The Roman Stage: A Short History of Latin Drama in the Time of the Republic

By W. Beare | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER V
Plautus LIFE AND LIST OF PLAYS

OUR HISTORIES of Latin literature present us with circumstantial details concerning the life of Plautus. We are told that 'Titus Maccius Plautus' was born at Sarsina, in Umbria, about the year 254 B.C., that at Rome he made some money as a craftsman in the service of the theatre (which perhaps means that he began as an actor), that he then engaged in trade, lost his savings and was forced to hire himself out as a worker in a mill, and that in such leisure moments as were afforded by this occupation he wrote some plays, which presumably were sufficiently successful to lead him to take up the profession of playwright in earnest. His death took place in 184. While there is nothing wildly improbable about this story, critical examination shows that the Romans themselves were by no means agreed as to the writer's name, his date and the authenticity of his supposed works. Beyond question there was a comic dramatist named Plautus, a highly successful writer of the generation preceding that of Terence. At his death he, like other dramatists, left his plays behind him in manuscript form, some of them perhaps bearing on the titlepage the author's name in the genitive case, e.g. PLAVTI CASINA, 'The Casina, by Plautus'. A few details of first performances seem also to have survived, whether included in the magisterial records of ludi publici or jotted down on the manuscripts. In that unscholarly age these records soon fell into confusion. The fame of Plautus as a popular entertainer seems to have induced unscrupulous producers to pass off the works of other dramatists as his. His own practice (if Gellius is correct) of working over the plays of earlier writers may have been partly responsible for the confusion. In the course of time the total number of works attributed to him rose to one hundred and thirty. Roman scholars strove to distinguish the true from the false, but their methods were subjective and their results were conflicting. Once they came to distrust the

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