Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.03.24

Gesine Manuwald, Roman Drama: A Reader.   London:  Duckworth, 2010.  Pp. xii, 220.  ISBN 9780715638699.  $29.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by Peter G. Barrios-Lech, Santa Clara University (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The purpose of Gesine Manuwald's Roman Drama: A Reader is to facilitate "the understanding and appreciation of Roman drama and its development over the centuries of its existence" (ix). Accordingly, the heart of her book is an anthology of excerpts from complete plays, and of selected fragments which attest to the various dramatic genres of the Republic and early empire.1 To put these passages in context, Manuwald helpfully provides readers with a brief (30pp.) introduction to Roman drama,2 and a selection of pertinent testimonia. Readers interested in reception will not be disappointed: Manuwald concludes her reader with a "very selective" section on the reception of Roman drama by poets in England. An ample bibliography lists 177 items, grouped by author and topic, for those who wish to read further. Alongside her aim of facilitating an "appreciation of Roman drama…over the centuries of its existence," Manuwald also hopes to return "Roman drama as a whole to a wider audience" (ibid.): to this end, she has provided facing-page translations for all Latin texts, and included with each a separate introduction and explanatory notes.

The Introduction is divided into 10 sections (see the table of contents below for details) which address, broadly, the early literary history of Roman drama (I 1-3); Roman drama in its performance context (I 4-6), its literary qualities (I 7-8), developments during the imperial period and, finally, reception (I 9-10). It clearly presents the standard views on most of the topics raised. Since the target audience is students and teachers not already familiar with Roman drama, Manuwald intentionally omits footnotes and references to scholarly discussion in this introduction (ix-x). Nevertheless, scholars and advanced students might miss these references, especially when the author discusses such topics as the use of masks, reasons for the senate's curious refusal to build permanent theaters in Rome for most of the Republican era, and the composition and tastes of the Roman audience.3 The omission of footnotes and references to scholarly discussions however is made up for by the aforementioned extensive bibliography.

The testimonia in Manuwald's reader are all well-chosen, and often referred to in handbooks on Roman literature and drama.4 In fact, before the appearance of A Reader, students interested in what ancient writers had to say about Roman drama would have had to consult several different sources, some difficult to access.5 One of the most important contributions of Manuwald's book therefore is to collect these testimonia in one place. They are grouped according to seven themes: (i.) ancient writers on the early literary history of Roman drama, (ii.) literary criticism, (iii.) theater buildings, (iv.) revivals, (v.) the growing tendency towards the spectacular in Roman dramatic performances, (v.) ancient grammarians' schemas of the Roman dramatic genres, (vi.) 'metapoetic' and 'metatheatrical' commentary as found in the plays of Terence and Plautus, and finally (vii.) excerpts from Cicero's philosophical and rhetorical works on translating Greek literature into Latin.

As for the selection of passages which follows the testimonia, editors of any literary anthology inevitably encounter the problem of what to include, and what to leave out. Moreover, passages sundered from a larger work, no matter how rich the patina of explanatory material, will fail to convey a sense of that work as a whole. Yet the convenience of the anthology for teachers and its cost-effectiveness for students will ensure the survival of this vehicle for conveying literary periods and traditions. Manuwald's reader does this as successfully for Republican drama as any anthology possibly can, given the nature of the surviving material. Since we have only a small fraction of the total plays written during the Republic and early empire, and fairly accurate knowledge of only one genre, the palliata, our very idea of "Roman drama as a whole" must necessarily remain incomplete. (We might imagine how difficult it would be to gain an accurate knowledge of 16-17th C English drama from only a handful of complete plays by Shakespeare and Jonson, with plays written by other Elizabethan playwrights attested only in scattered quotations and fragments.)

Nevertheless, the way in which Manuwald makes her selection allows readers to gain some idea of how different authors treat the same characters, plots, and themes. She includes, for instance, all the fragments of Ennius' Medea Exul, excerpts from Seneca's Medea,6 and the openings of Acts 1 and 2 from Tony Harrison's 1985 Medea, a sex-war opera. Likewise, she includes excerpts from various Amphitruo plays which attest to the striking durability of this story, with its role-reversals, mistaken identities, and emphasis on human foibles. Plautus' Amphitruo is represented here (the prologue spoken by Mercury), as is the 'lock-out' scene in Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors which owes much to a similar scene in Plautus' Amphitryo, and the first scene of John Dryden's Amphitryon, or The Two Sosias,7 from which we get such delightful lines as the following (Mercury replies to Jupiter):

JUP. You may as safely speak as think.
MERC. Mine was a very homely thought. I was considering into what form your almightyship would be pleased to transform yourself tonight. Whether you would fornicate in the shape of a bull, or a ram, or an eagle, or a swan. What bird or beast you would please to honor, by transgressing your own laws in his likeness? Or, in short, whether you would recreate yourself in feathers or in leather?
Readers can also appreciate the rich comic potential and adaptibility of the alazon figure and his hanger-on through the selections in the Reader. Manuwald excerpts from Terence's Eunuch (Gnatho preens himself in an entrance monologue; the 'siege' scene), Plautus' Miles Gloriosus (the banter between Artotrogus and the titular miles), and Nicholas Udall's Ralph Roister Doister (1552), credited as the first English comedy, and based on the former two plays.

