Project Logo Faces of JanusOU logo Classical Receptions in Drama and Poetry in English
from c.1970 to the Present
 


Homepage
Contacts

The Project
About the project

Project Publications
(including Archived Conference papers)

Specialist Bibliography
Masks Workshop Video

Critical Essays
Essays

EJournals
New Voices
Practitioners' Voices

2010 Conference

A Democratic Turn


ESeminar

2009 Democratic Turn Eseminar

1998-2008 Archived topics


Drama Database
Search the DB

Poetry Database

(pilot v. 1)
An Introduction

Case Study 1:
Michael Longley

Case Study 2:
Eavan Boland and
Olga Broumas

Database Pilot Sample:
Eavan Boland
Olga Broumas
Ted Hughes
Michael Longley

Classical historiography, ideas and material culture
Exhibiting Democracy

Classical Reception Studies Network
 CRSN

Links

Copyright Notice

January Conference 1999
THEATRE : ANCIENT & MODERN

Return to contents

The Language of Plautus's Parasites

Robert Maltby, University of Leeds, U.K.

The parasite, or flatterer, has a long tradition in Graeco-Roman comedy, going back ultimately to Epicharmus.[1] All parasites, both Greek and Roman, share in varying degrees certain comic characteristics - impudence, wit and, especially in the Roman variety, a keen interest in food. In Greek New Comedy their role often overlaps with that of the professional flatterer or kÒlax. Certain Roman parasites, such as Artotrogus in Miles Gloriosus, Cleomachus' parasite in Bacchides and Gnatho in Terence's Eunuchus, are closely related to this Greek tradition. Others, like Plautus's Curculio and Terence's Phormio, play a leading role in the plot, which resembles that of a servus callidus, such as Epidicus or Pseudolus. Forming a third, perhaps more interesting, group of Plautine parasites are four who appear to have had their roles enlarged and enriched by the addition of elements from the real-life tradition of the professional jester. These are Peniculus (in Menaechmi), Ergasilus (in Captivi), Saturio (in Persa) and Gelasimus (in Stichus). Their monologues are often developed beyond the strict requirements of the plot and are rich in puns, etymological word-play, Roman references and parodies of other official and literary styles of language. The main focus of the paper will be on the use of these parasites in the opening scenes almost as stand-up comedians to get the audience 'warmed up' with a few good jokes before the play proper begins.

But first: to what extent is it legitimate to single out the four parasites in question as professional jesters rather than amateur flatterers and hangers on? One interesting characteristic shared by Ergasilus, Saturio and Gelasimus is their reliance to some extent on a professional comedian's joke book, liber, from which they could cull various witticisms and clever sayings for use when entertaining their patrons, a sort of Roman equivalent of the tome Bob Monkhouse notoriously left on the train. At Stichus 400, when Gelasimus hears that his young master has brought back with him from abroad some extremely witty parasites, parasitos ridiculissimos, he decides to go inside to his books and learn some of his best jokes in order to get the better of the newcomers: ibo intro ad libros et discam de dictis melioribus 'I'll go inside to my books and learn some of my best jokes'. In a similar form of words at Captivi 482 the parasite Ergasilus mentions jokes which used to get him fed for a month: dico unum ridiculum dictum de dictis melioribus, / quibus solebam menstruales epulas ante adipiscier 'I told them one of my best jokes, which in the past would have kept me fed for a month'. When Gelasimus returns at Stichus 454-5, he has had a chance to look at his books, and is confident he can win back his patron:libros inspexi; tam confido quam potis, / me meum optenturum regem ridiculis meis 'I've looked at my books; I'm absolutely certain I can win back my patron with my jokes'Similarly in the Persa the parasite Saturio has his book of jests, which he promises to give his daughter as a dowry 392-5 : librorum eccillum habeo plenum soracum .../ dabuntur dotis tibi inde sescenti logi, / atque Attici omnes; nullum Siculum acceperis 'Look here I have a whole hamper full of books...I'll give you six hundred jokes out of them as a dowry, and all Attic ones; you'll not get a single Sicilian one'. The reference to Attic and Sicilian here suggests that a similar joke book tradition existed also among the Greek parasites, and that those from Magna Graecia (the home of the Sicilian Epicharmus) were held to be inferior to their Attic counterparts. The same point is made by Caesar in Cicero's De Oratore, who speaks of Greek joke books from Sicily, Rhodes, and Byzantium, but singles out those from Athens for special mention.[2] No Greek comic parasite makes reference to joke books in the surviving fragments of Middle or New Comedy, but the collection of anecdotes or cre‹ai by the third century comic poet Machon[3] and the much later prosecompilation of humorous stories which goes under the name of Philogelos[4] probably preserve material from this genre. In 1956 the papyrus remains of just such a Hellenistic joke book were discovered by Rudolf Kassel.[5] The text is very fragmentary but seems to contain a list of jokes based on mild personal insults (bald men), animal comparisons, and riddles. The idea of joke books is treated in Plautus as familiar to his contemporary Roman audience, and there is evidence in Quintilian for the existence of joke books at Rome. In his section on humour at Inst. 6.3.57ff. Quintilian discusses the use of nicknames based on animal and other comparisons, and various riddles and puns.[6] He goes on interestingly at 65 to say he is not going to fill his work with these or it would become similem...eis qui risus gratia componuntur 'similar to those which are composed as joke-books.'

