Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.10.23

Walter Hofmann (ed.), Plautus. Truculentus. Lateinisch und Deutsch. Herausgegeben, übersetzt und kommentiert. Texte zur Forschung 78.   Darmstadt:  Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2001.  Pp. 237.  ISBN 3-534-13800-7.  EUR 34.90.  

Reviewed by Rolando Ferri, Università di Pisa (
Word count: 2617 words

This edition of Plautus' Truculentus is the first after Enk's 1953 full-scale edition and commentary, but Hofmann (henceforward H.) refers also to K.H. Kruse's 1974 Heidelberg dissertation, never published as a book and unavailable to me. H.'s stated aim is that of providing a readable translation for a general audience interested in dramatic literature, not necessarily specialists or university students. The book comprises an introduction, a Latin text with critical apparatus and a facing German translation, a commentary on select textual and literary-historical problems, a bibliography, an index rerum, and a metrical conspectus (though no description of even the most important metres used in the play).

In the introduction, H. touches on several points of importance in the interpretation of Truculentus. H. suggests that the play is a light-hearted satirical description of the new relaxed way of life at Rome in the aftermath of the great victories against Carthage, Macedonia, and Antiochus. The numerous allusions to money-lenders and bankers are seen as a reflection of the abundant circulation and easy availability of money after the battle of Magnesia (7-8; 11-3). Accordingly, H. assigns Truculentus to the late phase of Plautus' activity, which agrees with the tradition mentioned by Cic. Cato 50, about the pride felt by the aged Plautus in his Pseudolus and Truculentus. Also of relevance for the dating are H.'s notes on 66, 485 (a supposed allusion to Ennius), and 761.

H. declares his debt to the contributions of E. Lefèvre and the so-called 'Freiburg school', who have emphasized the centrality of the native dramatic traditions of impromptu performances in Plautus (H. refers especially to the collection of essays in Plautus barbarus. Sechs Kapitel zur Originalität des Plautus (ScriptOralia 25), Tübingen, Narr, 1991). H. accepts Lefèvre's argument that no Greek original should probably be assumed for Truculentus (10-1), and he goes on to argue that Truculentus illustrates Plautus' loss of interest in palliata, based on a naturalistic, tightly structured plot, and his progressive movement towards improvised farce, consisting of a loose series of accidents, verbal gags, slapstick, and on the performance of individual popular actors. In H.'s view, Truculentus should be seen as the missing link between the waning palliata and the rising Atellana, the drama with fixed masks, revived as a literary form in the age of Sulla (25). Also attentive to drawing parallels with the Atellana are H.'s notes in the commentary: cf. ad 99, 645, 731, and 771.

The contributions of the Freiburg school have raised interesting issues, but H.'s wholesale acceptance of them is unsatisfactory. The introduction, having no footnotes, was not perhaps the best place for a finely gradated assessment of the whole question, but even in the bibliography there seems to be no acknowledgment of the debate generated by the ScriptOralia series in other quarters. Let me mention at least P.G. McC. Brown's review of Plautus Barbarus in Gnomon 67 (1995), 676-83, and also C. Questa in Gnomon, 64 (1992), 670-3, and P. Kruschwitz, BMCR 2002.03.12. Among previous editions, he should have mentioned at least Questa's Titi Macci Plauti Cantica, Urbino, QuattroVenti, 1995.

For the sake of clarity, I will give an outline of the plot of Truculentus. Diniarchus, who has just come back to Athens from Lemnos, has heard that his former mistress, the courtesan Phronesium, has simulated a pregnancy to deceive the soldier Stratophanes, making him believe that he is the baby's father. Diniarchus would like to see his former lover, but Phronesium's cunning maid, Astaphium, will not let him in unless he brings more gifts. During Diniarchus' absence, two new rivals have replaced him, the soldier, and Strabax, a young man from the country with lots of money to spend. The title hero, Truculentus, has been assigned to watch over Strabax' morality in town. Most of the play is devoted to presenting these two other rivals, and Diniarchus's consequent attempts to win back Phronesium with further gifts. On one of his trips to the courtesan's house, Diniarchus overhears the old Callicles cross-questioning two slave-girls he suspects of having had something to do with the disappearance of his daughter's baby. The two girls have brought the baby to Phronesium. Diniarchus, who has raped Callicles' daughter and is the baby's father, makes a promise to amend his ways and marry the young woman. He goes over to Phronesium to reclaim the baby and takes his final leave of her. Phronesium entreats him to leave the baby with her for only one day, in order to complete her deception of the soldier. The play ends with a farcical altercation between the two lovers, the soldier and the peasant, now left to compete for Phronesium with ever greater promises of gifts and money.

