Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.03.12

Thomas Baier (ed.), Studien zu Plautus' Amphitruo. ScriptOralia 116.   Tübingen:  Gunter Narr Verlag, 1999.  Pp. 243.  ISBN 3-8233-5426-4.  DM 108.  

Reviewed by Peter Kruschwitz, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, Berlin, Germany (
Word count: 2878 words


Eckard Lefèvre, "Plautus' Amphitruo zwischen Tragödie und Stegreifspiel"
Lore Benz, "Dramenbearbeitung und Dramenparodie im antiken Mimus und im plautinischen Amphitruo"
Thomas Gerick, "Die (tragi)komischen Kontaktstörungen in den trochäischen Dialogpartien des Amphitruo"
Ulrike Auhagen, "Elemente des Stegreifspiels im Amphitruo-Prolog"
Barbara Sherberg, "Zur Vaterrolle des Juppiter im Amphitruo des Plautus"
Stefan Faller, "Teloboae iniusti und König Pterelas patera -- Identitätsbildung im Amphitruo des Plautus"
Ekkehard Stärk, "Alcumena und Bis compressa"
Gesine Manuwald, "Tragödienelemente in Plautus' Amphitruo -- Zeichen von Tragödienparodie oder Tragikomödie"
Thomas Baier, "'On ne peut faillir en l'imitant'. Rotrous Sosies, eine Nachgestaltung des plautinischen Amphitruo"

First of all, I would like to apologize for the delay of this review, for which I alone am to blame.

This book is another emanation of the (former) Sonderforschungsbereich 'Übergänge und Spannungsfelder zwischen Mündlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit' at the University of Freiburg (Breisgau). The editor is Thomas Baier, who publishes nine essays written by pupils of Eckard Lefèvre. Their goal is to look for Plautine elements within the Amphitruo and to documen the nature and the independence of the Umbrian poet.

The first contribution to the volume is from Eckard Lefèvre. It is regarded as essential for the entire study by the editor (cf. p. 9), and it contains in nuce the direction of the whole book. Lefèvre examines the position of the Amphitruo between tragedy and improvisatory drama. His study is preceeded by a short passage, where Lefèvre seeks to protect his earlier contribution on the Amphitruo1 (he takes as fundamental for this study) with the authority of the late Konrad Gaiser, to whose memory the article is dedicated. He, Gaiser, told Lefèvre that he shared his views on the Amphitruo (i.e. that Euripides' Alkmene [possibly via a Latin version, perhaps written by Ennius] -- and not a comedy -- served as original for the Latin play) and that he would fight with him against the predictable criticism. (For obvious reasons, I should hope that this will not become true.) The essay itself is divided into three sections of quite different extent and quality. Lefèvre starts the first chapter with a research report and, indecently enough, with his own study of 1982. But his brief remarks on the scholarship on the Amphitruo are not followed by any essential observations on 'The Amphitruo and tragedy', as suggested by the name of the chapter. After these 4 pages, there are about 30 pages on 'The Amphitro and improvisatory drama', which contain ten subsections (lookalikes and disguise; metatheatre; deficiency of moral; satire; intrigues; seruus currens; the nature of the slaves and parasitism; wrangling; funny comments; irreality of place and time; single scene; gong at the end of the play), always following the same principle in structure: Lefèvre mentions a couple of examples (or was this meant to be exhaustive?) which he regards as illustrative items for each category, then -- divided by a subtitle -- he asks 'where is the home of...', suggesting that the most likely place for all of the ten categories mentioned above is improvisatory drama. Self-referentiality, as already seen in earlier publications from Freiburg on these issues, becomes more important than providing cogent proofs for the suggestion that these were typical elements of improvisatory drama as it really took place in Italy at that time. Of course one must not deny that the elements mentioned could have been elements of improvisatory drama, but many of these elements exist in written Greek drama as well. Lefèvre anticipates this criticism in his conclusion, arguing that no Greek drama offered all these elements altogether (nor did they offer single ones to the extent that is said to be Plautine), taking this as evidence that Plautus added them himself in his version due to his devotion to the improvisatory drama. But, there still is no evidence that Plautus added these to a Greek original, or, if he really added them, that he was not inspired by written Greek dramas or invented them himself. The transmission of the Mese and the Nea is much too fragmentary as to permit such definite conclusions as Lefèvre draws, and far too little can be said with certainty about improvisatory drama at Rome of this time. One weak reason which might lead to the results intended by Lefèvre is not a solid foundation, and a collection of weak reasons does not, in my opinion, increase the solidity. This, of course, is a general problem of the Freiburg approach to the palliatae, based on a couple of conditions impossible (or, at least, hardly) to prove.