The contents of the books are referred to variously as dicta (Stichus 400 Gelasimus, Captivi 482 Ergasilus), as verba (Captivi 472 Ergasilus), and by the Greek loan-word logi (Stichus 221, 383, 393 Gelasimus, Persa 394 Saturio), a technical term which perhaps again suggests a Greek origin for the practice. We are never actually treated to real examples of such dicta or logi, perhaps because they were a closely guarded professional secret. The nearest we get is Gelasimus's description when he puts them up for auction at Stichus 228- 9 as cavillationes, adsentatiunculas / ac perieratiunculas parasiticas 'polite leg-pulling, trivial flattery and parasitical travesties of the truth'. I would argue nevertheless that the type of verbal humour we find concentrated in our four parasites' monologues reflects this joke book tradition. The animal comparisons and plays on proper names discussed by Quintilian are exactly what we find in the speeches of these characters.

One adjective which keeps cropping up in relation to these jokes is ridiculus (so Captivi 482 Ergasilus ridiculum dictum, Stichus 221Gelasimus logos ridiculos, 455 Gelasimus ridiculis meis).As Ritschl was the first to show,[7] in the context of this type of parasite the adjective in Plautus has the positive connotations of witty, intentionally provoking laughter, rather than our more negative one of unintentionally laughable, ridiculous, a meaning not attested in Latin until after Plautus. It seems likely, as Corbett argues,[8] that ridiculus was used substantively almost as a technical term for the kind of parasite we are dealing with, whose stock in trade was ridicula dicta. So Gelasimus, whose Greek name, as Arnott points out,[9] is exactly translated by the Latin ridiculus, offers himself for sale at Stichus 171-2 as a ridiculum hominem, a professional funny man, just as at Rudens 535 the leno Labrax offers to hire himself out for the games as the masked figure Manducus. Gelasimus goes on to explain in 174-6 that he got his name Gelasimus 'Funny man' because it was clear to his father from his early boyhood that he was a ridiculus. We seem then to be dealing with a specific kind of parasite whose speciality was verbal humour, the parasitus ridiculus, a term actually used by Pinacium at Stichus 388-9 of the parasites that Epignonus is bringing back with him from abroad: poste autem advexit parasitos secum .../ ridiculissimos 'Besides, he has brought back some parasites with him ... and very witty ones too'. There is some indication, then, that this type of parasite, whether or nor he had an exact equivalent in the Greek world, was a recognisable type in the Rome of Plautus's time, although, as Corbett points out,[10] his livelihood seems to have been under threat. Both Ergasilus in Captivi and Gelasimus in Stichus refer to the difficulties of their profession and the fact that the youths no longer support them as they did in days gone by.[11] These statements could of course be nothing more than general comic reflections on the difficulties of life and the declining standards of contemporary mores, such as can be found in Greek and Roman comedy of almost any period, but it may be significant that the only mention of the parasitus ridiculus in Terence comes in just such a context. In Eunuchus act 2 scene 2 the parasite Gnatho tells of a meeting in the street with a fellow down-and-out. Gnatho suggests the man should take up a similar way of life to his own. The man replies that he cannot be a ridiculus or suffer blows 244-5 at ego infelix neque ridiculus esse neque plagas / pati possum 'Poor wretch that I am I can neither be a funny man nor suffer blows'; in other words, he cannot be a stand-up comedian or a slapstick clown. Gnatho goes on to explain that that way of making one's living died out in the last generation. The new type of parasite must simply be a flatterer, who laughs at his patron's jokes rather than making his patron laugh, and agrees with him on all matters. Certainly there is no clear example of the parasitus ridiculus in Terence and it is possible that the type died out both in literature and in real life after the time of Plautus. The irony is of course that what Gnatho refers to as a new type of parasite is in fact the traditional old flatterer, as found in Terence's Greek model, Menander's Kolax, and in such figures as Artotrogus, the soldier's flatterer, in Plautus's Miles Gloriosus.