H. argues, not unreasonably, that the plot of Truculentus is loosely knit, and full of non-functional insertions. Truculentus, the title hero, figures in two scenes lacking any relation to the rest of the story, whatever we take it to be, so much so that earlier scholars guessed that the text had undergone significant cuts during a retractatio after the death of the author. There is no 'crisis and reversal' pattern, and no intrigue, except that set up by Phronesium to deceive Stratophanes. Even this intrigue starts as a marginal detail, although it proves to be crucial in bringing about the transformation of Diniarchus from young profligate to considerate husband. However, we may wonder if all this is enough to argue that Truculentus has more to do with Atellana (of which in fact we know next to nothing) than with palliata. As observed by reviewers of various volumes in the ScriptOralia series, New Comedy need not have been a pedestrian imitation of Menander, and at any rate it is not impossible to imagine a New Comedy story-line underneath Truculentus, no matter what twists and turns Plautus has given to it. The song of Phronesium at 448-81 about the wicked nature of courtesans, for example, is full of allusions to serious drama in a quasi-Menandrian vein. She feels shame at exploiting the baby, although Plautus uses the device of giving her phrases a sudden comic twist at the end of the line, just as in Bacchides 500-10, where we can see how much Plautus has altered the ethos of Menander's characters. Phronesium's final admission that true friends are a treasure (885) could have been expanded into a set piece of moralizing in the putative source.

In my view, H. draws excessively simple conclusions about the shallowness of characterization in Truculentus, which he sees as a feature of improvised drama. What character is not, to some extent, formed according to stereotype in Plautus, and, for that matter, also in Menander and in Terence, even if it is a different stereotype? More generally, many of the elements of Truculentus which H. sees as characteristic of Atellana, could describe Plautine palliata as a whole, such as the allegedly sacrilegious use of mythological comparisons (note on 731: but cf. E. Fraenkel Elementi plautini in Plauto, Firenze, La Nuova Italia, 1960, chapter 1), the presence of stereotyped characters (note on 645), and the lack of preparation for the appearance of crucial characters or for a sudden turn in the plot. For example, H. argues that the unprepared appearance of Callicles at 771, giving sudden prominence to the subplot of rape and recognition which brings to an end Diniarchus' life of dissipation, is a characteristic feature of improvised drama, 'where characters come in when they are needed'. Apart from the simplistic wording (supposedly characters come on stage when needed in all plays), lack of preparation has often been observed in New Comedy (cf. G.E. Duckworth, The Nature of Roman Comedy, Princeton, Princeton UP, 1954, 178-81; 198-200). Moreover, the mention of a lost baby in Scene I, given the recurrence of the motif in New Comedy, is sufficient to raise the audience's expectations. They know that, before the end of the play, the baby will prove to be an important element in the resolution, and some narrative device must be found to reveal the child's identity.

A welcome feature of the commentary is that H. pays a good deal of attention to stage action, especially where the sense can be grasped only if we supplement the words of the actors with their putative actions on stage. I have noted interesting comments on 257, 331, 593-602.

The translation, as far as I can judge, is successful, and makes lively reading. Generally speaking, it is close to the original and accurate, and the reader interested in the Latin will not find it difficult to move from right to left. The edition of the text, however, is somewhat idiosyncratic. H. prints a very selective apparatus and incompletely reports MS readings and previous scholars' conjectures, even when accepted. On the other hand, orthographic minutiae are sometimes noted, such as 'ocius' at 624, credited to 'anonyme jüngere Korrektoren' (= Itali), for 'otius' of P. For this reason I find the blurb presenting the book as 'eine neue kritische Ausgabe' an inadequate description, even if it is an editorial addition (it seems in conflict with H's admission on p. 31 that his 'textkritische Anmerkungen' do not replace an apparatus).

Other flaws of presentation are disturbing or simply confusing. The text of Truculentus is corrupt in many places, and one expects cruces; H. however, writes cruces even when he adopts a modern conjecture, e.g. at 192, he writes 'uerum esse insciti credimus, ne +ut iusta+ utamur ira' ('we believe it is true, and so we rob ourselves of an occasion to give vent to just anger'), with Buecheler's conjecture, 'ut iusta'. 'Ut iusta' may or may not appear convincing, but it certainly was intended to make sense by its proponent. At 674 H. writes 'iam non [ego] sum +Truculentus+ , noli metuere', where, with Leo's supplement 'ego', which he has adopted, the text is beyond reproach. H. may object to the transmitted 'Truculentus', but he should have expressed his reservations in some other way.

H. clutters the apparatus with the names of previous editors accepting a given proposal, even if they have no claim in formulating it. As a result, MS readings are not always very visible. I have also noted some cases of non-correspondence between text and translation. At 102 'um sie so richtig abzuküssen' translates presumably 'osculum'; H. however has written 'poculum'. At 619 H.'s 'alles ist jetzt geklärt' is an odd translation for his text 'confectis omnibus rebus': was it intended to translate Leo's 'confessus omnino reus' (in the apparatus)?