Lore Benz's contribution of some forty pages is by far the longest of the volume, dealing with adaptation and parody of drama in mime and in Plautus' Amphitruo. Although I find it somewhat lengthy and difficult to read (some passages are not really lucid due to a dense style of writing), the article in its main part contains a very interesting and learned description and characterization of the various types of subliterary genres of (esp. Greek) drama. In Benz's opinion, the Amphitruo demonstrates how techniques of the mime and those of the Nea were brought together for the stage of the palliata when a tragedy was adapted. She thinks that there were at least three methods of adaptation: (1) adaptation according to the manner of the magodoi and similar types of mimes, (2) insertion of unseasonable gagging and extraneous clownery, (3) insertion of a mimicum adulterium, and these are the three points she discusses exhaustively. (An influence of the so-called fabula Rhintonica, as she points out in a fourth section, is impossible to prove.) Section (1) surely is the best part of the article. Here Benz offers various interesting insights into the ancient mime, collecting and discussing the evidence for the various types of ancient (Greek) mime and its methods of adapting literary plays (focusing on popular scenes, destroying original structure when focusing on the effect of single scenes, etc.) -- suggesting that Plautus worked in a quite similar way. In section (2) she deals with these passages of the play in which the story is not running straight ahead, but slowed down by word plays, wrangling, etc. -- all those elements which seem to be Plautine and which are (according to the Freiburg school) taken from improvisatory drama and mime. This, in my opinion, remains speculation to some degree, because there are no sources which might prove her thoughts on the ancient mime. In section (3) Benz discusses the adulterium as a typical element of mimical plays, and she rightly refutes the opinion that a vase painting illustrating the same plot as seen in a phlyax might have given inspiration to Plautus. In her conclusion Benz argues that Plautus with his written comedy stands above improvisatory drama but that he emerged from this genre and that he still has his roots within it. Combining the literary drama with elements of the mime, Plautus created complex structures which fascinated both the learned and the naive audience.

Thomas Gerick looks for what he calls the '(tragi)komische Kontaktstörungen in den trochäischen Dialogpartien des Amphitruo'. This is not the first time that Gerick has dealt with the trochaic septenarii of Plautine comedy; in his earlier publications he was especially concerned with the so-called 'dipodisch figurierter trochäischer Septenar', i.e. with a special form of the trochaic septenarius, containing alliterations and homoeoteleuta abundantly (esp. at its metrical incisa). This type of septenarius was, according to Gerick, commonly (and originally) used in vulgar and oral improvisational drama, where they are said to be the typical verse for the "larmoyanten, bewegten Dialog voller Witz und ohne jede dramaturgische Funktion" (p. 99). In this essay, Gerick focuses on these trochaic parts of the Amphitruo, in which he recognizes disturbances in the contact of dramatis personae ("jede Form von Misslingen, Beeinträchtigung, Einseitigkeit oder Spaltung in der Begegnung von dramatischen Personen"). He neither explains why this restriction is made (which, of course, is not self-explaining), nor states whether the phenomena he focuses on are to be found more often within trochaic scenes than in scenes in which other metra are used. For his examination Gerick chooses four scenes (Amph. 263-462. 499-550. 586-628. 654-860), and he wants to show how the trochaic septenarii paint (as he says) the (tragi)comical incommunicability of the protagonists. The result is quite disappointing: While paraphrasing the scenes and stating (but not proving or even giving any evidence) that these scenes contain elements of disturbed contact between certain personages, Gerick prints examples of 'dipodisch figurierte trochäische Septenare'. (Whether he wants to give examples or the full evidence of the scenes examined remains unclear.) The functional context of these verses within their scenes is not dealt with, and Gerick does not give any figures for the frequency of these verses in comparision with 'normal' septenarii. Comparing the number of cited verses with the total of verses of the scenes examined, I obtained the impression that Gerick deals with quite an unimportant phenomenon. He should have tried to prove that this is not case (if it is not the case), e. g. that these verses are used normally at important or decisive positions within their context. -- The very short summary (p. 107), however, does not contain anything that Gerick did not know before or that he did not use as an a priori.

