Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.12.08
Cesare Questa, Sei Letture Plautine. Urbino: Edizioni QuattroVenti, 2004. Pp. 172. ISBN 88-392-0687-6. €20.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Joanne Walker, Dollar Academy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Word count: 1898 words
Sei Letture Plautine forms volume 14 of the series Ludus Philologiae edited by Questa (Q.) and Renato Raffaelli. The volume consists of six profiles of the Plautine comedies Aulularia, Casina, Menaechmi, Miles Gloriosus, Mostellaria, and Pseudolus, plus two appendices. All eight pieces have been published previously, but have been revised by Q. for this volume by the addition of up to date bibliography, the correction of oversights, and the addition of new considerations. (I should state that the original articles were not available to me in the reviewing of this volume.) The raison d'être of this volume is to pay homage to Q. on the occasion of his 70th birthday. The organising committee did not wish to publish the standard Festschrift, for reasons explained in the premessa.
Q. has already collected many of his articles himself. So the decision of what to include in such a volume was important. The organising committee has wisely chosen quality over quantity, and has also followed the stated aim of creating a collection with a unified foundation. Each of the six profiles has previously been published, but separately, by the Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli in the 1980s, when Q. edited these six comedies for a popular audience. Each was provided with a common general introduction, and then a reading specific to that play. These readings are the six profiles. Although they were aimed at a popular audience, the organising committee argues that they show a freshness of approach and exposition, and contain elements of value not only for the general reader, but also for the specialist. Each profile covers the main areas of plot, composition, structure, interpretation, and style. The two other articles are placed at the end as appendices, presumably to show that they are not fully part of this group of six profiles. The first is a closer look at the role of Pardalisca in Casina, and the second is an article which shows Q.'s interest in later musical theatre.
Given that the six profiles were originally written for a popular readership, it is not surprising that the number of footnotes is relatively low. In addition, the majority of articles and books referred to by Q. in the footnotes (there is no bibliography) are Italian, which again is natural given the original purpose. There is no index (nor would one be expected for a collection of articles), but, as each article is reasonably short, this does not cause any problems. Most readers will presumably wish to read a complete profile or article, rather than use this as a reference book.
The first profile is that of Aulularia. In his discussion of the Greek model of the play, Q. concisely surveys the main suggestions, and draws parallels with Menander's Dyskolos. His neat explanation of the plot clearly shows the parallelism between the two elements of rape and theft. Although he makes a brief reference to the problem of the two slaves belonging to Megadorus and Lyconides, he brushes over this perhaps too simplistically, saying that in one scene-heading Strobilus is mentioned in error rather than Pythodicus. There is no further discussion of what is in fact a much more complex problem. It is by no means certain that there was a slave called Pythodicus in the play. Given the depth of discussion of certain knotty issues in other profiles, it is surprising that a note at least has not been included at this point. On the whole though, this profile gives a sound and concise discussion of the main points of importance in this play. It is therefore particularly helpful to the general reader. The profile is completed by a section on the Nachleben of the play, in which Q. discusses the ending written by Urceus, and the emblematic nature of the character of the miser in later comedy.
The second profile, on Casina, is the longest by far in the volume. In this article Q. examines dating, the names of Plautine plays, Plautine prologues, act divisions, and oddities of this play. Thus with this profile, Q. takes the opportunity, because of the complexity of the plot, to examine many issues common to a variety of Roman comedies. As with the other profiles, much consists of a sequential exploration of the plot, in which Q. also tries to show where he thinks Plautus has remained faithful to or deviated significantly from his Greek model. Q. views Casina as being similar to only one other Plautine play, Mercator, which he summarizes briefly and clearly. Q. spends a lot of time discussing the drawing of lots scene and Chalinus' eavesdropping scene, and offers two possible explanations for the treatment of these scenes with regard to the Greek model. All is done clearly, and both appear to be reasonable explanations, suitable in themselves as information for the beginner, but good starting points for further investigation for the more advanced student or scholar. As with all the profiles, this section concludes with a brief examination of the Nachleben of the play.
Menaechmi is the subject of the third profile. Although the Greek model is unknown, various hypotheses which have been suggested are discussed. Q. as ever gives a clear explanation of the plot, which is also entertaining, and details conventions typical of Roman comedy. The section on the Nachleben of the play focuses on the theme typical of farce, and works including Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
The fourth profile discusses Miles Gloriosus. Q. offers a few possible definitions of the type of comedy that we have here, and discusses the use of a delayed prologue. The geometric rigour of this play's movements interests Q., and he draws a comparison with the other Plautine plays, Amphitruo and Menaechmi. Q. suggests that there has been contaminatio in the composition of this play, which he uses to explain some of the contradictions in the plot and the fact that the deceptions are not linked organically. He picks out which parts of the play would have been taken from which of the two models. However, he is careful to make the point that, although there are contradictions immediately obvious to a student of the play, these would probably not have been noticed by a member of the audience. Therefore the theory of contaminatio must be viewed as a possibility, with reservations. Since, as Q. mentions in a footnote, a similar result could have been created simply by the use of one model together with Plautine amplification of an element already present in that one model. The section on the play's Nachleben is fairly lengthy, and discusses the 'Boastful Soldier' of the Italian Commedia dell'Arte.
