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Titus Maccius Plautus

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Comedy From Fresco in Pompeii

Comedy From Fresco in Pompeii

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Who Was Plautus?:

Titus Maccius Plautus, the greatest Roman comic playwright, was born 254 B.C. in Umbria, a wine, olive, and grain producing region east of Etruria in ancient Italy. He died in 184. We think he wrote 130 plays, which we would consider musical comedy.

The name Plautus means something like "flat-footed."

Plautus was one of the two major writers of Roman (Fabula Palliata) -- Roman comedy. Plautus usually wrote about young men sowing their oats. Some of the plots of his plays can be recognized in the comedies of Shakespeare. The movie and play A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum -- note that it is appropriately musical comedy -- is based on Plautus.

See:
1. Roman Theater
2. The Golden Age of Latin Drama

Occupation:

Writer, although he was, earlier, a carpenter working on sets, according to the late William Harris in his article on Roman Comedy. He was also a soldier.

Plautus - Dates:

Titus Maccius Plautus was born c. 254 B.C., a decade into the first Punic War, in Umbria (northern Italy, to the east of Etruria [see map sections Gd-e]) and died in 184.

See:
1. Golden Age of Roman Drama Timeline
2.Timeline of the Period of the Middle to Late Roman Republic

Plautus - Career:

Plautus may have joined a traveling acting group that performed farces. After leaving Umbria, he became a Roman soldier. While stationed in southern Italy [see map of Southern Italy] he was exposed to the Greek New Comedy and the plays of Menander. When his business plans failed, Plautus tried writing comedies and made a success of it by using puns and slapstick gags to make plays entertaining enough to compete with the games for audience attention.

Plautus - Name:

Plautus probably eventually obtained Roman citizenship and was then entitled to three names: Titus Maccius Plautus. Plautus probably refers to his flatfeet and Maccius to his comedic nature.

Plautus - Legacy:

In his comedies, Shakespeare drew heavily from Plautus. The popular modern stage and screen comedy "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" is also based on Plautus.

Plautus - Place in Roman Dramatic History:

In 240 B.C. Livius Andronicus adapted a Greek comedy and tragedy for performance on a Roman stage. This was the beginning of Roman drama. It was only 40 years later that Plautus' "Stichus" was performed.
Timeline of the Golden Age of Roman Drama

Quotes:

[A]quam a pumice nunc postulas.
You're asking for water from a pumice-stone.
Persians Act I Sc 1

Dictum sapienti sat est.
A word to the wise is sufficient.
Persians Act IV Sc 7

CHRYS. Quem di diligunt
adulescens moritur....
Whom the gods love dies young.
[Sometimes translated] "Only the good die young."
Bacchides Act IV Sc 7

Plautus - Reputation:

Plautus was probably the greatest Roman comic playwright, but among the Romans, the reputation of Plautus varied. The court of Augustus looked down on Plautus' comedy, but Cicero, Aulus Gellius, Varro, and Quintilian thought otherwise. See Reputation of Plautus.

Plautus - The Comedies:

Plautus was reputed to have written 130 pieces (based on Greek New Comedy), of which 21 survive, including

  • The Menaechmi
  • The Asses
  • The Merchant
  • The Swaggering Soldier
  • Stichus
  • The Pot of Gold
  • Curculio
  • Epidicus
  • The Captives
  • The Rope
  • Trinummus
  • Mostelleria
  • Pseudolus
  • The Two Bacchides
  • Amphitryo
  • Casina
  • The Persian
  • Truculentus
Read the comedies of Plautus in Latin.

Read a public domain English translation of Captiva and Mostellaria and in English and Latin of Amphitryo, Asinaria, Aulularia, Bacchides, and Captivi.

Quick Review of Henderson's A Plautus Reader

Go to other Ancient / Classical History pages on Famous Romans.

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