Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.10.15

A. S. Gratwick (ed.), Plautus: Menaechmi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Pp. x + 276. $64.95 (hb). $22.95 (pb). ISBN 0-521-34162-0 (hb). ISBN 0-521-34970-2 (pb).

Reviewed by Anne H. Groton, St. Olaf College (

The birth of a Cambridge Latin Classic is always a blessed event, and A. S. Gratwick's offspring deserves a warm welcome into the family. Professional classicists will be impressed not just by the quantity of information presented on its pages, but by the quality and originality of the author's scholarship, the amount of painstaking labor that he has invested in every sophisticated analysis, and the graceful precision of his writing. If this book were a suitcase, it would be about to burst its locks with all that is packed into it.

Unfortunately, G.'s luggage is -- or appears to be -- too heavy for many American undergraduates to carry. One glance at the book's 63-page introduction and four appendixes may be enough to send their teachers scurrying to order, instead, the school text of Moseley & Hammond or of Lawall & Quinn. They should, in fact, do that if their students are not very far along in Latin. With advanced students, however, teachers ought not to be scared away from using this excellent, up-to-date edition. It provides helpful outlines of the action, good discussions of character development, and insights into everything from etymology to Roman law.

The Introduction is divided into four parts: "The genre" (15 pages), "This play" (18 pages), "The MSS and the transmission" (6 pages), and "Scanning and reading Plautus' verse" (24 pages -- indicative of the importance G. attaches to an appreciation of Plautine meter). Afterwards come the play's text with full apparatus, a line-by-line commentary, the four appendixes ("The character of the transmission," "Metrical conspectus," "Some points of prosody," "Statistics for the senarius"), a wide-ranging bibliography (with separate sections for "Ancient witnesses," "Critical editions and commentaries by date," and "Other references in the apparatus criticus"), an index to the commentary, and a prosodical index. Throughout the book G. emphasizes Plautus' synthesis of elements from Greek New Comedy and Atellane Farce (see the diagram of "Plautus' place in the ancient dramatic tradition" on p. 7) and makes valiant -- though not always convincing -- attempts to distinguish material attributable to Plautus from material likely to have been in the play's Greek original. It is characteristic of G. to evaluate the Menaechmi in light of Plautus' other works (as he rightly says on p. 38, "Plautus explains Plautus"); when discussing the authenticity of the Menaechmi's prologue, for example, he compares its structure with that of every other extant Plautine prologue. Yet the conclusion that he draws from this evidence relies on a debatable assumption about Greek New Comedy (p. 31): "there is much more material and arbitrary variety here than we should expect to find in the prologues of the Greek originals of these plays if we had them all." G. seems to believe that we know enough about the style of Menander and the other Hellenistic dramatists to be able to make confident generalizations about their lost plays. Just as he tends to want to fit the Greek comedies into predictable molds, so he tends to want to put the Menaechmi itself into a set category (p. 24): "[The Menaechmi] was always a play of pure situation, not of character, and as such is certainly not Menandrian." Even if G.'s assertions are correct, his boldness gives the impression that we understand ancient comedy and its development better than we do. On the other hand, when he discusses Plautus' life and work (pp. 1-6), G. emphasizes the unreliable nature of much of the information that has come down to us about "Dickie Clownson Tumbler."

G.'s fresh approach to the metrical analysis of Roman comedy was already known from his edition and translation of Terence's Brothers (Aris & Phillips, 1987); in this edition of the Menaechmi he presents his ideas in greater detail and supports them with a mind-boggling array of statistics. Offering "what I believe to be the first correct account of Plautus' iambo-trochaic media in more than 2,000 years" (p. viii), he rejects both the Anglo-German view that the lines are isochronous with a regular metrical beat attached to every longum, and the Franco-Italian view that there is no ictus at all in such verses. According to G., the Roman dramatists' iambo-trochaics are not isochronous but have longa spaced at irregular intervals; the design of each line is not based on feet but on an adaptation of the four-part Greek metron (ABCD or BCDA). This adaptation has two main features: a strong bias for a long syllable (6 longs to every 1 short) in what was formerly the anceps position (A) and conversion of the original breve position (C) to an anceps (long preferred to short in a ratio of 3:2). Rather than playwrights striving to make word-accent and ictus coincide, G. sees a natural tendency for word-accents to coincide with longa, and playwrights striving (for variety's sake) to reduce such coincidence, especially in the beginning and the ending of the line. All of this makes good sense and should motivate others to reconsider notions they may long have taken for granted.

