Sarsina, Plautus' country
TITUS MACCIUS PLAUTUS
We don't know much about Plautus (Sarsina, about 250 b.C.- maybe Rome, 184 b.C.), and the pieces of information we have are not very reliable: it seems that, when he became a famous actor, he badly invested his money, and because of the debts he was forced to live by working in a mill, turning the millstone.
In this period he started writing comedies, such as the "Saturio" (The Satiate Man) and the "Addictus" (The slave for debts). These titles remind of his unlucky personal vicissitudes. Together with a third comedy, which has no title, these works were successfully represented and intiated a lucky theatre activity which lasted more than forty years: averse to politics, but sensitive to the events of that period (his works developed during the second Punic War), Plautus lived entirely by his art, practised with tireless creative fervour: in a few words, he wrote in order to earn money, his writing was nothing more than a profession.
Moreover, Cicero, in his work "De senectute", affirms that PLAUTUS wrote some comedies such as "Pseudulus", when he was well on in years. For this reason, we can suppose that in 191 b.C. he was already an elderly man. In his "Brutus" Cicero also reveals the year of Plautus' death.
codices, which contain Plautus' comedies, hand on his entire name, Titus
Maccius Plautus. These could be, however, fictitious names: "Maccius"
seems to come from the homonymous Atellan mask, and the word "Plautus"
can mean both "flat feet" and "long hanging ears". It
is possible that "Titus" and "Maccius" are stage-
names used by Plautus during his acting career.
An erudite man of that period,
Marco Terenzio Varrone, studies Plautus' comedies ("De comoedis
Plautinis") and subdivided them into three groups:
Varrone had such an authority that only the 21 authentic works continued to be copied. However, according to the testimony of the ancients, we are induced to think that there must be other comedies written by Plautus, then lost during the years: "Commorientes", "Colax", "Gemini lenones", "Condalium", "Anus", "Agroecus", "Faerenatrix", "Acharistio", "Parasitus piger", "Artemo", "Frivolaria", "Sitellitergus", "Astraba".
Thanks to the "didascalie" ( short explanations provided by grammarians about the first representation, the execution and the result of the play) we only know the date of composition of the "Stichus" (200 b.C.) and of the "Pseudulus" (191 b.C.): the chronolgy of the other works can be determined only thanks to inner elements, and it is possible to suppose a development of his works from the "farce" to a sort of "comic opera" (we must say, however, that there isn't any hypothesis which has definetely imposed itself).
However, a possible chronological order could be: "Asinaria" (212), "Mercator" (212-10), "Rudens" (211-205), "Amphitruo" (206), "Menaechmi" (206), "Miles gloriosus" (206-5), "Cistellaria" (204), "Stichus" (200), "Persa" (dopo il 196), "Epidicus" (195-4), "Aulularia" (194), "Mostellaria" (uncertain), "Curculio" (200-191?), "Pseudolus" (191), "Captivi" (191-90), "Bacchides" (189), "Truculentus" (189), "Poenulus" (189-8), "Trinummus" (188), "Casina" (186-5); besides, we indicate the "Vidularia", which has come to us with some missing parts. The dates of these works are obviously liable to a lot of doubts, since they are the result of mere suppositions. Moreover, it is important to remember that, in the codices, works are more or less arranged in alphabetical order.
Plautus: his greatness
“Musas plautino sermone locuturas fuisse, si latine loqui vellent” ("If Muses had wished to express themselves in latin, they would have talkd Plauts' language"). This is how Quiniliano, in his “Instituto oratoria”, qoutes the critical opinion of Elio Stilone, the first great latin philologist who lived during the II century b. C.)
Plautus is the first latin author whose works are still entirely preserved, and he was aldo the first who devoted himself exclusively to a sole literary genre, the comedy, making an original synthesis of the new Greec comedy and of the elements from the popular tradition of the Italic farce.
“Plautus, together with terenzio, is the only poet of the archaic literature of Rome, whose voice is still "alive" among us. Virgilius excepted, there is no Latin poet who, like Plautus, influenced so deeply the modern European literatures, through the most lively thing ever created by the custom and the genius of the people: the theatre. From the "erudite" comedy of the Renaissance to the improvised comedy, from the big Frenchclassical theatre to the comic opera of the XVIII and XIX centuries, Plautus' genius remained unimpaired up to the present time...." (PLAUTO – Le commedie, edited by Giuseppe Augello, UTET Torino, 1961).
“Plautus is the "giant” who towers at the beginning of the Latin Literature in a position of isolation and separation from the most typical tradition of the spiritual and literary civilisation expressed in that language. Plautus appears as the most characteristic product of Archaism, the most authentic voice of the latinity of his times, so deeply-rooted in that period that it has nothing to do with the following aristocratic and alitish conformation of the Latin Culture...." (Tito Maccio Plauto “Tutte le Commedie", edited by Ettore Paratore, Newton Compton editori s.r.l. – Roma, 1992).
Thanks to his extraordinary imaginative and expressive talent, to the richness, the fluency and the potency of his language and to the metric variety, his art has original traits and a genuine value. The ancients already considered the richness and the variety of the prosody a typical characteristic of Plautus' writing, as we can read in the epitaph of the poet quoted by Gellio (who had read it in Varrone's writings), where it is written that, when Plautus died: “numeri innumeri simul omnes conlacrimarunt” (innumerable rythms all together burst into tears).
After the fortune enjoyed up to Adriano's times, the interest in Plautus' writings started to fade, as if men didn't want to laugh any more.
is the only one who mentions him in the "Purgatory" (Purgatorio, XXII, 90),
among the ancient spirits: this was the sole voice who recalled Plautus in
a period when the poet's name was nearly forgotten.
Other poets inspired by Plautus were Lesage, Destouche, Corneille, Lessing, Dryden and Goldoni.
Lecturae Plautinae Sarsinates
Latest updating date :20-11-2006