What I intend to do in the remainder of the paper is to examine the use made of the parasitus ridiculus by Plautus, concentrating in particular on the entrance monologues of the four characters in question. Both Menaechmi and Captivi open after the prologue with an entrance monologue by a parasite. It was long ago noted that these opening monologues by Peniculus and Ergasilus are remarkably similar in form and content.[12] Both introduce themselves by referring to the nickname bestowed upon them by the youths (Menaechmi 77-8, Captivi 69-70 - quoted below). Both praise the lavish treatment they received in the past from their respective adulescentes, Menaechmus in the case of Peniculus, and Philopolemus in the case of Ergasilus (Men. 100-101, Capt. 105-6) and both lament the fact that recently they have been unable to enjoy their patrons' favours. Both speeches end with a similar formula as they approach the door of their patrons' houses (Menaechmi 108 nunc ad eum inviso. sed aperitur ostium, 'Now I'll go and see him, but the door is opening', Captivi 108 nunc ad eum pergam. sed aperitur ostium 'Now I'll go to him, but the door is opening'). Finally, the invention of the verb domitus/domatus from the locative domi in the phrase domi domitus (domatus Linds.) sum 'I have homed it at home' at Menaechmi 105 can be parallelled at Captivi 84 by the verb rurant from rus in the phrase dum ruri rurant homines 'while men country it in the country'. Perhaps less striking, but still symptomatic of the closeness of the two passages, is the repetition of the phrase homines captivos in the same sedes in Menaechmi 79 homines captivos qui catenis vinciunt 'Men who bind prisoners of war with chains' and Captivi 100 homines captivos commercatur 'He's buying up prisoners of war'. Although there is some evidence that the role of Peniculus has been amplified somewhat by Plautus to include a greater emphasis on his appetite and interest in food,[13] his role seems to be more integral to the plot than that of Ergasilus in Captivi, in which there is considerably more evidence of Plautine elaboration.[14]

The similarities between the two opening speeches are then perhaps best explained if Ergasilus's speech has been amplified by the addition of elements found in that of Peniculus. We have no firm dates for either play, but the best estimates based on style and Roman reference suggest that Menaechmi came first. In fact, as we shall see later, there are a number of instances where lines or half lines from one parasite monologue reappear in another. I take these as evidence for Plautine elaboration of the roles, using a traditional stock of material.

The nickname formula with which both speeches begin has its origins firmly in Greek New Comedy. As Arnott has shown, what we are dealing with here is the regular formula for introducing a parasite to the audience by his nickname.[15] The speaker can either be the parasite himself or, as in the case of the Anaxippus and Alexis fragments, a third party; but in all cases the parasite is introduced by an imaginative nickname given to him by the youths. The Alexis fragment is particularly interesting as here the nickname is actually Parasitos. As Arnott suggests,[16]before this date the name of the character-type would simply have been kÒlax, 'flatterer'. Parasitos was originally a religious term, referring to a temple acolyte (particularly in shrines of Heracles) who would have received free food and meals in return for services. After Alexis's kÒlax had been given this nickname it seemed so appropriate that it came to be used alongside kÒlax to designate the character type. The nickname formula does not originate in comedy but, as with most things, is found first in Homer. At the beginning of Odyssey 18 we are told how the Ithacan beggar Arnaeus was given the nickname Irus (derived from that of the gods' messenger Iris) by the young men, as he used to run errands for anyone who asked him (Od. 18.6-7). Arnaeus is clearly a prototype parasite. He was known for his greedy belly, eating and drinking without end, and made his living running errands for people (Od. 18.1-6). We do not know whether it was Alexis or some other playwright who first adapted this formula from its Homeric source, but it clearly became well established in the Greek and Roman New Comic tradition.