G.'s advice to the reader to stress the B positions, so as to distinguish them from the D's, runs the risk of making it seem that, contrary to G.'s own argument, verse-beats are intrinsic to the rhythm. There is also danger that the metrical marks adorning the text may prove to be more of a hindrance than a help. Although the sublinear dots pinpointing the onset of the longa are purely for the reader's convenience, their presence could tempt students to "feel" the line in feet, against G.'s wishes. The short-mark that G. prints above every short syllable makes scanning much easier, but by no means guarantees improvement in students' ability to read Latin verse aloud. If G. had included long-marks above the naturally long vowels (notation familiar to many from their introductory Latin textbook), students would at least be reminded to hold out those vowels longer than vowels left unmarked. One wonders about the value of printing the lines with extra space after inner D-breaks and, in septenarii, inner A-breaks. It is not just that the big gaps within the lines are distracting. Even if word-end at D or A is more significant colometrically than word-end at C or B, calling attention to every inner D-break and A-break threatens to exaggerate that significance while ignoring the effects of C-breaks and B-breaks. Why, for example, are the C-breaks in 54-55 (nam nisi qui argentum dederit, [C-break] nugas egerit; / qui dederit [C-break] -- magis maiores [C-break] nugas egerit), which help punctuate a joke, less notable than the (spurious?) D-break in 66 (abstraxitque hominem in maximam [D-break] malam crucem)? Why not indicate the rare mid-line B-breaks too, like the one in 37 (paucis diebus post Tarenti emortuost), which G. aptly terms "a rhythmical 'sob'"?

G.'s mastery of the Plautine manuscript tradition is as complete as his grasp of Plautine metrics. Here too he makes an original contribution by questioning scholars' assumption that corrections in that part of B containing the Menaechmi are nothing more than scribal conjectures. There are unexpectedly many places where B2 is right (in G.'s opinion) but both C and D are wrong; this leads G. to suspect that the Carolingian correctors of B, rather than being extraordinarily good guessers, may have had access to a manuscript different from P, the common ancestor of B, C, and D, and drawn their readings from it. G. advances over forty suggestions (conveniently listed in Appendix 1) for improving the text, all of them clever and thought-provoking; students new to textual criticism could profit greatly from studying them, even though the evidence is seldom strong enough to give G.'s reading an edge over the vulgate reading. In 219, for example, it would make sense for Erotium to ask the cook ecquos tris nummos habes?, as G. argues, but it would be equally, if not more, in character for her to point out eccos tris nummos habes (the reading of B2) as she directs Cylindrus with one crisp order after another. In 758 G. prints ut aetas mala est, mers mala aegro est and translates "the worse Age is, the worse a baggage she is for one sick." While aegrost is more colorful than P's ergost, there is no support elsewhere in the text for the idea that the decrepit senex is "sick" with anything other than old age. In 1069 G.'s Siculus sum, Syracusanus ...# ea domus, ea patria est mihi! has more punch than P's Siculus sum, Syracusanus ...# ea domus et patria est mihi!, but it creates two consecutive proceleusmatics -- "a statistical rarity," as G. himself admits. It would be simpler to delete P's et and take patria as an adjective (ea domus patria est mihi!; cf. Mercator 831: extollo mea domo patria pedem; Stichus 507: vos in patriam domum / rediisse).

In several places G. relies on a proper name to resolve a textual crux: in 454 he detects the presence of Consus, a Roman fertility god who had a subterranean shrine in the Circus Maximus (P reads census); in 838 he spots one of the Cercopes, mythical monkey-men (ille Cerco<p>s al<i>us), lurking in P's illi circo salus; in 854 he transforms P's "Father Swan" (Cygno patre) into "Father of Hecuba the Bitch" (Cyno<s> patre). Even if one finds these solutions a bit far-fetched, one has to admire G.'s ingenuity, which has the healthy effect of piquing readers' interest in doing textual detective work themselves. G.'s emendation in 497, for example, offers a brand-new way of looking at that line: Menaechmus II has just threatened to give Peniculus malam rem if he keeps berating him about having eaten lunch without him; Peniculus replies post [P, pol A] eam quam [Goldbacher, followed by Lindsay in OCT; quidem P; A illegible] edepol te dedisse intellego ("Huh! After that [malam rem] which I realize you've [already] given!"). G.'s pol eam quidem edepol te <i>d edisse intellego ("Huh! I take that [the malam rem] to be your having eaten it [the prandium]") has the virtue of retaining both A's pol and P's quidem and keeping the focus on Peniculus' missed lunch. Its strained syntax, however, weighs against it. Perhaps the line originally read pol eam quidem iam te dedisse intellego ("Huh! I realize that you've already given it [the malam rem]!"; cf. Poenulus 1172: pol istuc quidem iam certum est).

G. advocates moving 72-76 to between 10 and 11 so that the setting of the play is identified earlier, but mention of Epidamnus there would interrupt the prologue-speaker's train of thought and spoil his chance to keep the audience in suspense (7-11): "To make their shows seem more Greek to you, writers of comedies declare that all the action takes place in Athens, but I'll say nowhere except where it's said to have taken place. Even though this plot has a Greek accent, the Greek is Sicilian, not Attic." By approaching the topic negatively and saying, in effect, "I'm not going to tell you this is Athens if it's not -- and it's not," Prologus avoids having to reveal exactly where "this" is; otherwise he would be forced to talk about Epidamnus first, when his story should properly begin in Sicily. As a long-awaited answer to the riddle of the play's setting (cf. the self-identification that Tyche postpones until the end of her prologue in Menander's Aspis) and a final variation on the theme of dramatic illusion, verses 72-76 are a fitting conclusion to the prologue.

Cambridge University Press deserves high praise for having printed G.'s intricate text so beautifully, with nary a typo. The plot of the Menaechmi may be error-filled, but this fine book is a model of correctness.