Plautus (Titus Maccius Plautus) was born around 254 BCE in the town of Sarsina (now Saraceno) in Umbria. He was a Roman comedy writer, one of the oldest (next to Cato the Elder) Roman writers whose works have survived in larger fragments, and one of the two (next to Terentius) Roman comedians whose comedies we can read.
We know practically nothing about the life of Plautus. He settled in Rome. He made a large fortune from comedy writing, which he then invested in shipping. As a result of the ship’s sinking, his company went bankrupt and was left destitute. In order to make a living, he reportedly got a job at the mill turning the burrs. This work was usually done by slaves or draft animals. So it was a really humiliating job. In his spare time, he wrote three comedies, and after staging them, he regained financial independence.
According to the records of Cicero Plautus died in 184 BCE. for the Consulate of Publius Claudius Pulcher and Lucius Porcjus Licynus.
Plautus’s comedies are remakes and adaptations of Greek comedies belonging to the new Attic comedy. Plautus wrote only pieces of the fabula palliata type. Most of Plautus’ stories were written by Menander, Difilos or Philemon. The songs are written in a blunt language, similar to the colloquial Latin of that period, they present many realistic situations from the life of antiquity.
He created the so-called comedies of intrigue in which the most important role was played by a clever slave or a hetter (often a free girl who went missing years ago). Plautus made many changes in relation to his prototypes, he used the so-called contamination, mixing characters and scenes from different comedies and complicating the plot. He adapted the action to the tastes and atmosphere of Rome at that time (farce inserts, no choirs). Instead of longer dialogues, he wrote vocal parts (cantica). He also introduced ballet. This approach brought the works closer to contemporary vaudeville than to classical comedy. Plautus created a gallery of famous stage types of characters (reckless youth, clever slave, greedy heterosexual, ruthless pimple, strict father, conceited soldier, etc.). He wrote in colloquial, flexible, pictorial language, full of humour.
It should be noted that some comedy writers began selling their own plays under the name of Plautus. This was due to the enormous popularity of Plautus, whose name was a guarantee of the success of the performance. As a result, already in the times of the late republic, about one hundred and thirty comedies were known under the name of Plautus. It was well realized that some of them were falsely attributed to Plautus. In addition, it was clear that Plautus could also adapt plays of other native comedy writers (such as Nevius) in exactly the same way he did with Menander’s comedies, which only complicates matters. Nevertheless, efforts were made to establish a canon of plays that were produced by Plautus without any doubt.
The most famous canon was the so-called Varro’s canon, established by Marcus Terentius Varro. Varron divided the collection of comedies attributed to Plautus into three parts:
- authentic comedies – 21 pieces;
- Comedies of Doubtful Authenticity – Number unknown. These include, for example, Saturio, Addictus, Fretum, Neruolaria;
- inauthentic comedies, for example: Boeotia, Gemini lenones, Condalium, Bis, Agroecus, Commorientes.
Until our times, 21 comedies, which were considered authentic, have been practically undamaged. These are: “Amphitrion” (Amphitruo), “Donkey Comedy” (Asinaria), “Pot of Gold” (Aulularia), “Sisters” (Bacchides), “Prisoners” (Captivi), “The Bride” (Casina), “Box Comedy” (Cistellaria), “Corn Wool” (Curculio), “Epidicus” (Epidicus), “Brothers” (Menaechmi), “Merchant “(Mercator),” Soldier bragging “(Miles gloriosus),” Fears “(Mostellaria),” Pers “(Persa), “Punijczyk” (Poenulus), “Pseudolus”, “Rudens” (Lina), “Stichus”, “Three pennies” (Trinummus), “Truculentus”, “Vidularia”.
The rest are just titles or a handful of excerpts.
Plautus’ comedies were staged primarily at the so-called ludi scaenici, or “stage games”. The recipient of his works were both the lower and upper classes of society.