Plautus's use of the formula at the beginning of his parasite entrance monologues serves to introduce the characters as stand-up comedians. Much of the humour in Plautus's adaptation of the formula derives from the fact that the names Peniculus and Scortum suggest something far more salacious than is provided by the explanations which follow. Peniculus explains he was given his name 'Little Brush' because when he eats he sweeps the table clean: Menaechmi 77-8 iuventus nomen fecit Peniculo mihi, / ideo quia mensam, quando edo, detergeo 'The youths call me Little Brush because when I eat I sweep the table clean'. But of course, Peniculus is also the diminutive of penis, and no doubt the actor would have paused significantly at the end of line 77 to allow free rein for the audience's titters, before providing them with the innocent explanation of line 78 (a technique many of us will be familiar with from modern stand-up comedians such as Frankie Howerd). Ergasilus, at the beginning of Captivi, combines this technique with some clever word play only possible in Latin:

Capt. 69-76 iuventus nomen indidit Scorto mihi,

eo quia invocatus soleo esse in convivio.

scio absurde dictum hoc derisores dicere,

at ego aio recte. nam scortum in convivio

sibi amator, talos cum iacit, scortum invocat.

estne invocatum an non est? est planissume;

verum hercle vero nos parasiti planius,

quos numquam quisquam neque vocat neque invocat.

quasi mures semper edimus alienum cibum.

The opening line 'The young men have given me the nickname of "Whore"' is followed by a pause for titters; then the explanation eo quia invocatus soleo esse in convivio. The audience's reaction here would probably be puzzled bemusement: a couple of the words are capable of more than one interpretation. Invocatus could be 'uninvited' a[klhto~ in Greek, commonly applied to parasites as uninvited guests), but in Latin it could also mean 'called-upon', 'invoked' or even 'invited', and the infinitive esse could mean either 'to eat' or 'to be'. Ergasilus then is setting a riddle for his audience: they cannot be expected to grasp the meaning of 70 immediately. As with all good comedy, everything is in the timing and Ergasilus is in no hurry to enlighten them. He keeps them on tenterhooks. 'I know the wags say this is a stupid nickname. But I say it is a good one'. At last we get the explanation: nam scortum in convivio / sibi amator, talos cum iacit, scortum invocat. But notice how even here the puzzling word invocat is carefully delayed until the end. Literally 'for a whore at a feast, the lover, when he's playing dice, well, the whore, he calls upon her'. Finally the penny drops. He is talking about the Roman custom of 'calling upon' one's mistress's name for good luck when playing dice.[17] The audience can release their pent-up laughter. And Ergasilus, like a good comedian, can now take advantage of this and milk it for all it is worth: 74 estne invocatum an non est? est planissime. But again the puns still operate. 'Is she called upon or isn't she?' but also 'does she eat (est) uninvited (invocatum) or doesn't she eat? / She most certainly does'. Similarly the parasites in the next couplet, although not invited or called upon (neque vocat neque invocat), eat (edimus) other people's food (alienum cibum). Here then in the opening of Ergasilus's monologue we have a wonderful example of a Roman stand-up comedian at work. The initial nickname formula may be Greek, but the rest of it, the salacious suggestiveness of the Latin scortum, the riddle technique of line 70 and, in particular, the word play on invocatus and esse possible only in Latin, is pure Roman. Before leaving this topic of the parasite's nickname, one or two further points need to be clarified. First Peniculus and Scortum are unusual in being Latin-based names. Usually the parasite or flatterer is given a Greek nickname. One thinks of Harpax 'Snatcher', the soldier's messanger in Pseudolus, for example, the origin of whose name is explained at Pseud. 655 hostis vivos rapere soleo ex acie: ex hoc nomen mihi est, 'I'm used to snatching the enemy live from the battlefield: that's how I got my name' or of Gnatho 'Jaws' in Terence's Eunuch. At Stichus 174-7

Gelasimo nomen mi indidit parvo pater

quia inde iam a pausillo puero ridiculus fui;

propter pauperiem hoc adeo nomen repperi,

eo quia paupertas fecit ridiculus forem.

'My father named me Gelasimus when I was little, because ever since I

was a small boy I've been a comic. Besides I got the name from being

poor, since poverty turned me into a comic'.

Gelasimus, using a very similar formula to the one found in Captivi and Menaechmi, tells us how his father gave him the name Gelasimus 'Funny-Man' because from a very early age it was clear that he was a ridiculus. The nickname, as we saw above, is a Greek equivalent of the Latin ridiculus. In the same way it is possible that Ergasilus could be a Greek equivalent of scortum, if Corbett is right in his suggestion that Ergasilus is based on the Greek ejrgavsimo~ , an adjective applied to working prostitutes.[18] Later on in the play, in a conversation with the maid Crocotium, Gelasimus tells her how he has changed his name from Gelasimus to Miccotrogus, again a Greek name although the mikko-element, meaning 'crumbs', suggests Greek of South Italian rather than Attic origin.

