Home The history Titus Maccius Plautus


Sarsina, Plautus' country


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The life

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.

The 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.
When he died, a series of comedies in his name started to circulate, but a lot of them revealed themselves to be a forgery. In the first century b.C. something like 130 titles were circulating: the name "Plautus" was evidently a guarantee of success that induced playwrights and showmen to false attributions.

An erudite man of that period, Marco Terenzio Varrone, studies Plautus' comedies ("De comoedis Plautinis") and subdivided them into three groups:
- 21 works, which can be certainly attributed to Plautus (called "Fabulae Varronianae");
- 19 works of uncertain attrbution;
All the other works which are considered spurious.

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.

Dante 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.
Plautus came back on to the scene during the Renaissance: it was a clamorous return, which seemed to renew the ancient interest and popularity. In that period culture was undergoing a process of laicization, and mysteries, from which the profane drama was originating, were passing through a crisis. The discovery of Plautus' writings speeded up this process and gave an incalculable impulse to the birth of the modern theatre.
With reference to this, it is important to say that in our Region, in Ferrara, Ercole the 1st inaugurated a permanent theatre in Palazzo Ducale, with the performance of Plautus' Anphitruo.
In the big Florentine theatre of the Renaissance, Plautus' works were mostly remade, imitated, emulated, in conformity with the tendecy of our Renaissance to create the "new" from the "old". 
Machiavelli, Giannotti, Fiorenzuola, Trissino, the cardinal of Bibbiena, Cecchi, Gelli, by translating and imitating Plautus created the first Italian comic theatre.
The "commedia dell'arte" (improvised comedy) as well, born from a sort of romantic reaction to the erudute drama, owes a lot to the Latin Theatre.
Even outside Italy the modern theatre was influenced by Plautus' writings, imitated several time by authors such as Shakespeare (la Comedy of Errors), Molière (Amphitryon et Avare), Beaumarchais (Le mariage de Figaro), Kleist (Amphitryon), Lemercier (Plaute ou la Comedie latine).

Other poets inspired by Plautus were Lesage, Destouche, Corneille, Lessing, Dryden and Goldoni.


Plautus Festival
The "PLAUTUS FESTIVAL" is an event consisting of a series of theatrical performances, which take place every summer in Sarsina, in order to pay honour to the famous playwright.
It is the only review of classic theatre which takes place during the summer in Romagna, and it is for this reason an important event with a great artistic and cultural value.
Some of the most famous Italian companies perform plays written both by Plautus and by other "classic" authors.
After 2000 years, Plautus' works still amuse, thanks to the expressive richness of dialogues, the characters and the comicality of situations.
Performances take place at the Arena Plautina, an open-air theatre recently built in a natural slope, with a semicircular terraced structure, near the Calbano hill.
Moreover, the main square in sarsina is dedicated to Plautus.
Not far from the Archaeological Museum there is a monument dedicated to the Latin playwright, with a bronze high-relief created in 1951 by the sculptor Duilio Cambellotti. 
In via G. Capello there is also the so-called "Casa di Plauto" (Plautus' House), but it is a building which incorporates other roman structures that a XVII century tradition connects to the Latin author.

Lecturae Plautinae Sarsinates
Every year, the first Saturday of September, an international meeting  takes place in Sarsina (Lecturae Plautinae Sarsinates). It consists of the study and analysis of a comedy, with the participation of some of the most famous Italian and foreign scholars.


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Latest updating date :20-11-2006