Mostellaria is the subject of the fifth profile, which commences with a reference to the Festus quotation of line 240. The discussion of the plot of the play is clear, and Q. livens it up with a translation of some of the swift dialogue, when Tranio is telling lies to the old merchant. There is a discussion of the tragic borrowings in the play and the treatment of Callidamatus as a kind of deus ex machina. The motif of the unexpected arrival or appearance interests Q. in this play, and this is picked up once more in the brief discussion of the play's Nachleben, which focuses on plays of the Renaissance.
The sixth profile examines Pseudolus. There is a brief mention of the fact that the model is unknown, thanks to the loss of most of the prologue. Therefore the introductory section is used to explain the type of comedy we are dealing with. Within the sequential discussion of the content of the play, there is a discussion of the fact that in this play the dramatic illusion is broken fairly frequently. Q. also discusses in detail a few problems not obvious to the audience but clear to a careful reader of the play. As expected, the problems are to do with contradictions in information known by characters, or a failure to follow up certain announced intentions, or unmotivated movements. Q. puts forward reasonable hypotheses for why these problems have arisen, although as usual he never suggests that these are definitive.
The first appendix concerns the function of Pardalisca in Casina. There is a clear risk of circularity in the arguments presented by Q., which he acknowledges and to which he alerts the reader at once. This is because the argument partly takes shape on the basis of the textual choices made by an editor, in terms of attributing dialogue. The argument is clear, balanced, and well-supported by the internal evidence of the text, and Q. makes a convincing case for his attribution of lines, and the representation of Pardalisca as a type of director of the action within the play.
The second appendix is a very short article, which allows Q. to show his interest in musical opera. The particular subjects of this discussion are Cistellaria and The Marriage of Figaro, and similarities between the two. This focuses particularly on the transformation of the Greek model by Menander into the more musical Roman comedy, Cistellaria, compared with the transformation of Beaumarchais' play into Mozart and Da Ponte's musical opera. However, the difference between the two is also noted, as in Roman comedy the text was more important than the music, whereas Mozart's score was more important than Da Ponte's lyrics. Nevertheless, Q. is at pains to emphasise in conclusion that Plautus is the father of comic theatre and opera.
In conclusion, this volume presents six profiles of Plautine plays, which are particularly useful to the student, as an introduction to the plays. The main focus of the profiles is to explain the content and plot of each play, and Q. does this clearly, succinctly, and also in an entertaining manner. He also takes the opportunity to highlight aspects common to Roman comedy in general. Usually such features are detailed in only one of the profiles. While this ensures the volume is not repetitive, it also means that although a discussion of an aspect may be relevant to more than one play, it will be found only in one of the profiles, and there are no cross-references or indices to enable the reader to discover where they can find such a discussion. Most issues of importance in each play are discussed or referred to at least briefly. For certain plays Q. discusses possible explanations for problems in detail. Such hypotheses are usually clear, and well-supported by evidence. However, the coverage of plays is varied, with Casina receiving far more attention than the other five, especially when one considers the first appendix too. The appendices are both interesting articles in their own right. The first appendix, because it focuses on Casina, already the most discussed play in the volume, seems to fit into the volume fairly well. The inclusion of the second appendix is justifiable on the basis that each of the six profiles includes a section on the Nachleben of the play, thus hinting at Q.'s interest in the field of later adaptations of Roman comedy and its themes. The volume would perhaps have benefited from a short bibliography and index.
As with every volume published by QuattroVenti in this series, the layout is simple and functional, but elegant. The quality of the paper and binding is very high. There are a few typographical errors, but none of these is damaging to the understanding of the text.1
1. p.48 n.15. I1 is printed rather than Il; p.119 last line. E is printed rather than È; p.120 8th line. Lack of full stop; p.129 n.1. aiutante' is printed rather than 'aiutante'; p.129 paragraph 2 9th line. dì is printed rather than di; p.141 22nd line. à is printed rather than è; p.148 24th line. 1'Angelio is printed rather than l'Angelio; p.150 n.4 8th line. caratteristiehe is printed rather than caratteristiche.