Stichus 239-42 CROC. Gelasime, salve.

GEL. non id est nomen mihi.

CROC. Certo mecastor id fuit nomen tibi.

GEL. Fuit disertim, verum id usu perdidi:

nunc Miccotrogus nomine e vero vocor.

'CROC. Gelasimus, good morning. GEL.That's not my name. CROC. Well it

certainly used to be. GEL. Indeed it was. But I lost it out through over-use. Now

from the true facts I am called Miccotrogus'.

His new name Miccotrogus 'Crumb-nibbler' reminds us of the soldier's parasite Artotrogus in Miles Gloriosus, Greek for 'Bread-nibbler'. In 241 usu perdidi is a legal joke. In Roman law the use of something, usus, gave you a right to its possession. Here the opposite is the case. By using it Gelasimus has lost his name. The phrase e vero (242 ) occurs frequently in etymologising contexts in Latin,[19] referring to the belief that an etymology gives the true reason (Greek e[tumo~ lovgo~) why a thing is so called. In fact it is remarkable how in all three of the nickname passages so far discussed, the formula for introducing the name, nomen indidit or nomen fecit, followed by an explanatory quia clause, is exactly that found in the later grammatical tradition of etymological discourse from Varro on. Of course Plautus will have found examples of this formula, which goes back ultimately, as we have seen, to Homer, already present in his Greek originals. But he, perhaps along with the early Latin adapters of Greek tragedy, must have played a pioneering role in devising its Latin counterpart. Our fourth parasitus ridiculus, Saturio in Persa, shares this interest in names and naming. In his entrance monologue he describes how he comes from a long line of parasites who could not be outdone in voracity. Lines 59-60 as they stand in the MSS read as follows: neque edacitate eos quisquam poterat vincere / neque is cognomentum erat duris Capitonibus 'No one could beat them in voracity; they were never called hard Bigheads'. Of course Capito 'Big Head' was a common Roman cognomen. But it is difficult to see here what not being called hard Big Heads has to do with greed. A simple, though rather lame, explanation is that they were always well fed by their patrons and never had to put up with having their heads beaten. An attractive suggestion by Woytek[20] is that capitonibus here should be written with a small c referring to a type of fish, the kestreuv~, in Greek (also known as kevfalo~ big head) which was proverbial for going hungry and was frequently used as a nickname for parasites.[21] Saturio's statement that his ancestors were never known as viris capitonibus would mean they never had the starving fish nickname, i.e. never went hungry. viris for duris is palaeographically defensible and the phrase viris capitonibus would be the equivalent of the Greek phrase a[ndre~ kesrtei'~ found e.g. in Aristophanes frg. 159 (156K). There must, however, remain some doubt as to whether a Roman audience would have appreciated and understood such a thoroughly Greek reference.

Comparisons between themselves and animals seem to have been another stock in trade of parasites both Greek and Roman and, as we have seen from Quintilian, they were also a feature of the jester's books. In Greek the uninvited guest was referred to as a fly, mu‹a,[22]and at Captivi 77 parasites are described as mice who eat other men's food, quasi mures semper edimus alienum cibum. This verse is a good illustration of the way in which the same material occurs in a number of parasites' speeches in Plautus, for at Persa 58 the parasite Saturio describes how his parasitical ancestors quasi mures semper edere alienum cibum. There is no exact parallel for parasites as mice in Greek comedy, but Lindsay on Captivi 77 aptly compares the anecdote Diogenes Laertius (6.40) tells of Diogenes the Cynic who, when he saw some mice creeping onto his table, said 'Look, even Diogenes feeds parasites'. The animal comparisons continue in Ergasilus's speech at Captivi 80ff. where parasites are compared to snails quasi, cum caletur, cocleae in occulto latent, / suo sibi suco vivont, ros si non cadit, / item parasiti rebus prolatis latent / in occulto miseri, victitant suco suo 'Just as, when it's hot, snails hide away and live on their own juices if there's no dew falling, so too parasites in the holidays hide away, poor things, and subsist on their own juices'. Then at 85ff. they are compared to different types of dog: prolatis rebus parasiti venatici / sumus, quando res redierunt, Molossici / Odiosicique et multum Incommodestici 'During the holidays we parasites are hunting dogs, but when business starts again we are guard dogs, bore-hounds and very much trouble-terriers'. Ergasilus starts with true hunting dogs venatici, and then goes on to include comic coinages of increasing improbability: Molossici, based on Molossi, famous Roman watch dogs; Odiosici and Incommodestici, based on the adjectives odiosus and incommodus 'odious' and 'troublesome'.