Ulrike Auhagen is looking for elements of improvisatory drama within the prologue of the Amphitruo. In her introduction -- another a priori in this volume -- she states that the poet found it necessary to combine his comedies, esp. in the prologues, with elements and techniques of improvisatory drama, because this would grant the success of his plays, and she repeats Stoessl's opinion that "das Publikum muss erst für die neue Kunstform gewonnen werden. Anpreisung des Autors und des Stückes etwa spielt eine ungleich grössere Rolle als in der griechischen Komödie." (This does seem to be highly questionable to me, having in mind that the palliata already existed -- successfully -- for at least some 30 or 40 years when the Amphitruo was first seen on stage, so it was by no means a genre still to be established.) According to Auhagen (she does not give any evidence for her assertions on the improvisatory drama), criteria for elements of improvisatory drama are to be found (1) in the structure of the prologue, (2) in breaks of the dramatic illusion, and (3) in rhetorical style. These three aspects then form the headlines of the article's main chapters. Ch. 1 'Structure' is nothing but a brief summary of the prologue, in which Auhagen repeatedly points out that the structure is not economical, that there are word plays, and that some funny ideas are treated usque ad nauseam by the poet. This is declared to be typical for improvisatory drama. In ch. 2 'Breaks of Illusion' she discusses the ironic play with the comic personage and its role and the passages ad spectatores. After this she compares the prologue with prologues of Aristophanes and Menander, and she can show that there are good parallels to Aristophanes' prologues. However, she does not want to see direct influence, but she thinks that both, Aristophanes and Plautus, had been influenced by popular improvisatory drama. (I doubt whether she does justice to the level of Roman literature at this hellenistic age.) In ch. 3 Auhagen does quote S. M. Goldberg's and E. Lefèvre's views on rhetorical elements within Plautine drama to a greater extent than evidence from the prologue of the Amphitruo (which surely has deserved a concise rhetorical analysis); she recognizes elements of archaic rhetoric and thinks that this is typical for improvisatory drama. The summary contains little more than the introduction.

Barbara Sherberg's article is on the person of Jupiter and the way in which Plautus designed him -- according to the conventions of comedy -- as a pater and as a senex amans, and she also discusses the characterization of Mercurius as a typical disobedient, reserved, and ironic son.

Stefan Faller's essay deals with the account of the battle given by the slave Sosia (Amph. 197-262), which Faller regards as a unique feature within comedy. (I would suggest comparing it with utterances of milites gloriosi, although I must admit that nothing really similar can be found in the palliata.) Various aspects of the passage have been discussed already, but Faller takes a fresh look at it when he tries to point out how certain elements of speech were used and designed to provide the feeling of identity or alterity.2 After a concise description of the structure and the mythological background of the episode, Faller explains how identity is created (i) in the portrayal of the foreigners, and (ii) in any kind of interaction between the enemies. Of course, in this case Plautus preferred the construction of alterity. But Faller's insight goes beyond that point when he demonstrates how the detailed knowledge of the battle is used in those scenes in which there is confusion due to the play with lookalikes. This is a fine observation because this is another (and different) case of defining identity within the play: now not alterity, but identity of a person has to be defined, e.g. via the knowledge of certain matters.

