Authors: Plautus

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Roman playwright

Author Works


External evidence suggests the following order for the plays of Plautus. It is possible, however, to give exact dates to only two of his plays. Asinaria (The Comedy of Asses, 1774)

Mercator (The Merchant, 1767)

Miles gloriosus (The Braggart Warrior, 1767)

Cistellaria (The Casket, 1774)

Stichus, 200 b.c.e. (English translation, 1774)

Aulularia (The Pot of Gold, 1767)

Curculio (English translation, 1774)

Mostellaria (The Haunted House, 1774)

Poenulus (The Carthaginian, 1774)

Pseudolus, 191 b.c.e. (English translation, 1774)

Epidicus (English translation, 1694)

Bacchides (The Two Bacchides, 1774)

Rudens (The Rope, 1694)

Captivi (The Captives, 1767)

Trinummus (The Three-penny Day, 1767)

Truculentus (English translation, 1774)

Amphitruo (Amphitryon, 1694)

Menaechmi (The Twin Menaechmi, 1595)

Persa (The Girl from Persia, 1774)

Casina (English translation, 1774)

The Comedies, pb. 1769-1774 (5 volumes)

Works, pb. 1928-1938 (5 volumes)

Plautus: The Comedies, pb. 1995 (4 volumes)


Titus Maccius Plautus (PLAW-tuhs) was born about 254 b.c.e. in Sarsina, the capital of the Umbrian people of central Italy, only a dozen years after they came under the sway of Rome. Being a freeman, the ambitious Titus could leave home and go south along the Flaminian Way to Rome, which was still a city of thatch and timber. Because some of the Roman generals had become lovers of the theater in Syracuse, where they saw adaptations by a Greek slave, Andronicus, the Ludi Romani of 240 b.c.e. featured a Greek tragedy and a comedy. Temporary wooden platforms made the theater, and the audience brought their own chairs. (Rome’s first permanent theater was built by Pompey, in 55 b.c.e.) This rude drama attracted young Titus. History records that he worked “in operis artificium scenicorum,” which might mean that he was a stage carpenter, a minor actor, or even a flute player who entertained the spectators between the acts. It has been said that he was nicknamed Maccus after a dissolute character of the farces and that he himself, with characteristic humor, assumed the name Plautus (Flatfoot).{$I[AN]9810000412}{$I[A]Plautus}{$S[A]Titus Maccius Plautus;Plautus}{$I[geo]ROMAN EMPIRE;Plautus}{$I[tim]0254 b.c.e.;Plautus}

Somehow he made money–and quickly lost it. Scholars speculate that he hired a ship to carry merchandise for sale in Greece; this circumstance would explain his knowledge of Greek and the poverty that drove him to grinding corn for a baker. About 206 b.c.e. he wrote two plays based on Greek originals. One, The Braggart Soldier (or The Braggart Warrior), was especially successful. With actors clamoring for more of his productions, Titus soon became an established playwright.

At this time, besides Greek plays in translation, Roman audiences had three kinds of dramatic entertainment: satirical medleys of songs and stories, dialogues attacking political and military leaders, and broad farces, performed by masked actors, imitating the coarsest sort of Greek pantomime. Plautus knew the “New Comedy” of Athens that had replaced the genre of Aristophanes after the loss of Athenian independence made it dangerous to lampoon citizens. He borrowed some light social drama of Menander and his imitators and incorporated some of the technique of the farces. While retaining the Greek setting, Plautus added Roman local color and topics to give the plays greater appeal–the additions are often so timely that it is possible to date the year of composition fairly closely. Apparently the audience did not find it incongruous to have supposedly Greek characters mentioning Roman praetors and aediles or using the verb pergraecari (to act like a Greek) when they meant “lead a dissolute life.”

When his popularity with comedies about deceitful servants and parasitical followers earned Roman citizenship for Titus, he changed his nickname Maccus, with its connotation of “clown,” into the patrician name Maccius and became Titus Maccius Plautus. In his day he had detractors; Quintilian later criticized him as well, and Horace commented that if Plautus got his cash he never cared whether his comedies stumbled or stood. It is true that he was not an originator; the plays whose plots he invented show him at his worst. But when he stays close to his Greek sources, embellishing his work with the salty flavor of common Latin speech, he merits his reputation as the master of Roman comedy.

Originally 130 plays were attributed to Plautus. Later Varro (116-27 b.c.e.) reduced to twenty and a fragment the number definitely accredited, with nineteen more possibly his work. As Plautus borrowed from Greek predecessors, so later playwrights made use of his work. The Twin Menaechmi inspired William Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors (pr. c. 1592-1594). His The Pot of Gold was rewritten by Ben Jonson, Molière, and Thomas Shadwell, and it probably influenced Henry Fielding in the composition of The Miser (pr., pb. 1733). John Dryden, too, adapted his work, and in 1929 Jean Giraudoux produced a Plautine adaptation called Amphitryon 38. Plautus’s humor, combined with his pictures of the homely life of the common people and lively satire of the wealthy, makes him one of the greatest of Roman dramatists. He died, probably in Rome, in 184 b.c.e.

Further Reading:McCarthy, Kathleen. Slaves, Masters, and the Art of Authority in Plautine Comedy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000. A look at the relation of slaves to their masters, with emphasis on the work of Plautus. Bibliography and index.Moore, Timothy. The Theater of Plautus: Playing to the Audience. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998. A study of Plautus that focuses on his endeavors to adapt works to suit his audience’s taste and culture. Bibliography and indexes.Riehle, Wolfgang. Shakespeare, Plautus, and the Humanist Tradition. Rochester, N.Y.: D. S. Brewer, 1990. A comparison of William Shakespeare and Plautus, examining Plautus’s influence on Shakespeare. Bibliography and index.Segal, Erich. Roman Laughter: The Comedy of Plautus. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. A sprightly treatment of the social milieu that spawned Plautus’s comedies, with extensive notes, an index of passages quoted, and a general index.Segal, Erich, ed. Oxford Readings in Menander, Plautus, and Terence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. A collection of papers tracing the development of the “New Comedy.” Segal’s introduction draws connections between these Latin plays and modern comedy.Slater, Niall W. Plautus in Performance: The Theater of the Mind. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic, 2000. This study focuses on the production of the plays of Plautus. Bibliography and index.Sutton, Dana Ferrin. Ancient Comedy: The War of the Generations. New York: Twayne, 1993. An examination of early comedy that looks at Plautus, Aristophanes, Menander, and Terence.
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