Neither Saturio nor Ergasilus chooses to open his entrance monologue with the nickname formula, but in each case what we get in its place is equally striking and perhaps even more Roman in inspiration. Saturio opens with the proud statement that as a parasite he is continuing the noble tradition of his ancestors:

Persa 53-58 veterem atque antiquom quaestum maiorum meum

servo atque obtineo et magna cum cura colo.

nam numquam quisquam meorum maiorum fuit,

quin parasitando paverint ventres suos:

pater, avos, proavos, abavos, atavos, tritavos

quasi mures semper edere alienum cibum.

'I continue, follow and cultivate with the greatest care the ancient and venerable

profession of my ancestors. For there was not one of my ancestors who did not

provide for his belly through the parasite's calling. My father, grandfather, great-

grandfather, great-great-grandfather, great-great-great-grandfather and his father

too always ate other people's food, just like mice.'

Ancestral tradition is of course a concept which would have struck a chord with the Romans, but the joke of a lowly parasite making such an appeal is not entirely absent from Greek comedy, as the example of the sycophant from Aristophanes Birds 1452 shows: pappw'o~ oJ bio~ sukofantei'n 'I am following in a tradition of sycophancy in our family going back to our grandfathers' time'. Nevetheless, this type of humorous reference must have appealed particularly to Plautus who uses it a number of times in his slave monologues.[23] The list of ancestors going back to tritavos in line 57 has exact parallels in Roman legal texts (e.g. Dig. 38.10.10), as Woytek shows in his commentary, and could not have been taken word for word from the Greek in which such terms do not exist beyond great-grandfather.

Gelasimus opens his monologue at Stichus 155ff. in a similar genealogical vein, in this case claiming descent from a personified Hunger Fames, who he claims was his mother: Famem ego fuisse suspicor matrem mihi, / nam postquam natus sum, satur numquam fui 'I suspect Hunger was my mother, for since the day I was born I've never been full'. She carried him for only ten months while he has been going round with her in his belly for over ten years.[24] As Fraenkel points out, [25] neither pe‹na nor limÒj could have been personified in this way in the Greek, and the closest parallels come from the Roman comic tradition.[26]

In fact, instant personifications of this kind, discussed by Fraenkel as typically Plautine,[27] turn out to be another characteristic feature of the language of our four parasites. At Persa 77-9 Saturio ends his entrance monologue by approaching Toxilus's house with the intention of visiting last night's leftovers to see if they had slept well and were in good health: nunc huc intro ibo, visam hesternas reliquias, / quierintne recte necne, num afuerit febris, / opertaen fuerint, ne quis obreptaverit 'Now I'll go inside here and visit yesterday's left-overs, to see if they have had a good night or not and to make sure they have no fever and have been well covered up and that no one has crept up upon them'. This of course is a parody of the morning visit of the client to his patron (the mane salutatio), as described by the old man Periplectomenos at Miles Gloriosus 709: prius quam lucet adsunt, rogitant noctu ut somnum ceperim 'Before it's light they're here, asking if I've had a good night's sleep'. At Menaechmi 106-7 Peniculus similarly addresses the food he has bought as his dear ones: nam neque edo neque emo nisi quod est carissimum. / id quoque iam, cari qui instruontur deserunt 'I don't eat or buy a thing which isn't most dear. And another point, these dear ones, as soon as they are marshalled, desert me'. As Gratwick points out in his commentary,[28] the verbal humour here and particularly the military metaphor of instruontur and deserunt in 107 would need to be accompanied by some visual stage business to bring it to life: perhaps rubbing his belly on 'except what is dear' and bringing a piece of food out before instruontur and eating it before deserunt. At Captivi 464 Ergasilus, again with plenty of supporting stage business, threatens to knock the eyes out of a bad day: nam hercle ego huic die, si liceat, oculos effodiam libens. Similarly at Stichus 191 Gelasimus would like to see the phrase 'I'd ask you to dine but I am dining out myself' have its legs smashed: ei hercle verbo lumbos diffractos velim. This is a particularly gruesome Roman form of execution, referred to again by Plautus at Asinaria 474 crura hercle diffringentur 'Your legs will be smashed to pieces'. Finally at Stichus 211-12 Gelasimus laments for all the dead meals he has never received over the last three years: potationes plurimae demortuae, / quot adeo cenae, quas deflevi, mortuae

'Those numerous drinks, quite dead and gone, and all those dead dinners I've lamented'.