Ekkehard Stärk, professor of Latin at Leipzig, passed away some weeks ago at the age of 42, a very sad mors immatura. In his article he tries to give a reconstruction of the palliata Bis compressa which was, according to Accius, Varro, and Gellius, a Plautine pseudepigraphon. He provides useful thoughts on the words comprimere, compressus etc. although I cannot accept his opinion that one should refrain from use 'rape' as a translation of comprimere -- granted that the matter which is meant by compressus seems to be an minor and common fault in comedy and mythography, it is and remains rape, whether certain societies and times regard it as a crime or not. He also makes sensible remarks on typical elements and structures of comedies which are dealing with compressus. -- How does the reconstruction of the Bis compressa affect the interpretation of Plautus' Amphitruo? There is one thing they have in common: Just as in the Bis compressa there is a double sexual relationship to be found in the Amphitruo (but, of course, only one of them can be treated as compressus). According to Stärk it is typical for a comedy that the scenario takes place at the day of the birth of the child(ren). In addition, Plautus combined the Greek original -- like Lefèvre Stärk believes that Euripides' Alkmene was the original -- with further elements of comedies like the Epitrepontes, i.e. with comedies dealing with compressus. If the ancient critics were wrong and the Bis compressa really was an Plautine play, Stärk speculates, Plautus seems in some ways to have been fond of the conflicts of a bis compressa, so that he treated this subject -- in a different way -- in at least two comedies.

Gesine Manuwald asks whether the elements of tragedy within the play make the entire play a parody of tragedy (as some scholars say3) or a tragicomedy (as said in the prologue of the play). To answer this question, Manuwald first looks at the prologue, where the word tragicomoedia is created (Plautus seems to be the primus inuentor) and explains how the word is introduced to the audience, and then she looks at the scenes typical for tragedy: the account of the battle in I 1 given by the slave Sosia, the query of Alcumena in II 2, and the account of what happened in the house by Bromia in V 1. The main reason, as Manuwald points out, why Plautus resp. Mercurius in the prologue calls the play a tragicomedy and not a mere comedy is the personage of the play: A play with gods (esp. Jupiter) and noble persons acting in it cannot be a mere comedy (a concern that was valid also long after Plautus' times). When looking at the scenes mentioned above, Manuwald finds another two reasons why this play is not a mere comedy: There are -- this was known before -- formal elements in the play which are typical for tragedy but strange for a comedy (e.g. a deus ex machina), and -- this observation is more interesting -- certain incidents in the play create eleos and phobos within the audience, according to Aristotle's theory main aims of tragedy. As a conclusion, Manuwald rightly says that the play should not be called a parody of a tragedy, mainly because the elements of tragedy do not appear to be exaggerated for comic reasons; so Plautus was right to call the play a tragicomedy -- viz. a comedy, but a comedy containing elements of a tragedy.

The final article is by the editor of the volume, Thomas Baier, who looks at an imitation of the Plautine Amphitruo by Jean de Rotrou and provides a thorough comparision of both plays.

To sum up, I should say that there are a couple of very interesting and good articles on the Amphitruo within this volume which promote our understanding of the play or related matters. There are very few misprints, and useful indexes. Some serious methodical doubts, however, remain, but this concerns only a few articles and is not meant to be a general criticism.


1.   E. L., Maccus vortit barbare: Vom Amphitryon zum tragikomischen Amphitruo, Mainz 1982.
2.   The new Sonderforschungsbereich at Freiburg is concerned with such questions. A first publication is Gesine Manuwald's volume on the early Roman tragedy.
3.   I have the impression Manuwald might have confused 'paratragic' and 'parody of a tragedy' (which I would like to distinguish clearly from each other) in one case at the beginning, but I may be wrong.

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