubbling along and great fun to read. This is the best of Plautus so far. Not too sure about a cook named Anthrax though!!

Favourite lines/passages:

Discussing just how tightfisted old Euclio is

Strobilus : I am telling you, if he loses so much as a grain of salt he thinks he’s being robbed. He raises heaven and hell if he sees a puff of smoke escaping from his roof. Do you know, when he goes to sleep he ties a balloon on his mouth?

Anthrax : What does he do that for?

Strobilus : So as not to lose his wind while sleeping.

Anthrax : Does he stuff up the other end too? He might lose some wind that way.

Strobilus : And I’ll tell you something else. It makes him weep to see the water pouring away when he washes himself. …. He wouldn’t lend you the price of a day’s starvation.

But Euclio is quick to see the parsimony of others, as he complains about the condition of the sheep provided for his share of his daughter’s wedding feast

Euclio : It was nothing but skin and bone. It must have been worried to death. You could inspect its entrails by simply holding it up to the daylight.

Personal rating:  A strong 8/10

Also in that year:  In 195 BC, Antiochus III of Syria defeats Ptomely V of Egypt in the Fifth Syrian War, reducing the latter’s ‘Asian’ holdings to Cyprus.

Next : Another Plautus comedy : Trinummus (A Three-dollar Day)

137. Rudens (The Rope) by Plautus (c.198 BC)

137. Rudens (The Rope) by Plautus (c.198 BC)

Plot:  A missing daughter, washed ashore after a shipwreck, is pursued by her captor who wants her for his brothel. A trunk full of treasure, a fishing net (with ropes!), and a shrine to Venus all play their part in restoring her to her family.

My copy was the Penguin Black Classic, The Rope and other plays, by Plautus, translated by E. F. Watling (ISBN 0140441360)

My thoughts:  More obvious fodder for Shakespeare. This was also a fun read, particularly as Labrax the pimp is thwarted, then mystifyingly invited into the general revelry at the end. The beach setting was also a welcome change from the street scenes of the previous plays.

Personal rating:  6/10

Also in that year: Rome helps the Greek states to throw off Macedonian control and regain their independence (200-196 BC)

Next : Aulularia (The Pot of Gold), another comedy from Plautus (c.195 BC)

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

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?)