Enough has been said to show that in the opening monologues of the particular parasites under discussion Plautus has expanded the roles far beyond the requirements of the plot. The scope of this paper does not extend to cover the Roman allusions in these passages, but their presence at key points[29] is another definite indication of Plautine expansion. It is clearly the author's intention in these plays to grab the audience's interest, and, above all, to make them laugh from the very opening words, and what better character to achieve this purpose than the traditional Roman stand-up comedian?

Return to contents page

Endnotes

[1] The best ancient source on parasites and flatterers is Athenaeus 6.234c-262b. See further O. Ribbeck, 'Kolax: eine Ethologische Studie', Abh. sä chs. Ges. Wiss. 9 (1884), A.Giese, De Parasiti Persona Capita Selecta (Diss. Kiel. 1908), E.Wü st and A.Hug Parasitus in RE XVIII 1381, J.O.Lofberg, 'The sycophant-parasite', CP 15 (1920) 61-72, J.M.Brinkhoeff, 'De Parasiet op het romeinsche Tooneel', Neophilologus 32 (1948) 127ff., J.C.B.Lowe, 'Plautus's parasites and the Atellana' in Studien zur vorliterarischen Periode im frü hen Rom, ed. G. Vogt-Spira, Tü bingen (1989) 161-170, P.G.McC. Brown, 'Menander, fragments 745 and 746 K-T, Menander's Kolax and parasites and flatterers in Greek comedy', ZPE 92 (1992) 91-107. On particular parasites in Roman comedy see W.G.Arnott, 'Phormio parasitus: a study in dramatic methods of characterisation', G&R 17 (1970) 32-57 and by the same 'Targets, Techniques and Tradition in Plautus's Stichus', BICS 19 (1972) 64-79 on Gelasimus.

[2] Cic. De Orat. 2.217 itaque cum quosdam Graecos inscriptos libros esse vidissem 'de ridiculis', nonnullam in spem veneram posse me ex eis aliquid discere; inveni autem ridicula et salsa multa Graecorum; nam et Siculi in eo genere et Rhodii et Byzantii et praeter ceteros Attici excellunt 'And so when I saw some Greek books entitled 'On Jokes' I came to hope that I could learn something from them. I found many jokes and witticisms of the Greeks, for the Sicilans are expert in that genre, as are the Rhodians and the Byzantines and especially those from Attica.'

[3] For the cre‹ai of Machon see A.S.F. Gow, Machon the Fragments, Cambridge (1965).

[4] On Philogelos see A. Thierfelder, Philogelos der Lachfreund von Hierokles und Philagrios, Mü nchen (1968).

[5] R. Kassel, RhM 99 (1956) 242-5.

[6] Quint. Inst. 6.3.57 sed ea non ab hominibus modo petitur verum etiam ab animalibus, ut nobis pueris Iunius Bassus, homo imprimis dicax, asinus albus vocabatur; et Sarmentus Messium Cicirrum equo fero comparavit. ducitur et ab inanimis sicut P. Blaesius Iulium, hominem nigrum et macrum et pandum, fibulam ferream dixit 'But such comparisons are drawn not only from the names of men, but also from animals; as for example, when we were boys, with Junius Bassus, an extremely witty man, who was nicknamed the white ass. So Sarmentus compared Messius Cicirrus to a wild horse. The comparison may also be drawn from inanimate objects: for example, Publius Blessius called a certain Julius, who was dark, lean and bent, the iron buckle.

[7] F.Ritschl, Opuscula II 411 ridiculus Plauto non est, qui risum movet invitus, sed qui iocis et facetiis risum dedita opera captat 'ridiculus in Plautus is not someone who unwittingly causes laughter, but one who on purpose incites laughter through his jokes and witticisms'.

[8] P.B. Corbett, The Scurra, Edinburgh (1986) 11-26.

[9] W.G.Arnott, op. cit. (1972) 66.

[10] P.B.Corbett, op. cit. (1986) 18-22.

