Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.01.22

Ulrike Auhagen (ed.), Studien zu Plautus' Epidicus. ScriptOralia 125.   Tübingen:  Gunter Narr Verlag, 2001.  Pp. 349.  ISBN 3-8233-5435-3.  

Contributors: (based at Freiburg) Ulrike Auhagen, Thomas Baier, Andreas Bagordo, Stefan Faller, Rolf Hartkamp, Eckard Lefèvre, Gesine Manuwald; (from elsewhere) Geoffrey Arnott (Leeds), Walter Hofmann (Leipzig), Henry David Jocelyn (Manchester), Christopher Lowe (London), Timothy Moore (Austin), Gianna Petrone (Palermo), Niall Slater (Atlanta), Ekkehard Stärk (Leipzig).


Reviewed by Malcolm M. Willcock, University College London
Word count: 1697 words

This is a time of great interest to Plautinists. The plays are receiving scholarly discussion at Urbino in Italy (under Cesare Questa) and Freiburg in Germany (under Eckard Lefèvre). The Italian project is the more precisely organised. Each play in alphabetical order is the subject of an annual conference at Sarsina, the poet's birthplace, and the papers given there are published as Lecturae Plautinae Sarsinates. Five such conferences have been held, taking us to Captivi. Even more exciting, the plan of Questa and his colleagues is to produce a new edition of each play, in whatever order. Casina is the first (Urbino: QuattroVenti, 2001), edited by Questa himself; Asinaria, Curculio, Amphitruo are to come next. This will eventually release us from the tyranny of Lindsay's hundred-year-old Oxford Text.

The Freiburg volumes are published in ScriptOralia, a series dedicated to the interface between written and oral literature. Relevant issues before the present volume were Maccus Barbarus: Sechs Kapitel zur Originalität der Captivi des Plautus, ed. Lore Benz and E. Lefèvre, 1998, and Studien zu Plautus' Amphitruo, ed. T. Baier, 1999 (see CR 51 [2001] 245-7). Now comes the Epidicus, a short play of great charm, but less well known than those two partly because its plot is almost too complicated to follow. It presents Plautus' favourite generic character of the deceiving slave, like Pseudolus, Chrysalus, Tranio, engaging in extravagant plots against his old master to get money for his young master's amatory needs. But the deceptions are so many, the coincidences so astonishing, the final solution so improbable (and yet satisfying), that we are left breathless.

Such a difficult play has brought forth strong editorial initiatives. Whereas Captivi received six contributions, and Amphitruo nine, Epidicus has been handed to no fewer than fifteen scholars. As a first stage, four of them were invited, independently and without sight of the others' contributions, to give their views about the plot and the changes Plautus made to his assumed New Comedy original. Baier ('Griechisches und Römisches im Plautinischen Epidicus) begins this group, with a clear analysis of the structure and problems of the play that is the longest and most helpful of all the contributions. He identifies four independent deceptions by Epidicus, in connections with (1) Acropolistis, (2) the soldier, (3) the fidicina, (4) the leno (see 363-70). It is pleasing to find him using the terms Gespielin 'playmate' or Freundin 'girl-friend' for those to whom the susceptible Stratippocles is attracted. The other writers in this section are Lowe on the evidence that there was a Greek original, opposing Goldberg's suggestion (TAPA 108 [1978] 81-91) that perhaps there was not; Stärk, in an authoritative discussion, identifying some specific Plautine expansions whose removal would bring us closer to that original, and Lefèvre concentrating on the first scene between the two slaves, but also expressing his opinion about the problems of the plot. To these four has been added a contribution by Arnott, using his intimate knowledge of Middle and New Comedy to show that features identified by some as Plautine often have parallels in the Greek which has survived.

The second section is entitled 'Interpretation', and contains seven chapters. It begins, as the previous one did, with the longest and most helpful, by Manuwald ('Informationsvergabe und Spannungsverteilung in Plautus' Epidicus'). Her point is that the play as we have it is dramatically effective precisely because enough information is given for the spectators to understand the situation, but enough withheld to keep up the tension. A prologue (assumed by many to have necessarily existed in the Greek original, but absent from Plautus' play) would have spoiled this effect. The other 'Interpreters' take limited themes: Hartkamp on influence of the Roman Saturnalia on the typical Plautine reversal of roles between master and slave; Petrone on the etymology of Epidicus' name and the powerful metaphorical language used by Plautus to describe slave punishments, obviously appreciated by his audience; Slater on the 'spectre of incest' in the play (see below); Auhagen and Hofmann on monologues, the former concentrating on the three occasions (81-103, 158-65, 194-6) when Epidicus addresses himself by name, and the latter instructively comparing monologues in this play with those in Truculentus; Faller on the two alleged soldiers interested in buying the lyre-girl Acropolistis, (153-5 and 299-301).