H. follows Enk in restoring the supposed orthography of the original texts of Plautus. In practice, the only significant difference from Lindsay or Leo is that H. has changed the graphemes representing the Greek aspirates to the corresponding voiceless stops (thus he writes 'Pronesium' for 'Phronesium', 'Astapium' for 'Astaphium' and so on). I find nothing wrong in this, but we should also keep in mind that there was no fixed orthographic norm at the time of Plautus, and that, when Plautus was finally edited by some Roman grammaticus, at the end of the II century BCE, a convention for representing Greek aspirates had already been introduced (cf. Leumann-Hofmann-Szantyr, Lateinische Grammatik [München, 1977] 1.160-1). For a more extensive discussion of the problems facing prospective editors of Plautus as regards orthography cf. C. Questa, 'Per un'edizione di Plauto', in Giornate filologiche Francesco della Corte. II, Genova, 2001, 69-73. On the hypothetical 'first edition' of Plautus cf. now M. Deufert, Textgeschichte und Rezeption der plautinischen Komödien im Altertum, Berlin-New York, Walter de Gruyter, 2001, especially 54-62.

H.'s notes in general are helpful and explanatory. However, I shall now append a few observations on linguistic or grammatical points about which I disagree with H.

60: 'faximus' is not a verbal form related to the perfect in -s. Standard grammars usually explain these forms in Classical Latin as fossilized aoristic forms (cf. Leumann-Hofmann-Szantyr, 1.621-4).

70-1: 'quos... quam ad rem dicam in argentariis referre habere...nescio'. 'Referre' cannot be dependent on 'nescio' ('nescio referre quam ad rem dicam (eos) in argentariis habere'), which would give Plautus a hyperbaton not found in his comedies. 'Referre' is the impersonal 'refert'. Understand: 'nescio quam ad rem dicam eos referre habere in argentariis', 'I ignore why they care so much to stay at the bankers'. Also H. has left unexplained the point about pimps being so full of money to lend that they have become the very tables where the publicans write their credits.

141-2: 'an tu te Veneris publicum aut Amoris alia lege habere posse postulas quin otiosus fias?'. H. explains the construction as 'an tu ... postulas quin' an alternative to 'non fieri potest quin', perhaps colloquial, and without parallel. 'Quin' in fact goes with 'alia lege', 'on any other terms than those of having to become unemployed?'. 'Aliter' is more commonly found before 'quin'. Cf. Ter. Hec. 398-9 'scio nemini aliter suspectum fore quin... ex te recte eum natum putent'. Also the sense of 'ob meam scripturam' (144) is not very clearly explained, with some interpreters seeing it 'despite our agreement' and others, more plausibly, 'by way of payment', 'as if that was the agreed payment'.

347: H. should not call the first anceps of the senarius 'Kürze' ('Im ersten Fuss ist die Kürze des Iambus aufgelöst in zwei Kürzen'); similarly, at 28, H. illustrates the lemma 'illic' with the abrupt 'Jambenkürzung', but this comment is misleading: the iambic shortening in question operates at 'quot il(lic'). Since H.'s edition does not include a description of the meters used by the poet, it is unnecessary to include metrical comments, especially if they are imprecise.

360: H. understands the perfect 'promisi' (answering Phronesium at 359 'salue. hicine hodie cenas, saluos quom aduenis?') as showing Diniarchus' eagerness, as if he cut Phronesium off before she finished speaking ('stop: you have already convinced me'). I think it means instead 'I am engaged elsewhere'. Diniarchus is playing hard to get, but a simple wink of eyelids will suffice to win him over.

405-6: 'tonstricem Suram nouisti nostram quaen erga aedem sese habet'? H. gives the words after 'quaen' to Phronesium. MSS have 'quem'; 'quaen' however is Bergk's conjecture, and editors following him usually assign the words 'quaen... habet' to Diniarchus. It is strange to have the interrogative particle '-ne' in a relative clause, although dependent on an indirect interrogative, and this odd choice, if intentional, would have called for comment. As it happens, parallels can perhaps be found, but some discussion would have been required.

453: 'modo docta', the reading accepted by H., is plausible, but he has misinterpreted 'domo docta', the conjecture most editors usually prefer. It means 'from my own experience'.

675: AS. 'quid ais?' TR. 'quid uis? quin tuam expecto osculentiam'. H. has changed the speech allocation found in Enk (TR. 'quid ais?' AS. 'quid uis?' TR. 'quin tuam expecto osculentiam'), but the text is very feeble in this way. 'Quin' is adverbial in this context, and presupposes a change of speaker. This speech allocation may be questioned, but other textual solutions should then be preferred.

892: 'hastis +confectum+ fallaciis'. H. pleads in favour of the transmitted adjective *hastus, not found anywhere else, which he takes to mean 'from behind'. The metre, however, won't scan, and it seems unmethodical to defend this word in the presence of so many non-existent forms in the MSS.

893 H. seems to take together 'supplicium' and 'damnas' (= damnatus), 'zur Sühne verdammt', but this construction seems impossible; translators generally take 'damnas' as a self-contained participial clause.

To sum up, although there is still much work to be done on Truculentus, H.'s volume is a welcome addition to the field, and future students of this play will do well to consult it alongside Enk.

Read Latest
Index for 2002
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:28:13, Friday, 03 April 2009