[11] Ergasilus: Capt. 470 ita iuventus iam ridiculos inopesque ab se segregat 'So the young men nowadays keep clear of comics and poor men'.Capt. 477 neque ridiculos iam terrunci faciunt. sese omnes amant 'They don't care a damn for comics. They love only themselves'(cf. 104 nam nulla est spes iuventutis, sese omnes amant 'There's nothing to hope for from the youths, they love only themselves'. Gelasimus: Stich. 637 viden ridiculos nihili fieri 'You see how comics are despised'.

[12] W.M.Lindsay, The Captivi of Plautus, Cambridge (1900, repr. 1961) 138-9.

[13] J.C.B.Lowe, op.cit. (1989) 167.

[14] E.Fraenkel, Elementi Plautini in Plauto, Florence (1960) 101-2, J.C.B.Lowe, op. cit. (1989) 164.

[15] W.G.Arnott, Alexis - the fragments: a commentary, Cambridge (1996) 543-4. Greek comic examples at: Alexis Parasitos 183 (178 K) 1-2 kalau'si d j aujto;n pavnte~ oi newvteroi / Paravsiton uJpokovrisma 'all the youth call him by the nickname "Parasite"'; Antiphanes Progonoi 193 (195 K) 10-11 kai; kalou'si m j oiJ newvteroi / dia; tau'ta pavnta Skhptovn 'and on account of all the youth call me "Thunderbolt"'; Anaxippus Keraunos 3.3-4 tou'ton oi fivloi kalou'si soi / nuni; di j ajndreivan keraunovn 'your friends now call him "Thunderbolt" on account of his bravery'; Aristophon 5.(4.).2-3 a[n ti~ eJstia'i, pavreimi prw'to~ w{st j h}dh pavlai / ...Zemo;\\\\\# kslou;msi 'if anyone is giving a party, I turn up first, so that for a long time now I have been called "Soup"'.

[16] W.G.Arnott, 'Studies in comedy, I: Alexis and the parasite's name', GRBS 9 (1968) 161-168.

[17] Cf. Asinaria 904-5 ARG. Iace, pater, talos ... DEM. Maxime te, Philaenium, mihi atque uxoris mortem. ARG. Throw the dice, father ... DEM. I call upon you Philaenium and my wife's death Curculio 355-6 CURC. provocat me in aleam ... / ... invocat Planesium. CURC. He challenges me to a game of dice... and calls upon Planesium.

[18] P.B.Corbett, op. cit. (1986) 16.

[19] Cf. Hor. Serm. 2.2.56 cui Canis ex vero dictum cognomen adhaeret 'Who got the nickname Dog from the truth of the matter'. Ov. Fast. 2.859 ex vero positum permansit Equirria nomen. 'And the truth gave it the lasting name of Equirria'.

[20] E.Woytek, 'Viri capitones', WS 7 (1973) 65-74.

[21] Examples in Woytek (1973) op. cit. 73; Arnott op. cit. (1996) 723.

[22]E.g. Antiphanes frg. 193.7 (195.7K) deipnei'n a[klhto~ mui'a 'to dine as an uninvited fly'; cf. Linsday on Captivi 70.

[23] Cf. Plaut. Mil. 372-3 (Sceledrus) scio crucem futuram mihi sepulcrum; ibi mei sunt maiores siti, pater, avos, proavos, abavos 'I know the cross will be my tomb; that's where my ancestors are, my father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather'. Cas. 418 (Olympio) pietate factum est mea atque maiorum meum 'It comes from my pious ways and from those of my ancestors'.

[24] See W.G.Arnott, op. cit. (1972) 71 for an illuminating discussion of the full comic implications of this image.

[25] E. Fraenkel, op. cit. (1960) 278-9.

[26] Cf. Afranius Com. 298 R Usus me genuit, Mater peperit Memoria. 'Custom was my father, the mother who bore me was Memory'.

[27] E.Fraenkel, op. cit. (1960) 110ff.

[28] A.S.Gratwick, Plautus Menaechmi, Cambridge (1993) 146.

[29] For Roman allusions in parasites' speeches, cf. Capt. 90 (Ergasilus) ire extra portam Trigeminam ad saccum licet 'He can go outside the Trigemina gate and pick up a porter's bag'. Persa 62 (Saturio) neque quadrupulari me volo 'I don't want to be an informer'. Stichus (Gelasimus) mime of Roman auction at 171-2 and 209-215.

 

 

 

Return to contents