The most original of these is Slater's. By his title 'the spectre of incest', he alludes to the theory put forward by Dziatzko in RhM 55 [1900] 104-11, that the Greek play had ended with the marriage of the young man Stratippocles to his newly discovered half-sister Telestis, whom he had found as a war captive and fallen deeply in love with, and that the need to remove this feature for the Roman stage, as such half-brother/half-sister marriages (same father, different mother), though acceptable in Athens, were not so in Rome, was the cause of much of the disturbance in Plautus' plot. This theory was accepted by many scholars for many years, but firmly opposed by Fraenkel (see Elementi Plautini in Plauto [1960] 300-5, 434-5) and more recent writers.There are frequent references to it in this book, but so far as one can see only Lefèvre still accepts it. Slater himself does not, but strangely finds potentially incestuous erotic undertones in the highly comic scene at 570-95 when the father Periphanes is talking to the girl Acropolistis, who has been living in his house, pretending to be Telestis.

The third part of the book consists of three contributions summarised as 'Sprache und Metrik'. There is a long chapter by Jocelyn whose title, 'Gods, Cult and Cultic Language in Plautus' Epidicus', is clarified as 'the religious aspects of the comoedia palliata'. Sadly, Harry Jocelyn died before the publication of the book, which is dedicated to his memory, with a portrait as frontispiece, as a friendly visitor to Freiburg over the years. The chapter itself, however, is disappointing. As always, Jocelyn is extraordinarily learned, with footnote after footnote giving detailed references to the cultic and linguistic features which he lists, both in Roman Comedy and in Greek, especially Aristophanes. But in many cases the features are not in fact found in Epidicus, so that the learned disquisition has often to take a negative form: for example, (p. 266) 'We might have expected Stratippocles on his arrival from Thebes to wish to greet the gods of his father's house. That Plautus allows him to express no such wish could conceivably hint at Greek carelessness in religious matters', and (p. 272) 'No solemn oaths are sworn in the Epidicus, no solemn curses are pronounced, no deity is asked to avert an evil or thanked for a service.' This does not seem to get us anywhere. Jocelyn also has a regular negative assumption about the audience reaction to the plays, that they would be induced to feel contempt for the ill-disciplined and frivolous Greeks.

Bagordo writes interestingly and carefully on language and style. His main assertion (and demonstration) is that Plautine language is a Kunstsprache, with various linguistic levels, and is not correctly defined as colloquial Latin.

Finally, Moore writes on 'Music in Epidicus', by which, as we know virtually nothing about the music itself, he means the evidence of the various metres. Our information is that cantica were sung and danced; long metres such as septenarii were chanted to the accompaniment of a 'flute'-player; only senarii were spoken. Moore produces the interesting fact that, while a few other plays (e.g. Casina, Pseudolus) have a higher proportion of actual cantica than Epidicus, it has the lowest proportion of senarii of all the plays. Thus it contained more music. As he does not really like the play very much, thinking Epidicus insipid and the other characters undeveloped, he argues that this must be the explanation of the apparent fact that Plautus himself was particularly fond of this play (Bacch. 214); it offered more opportunity for musical effects.

It is certainly important to understand the effect of Plautine cantica, that he changed the natural and lifelike dialogue of his Greek originals to what is more like musical comedy. It is interesting to read M.'s survey of the metrical development of the play (he properly quotes the cantica from Questa's indispensable 1995 edition) and his deductions about the effect. He points out that bacchiacs, common in other plays, are rare here, and so are anapaests, and considers this to be because they are by nature slow, compared with the faster cretics and trochees, and it is true that this play (for whatever reason) does move at a great pace. But his attempt to characterise the effect of a metre can be overdone, as when on different occasions he describes Plautus' favourite trochaic septenarii as 'lilting', 'driving', 'headlong', 'frantic', 'a musical avalanche', and when he calls 'wilamowitzians' (accepting Questa's innovatory description of 339, 340, 533-6) 'jaunty' and 'leisurely' on successive pages (330, 331). Further, he takes the description of the senarius as the one spoken verse in Plautus to apply even when editors find an isolated senarius in the middle of a canticum, as if the singer abruptly stopped singing, the music ceased, and he said a line in his normal voice (e.g. at 325 in Leo's and Questa's text). This is not credible.

Where does it all leave us? After so much discussion of a play which has not received much attention in the past, we are better informed. The appallingly complicated fourth deception (363-70), which so far as we are told is never implemented, is discussed only by Baier and Stärk, but Dziatzko's theory that the Greek original ended in a marriage between half-brother and half-sister has a considerable airing and few supporters; in any case, as Manuwald well puts it (p. 134, n. 2), quoting an earlier publication by Slater, questions like that are matters of Quellenforschung, not literary criticism of Plautus' play. What is missing is any general view that this is actually a well conceived, witty and enjoyable play, with characters, including the girls, the two young men, the two old men, and Philippa, the mother of Telestis, who are human and sympathetic; nor is Epidicus 'insipid', but loyal and resourceful, on a par with the other slave heroes of Plautus.

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