In regard to the fragments Manuwald has chosen, a couple of principles of selection can be discerned: (1.) there should be enough selections from a particular work to give the reader a sense of the play's plot and/or themes, and/or (2.) they should be of inherent interest. In accordance with the latter principle, we get Gellius' side-by-side comparison of Menander's Plokion with Caecilius Statius' adaptation, and the longest consecutive piece extant from Roman literary mime, verses spoken by Laberius at Caesar's insistence that he appear on stage to act in his own play. Besides mime, two fragments attest to praextexta plays: Tarquin's dream from Accius' Brutus which presages his expulsion and the beginnings of the Republic, and the dialogue between Nero and Seneca in the Octavia on the principles of effective governance. As for the elusive togata, Manuwald offers all the fragments of Afranius' Divortium (cf. principle (1.) above). The introductions to the fragments provide context much needed for understanding the fragments themselves. One could wish for more comment from Manuwald as to why she arranges fragments the way she does, or for more selections attesting to praextexta, mime, and togata; moreover, readers might be surprised to find that Manuwald does not include any fragments from the plays of Livius Andronicus and Naevius, nor any fragments attesting to literary Atellana. That said, the introduction and the fragments themselves do enough to whet readers' interest for more. It would be difficult, for instance, not to be curious about the fragments of Titus Quinctius Atta's togata plays after reading the following summary: "[Atta's] plays cover Roman games and their organization, lascivious life in the spa, sacrifices and religious customs, mercenaries, [and] a discussion of the first month of the year" (12).

To sum up, Manuwald's Reader usefully gathers into one place some of the key testimonia bearing on Roman drama. The introduction and anthology of passages provide a serviceable overview of Roman drama and might be useful for an advanced undergraduate course on Roman drama. A detailed table of contents, a text divided into sections, with each section signposted, and ample cross-referencing makes up for the lack of an index; the bibliography, which facilitates further study, is one of the books' major strengths.8

Table of Contents

Preface (ix)
Notes for the Reader (x)

Introduction: Overview of Roman Drama

I 1 Background and Evolution (1)
I 2 Dramatic genres (2)
I 3 Dramatic poets (6)
I 4 Occasions and venues (15)
I 5 Actors and productions (18)
I 6 Audiences (20)
I 7 Poetry and Performance (21)
I 8 Form and Style (23)
I 9 Characteristics and developments (24)
I 10 Reception and transmission (26)
Illustrations (31)
Appendix 1 Roman dramatic poets and their plays (34)
Appendix 2 Chronological table (38)

Testimonia on Roman Drama

T 1 On the introduction of drama to Rome (Liv. 7.2; Val. Max. 2.4.4) (42)
T 2 On the introduction of Greek literature to Rome (Hor.Epist. 2.1.145-67) (46)
T 3 On the dates of the early dramatists (Cic. Brut. 71-6; Gell.NA 17.21.42-9) (48)
T 4 On the assessment of comic poets (Volcacius Sedigitus, fr. 1 FPL 3, ap. Gell NA 15.24) (52)
T 5 On the assessment of early Roman dramatists (Hor. Epist. 2.1.50-62) (54)
T 6 On the assessment of Roman dramatists (Quint. Inst. 10.1.97-100) (56)
T 7 On theatre buildings (Vitr. 5.6; Tert. Spect. 10.1-9) (58)
T 8 On the development of theatre buildings (Val. Max. 2.4.1-3, 6) (64)
T 9 On revival performances of 'old' plays (Plaut. Cas. 5-20) (66)
T 10 On revival performances in the late Republic (Cic. Att. 2.19.3; Sest. 106-26) (68)
T 11 On sensational spectacle on stage (Cic. Fam. 7.1; Hor. Epist. 2.1.177-207) (74)
T 12 On dramatic genres (Diom. GL 1.482-91; Euanth. Fab. 4.1-3; Don. Com. 6.1-2, 5) (82)
T 13 On comedy (Plaut. Amph. 50-63; Capt. 55-62; 1029-36; Ter. Haut. 35-42; Eun. 35-41) (90)
T 14 On the experiences of a dramatist upon staging a play (Ter. Hec. 1-57) (94)
T 15 On 'translating' Greek literature into Latin (Cic. Fin. 1.4-7; Acad. 1.10; Opt. gen. 18) (96)

Dramatic Texts
D 1 Ennius, Andromacha Aechmalotis (some fragments) (102)
D 2 Ennius, Medea Exul (all fragments) (104)
D 3 Pacuvius, Medus (all fragments) (108)
D 4 Pacuvius, on Fortuna (one long fragment (112)
D 5 Accius, Medea sive Argonautae (some fragments) (114)
D 6 Accius, Brutus (some fragments) (116)
D 7 Plautus, Amphitruo 1-152 (prologue) (118)
D 8 Plautus, Miles gloriosus 1-78 (I 1) (126)
D 9 Caecilius Statius, Plocium (Gellius, NA 2.23) (130)
D 10 Terence, Eunuchus 232-64 (II 2); 771-816 (IV 7) (136)
D 11 Terence, Adelphoe 26-81 (I 1); 81-154 (I 2) (144)
D 12 Afranius, Divortium (all fragments) (150)
D 13 Decimus Laberius and Publilius Syrus, (Macrob. Sat. 2.7.1-10) (152)
D 14 Seneca, Medea 150-78; 893-977 (158)
D 15 Pseudo-Seneca, Octavia 377-592 (164)

Nachleben of Roman Drama

N 1 Nicholas Udall (1552), Roister Doister (Prologue; IV 7-8) (177)
N 2 William Shakespeare (early 1590s), The Comedy of Errors (III 1) (184)
N 3 Matthew Gwinne (1603), Nero (II 3) (188)
N 4 John Dryden (1690), Amphitryon; or The Two Sosias (I 1) (194)
N 5 Tony Harrison (1985), Medea: a sex-war opera (openings of acts 1 and 2) (202)

Bibliography and Further Reading (207)

B 1 Editions, translations, commentaries (207)
B 2 Secondary literature (210)


1.   This anthology has a claim to uniqueness in that the other Roman drama anthologies of which I am aware - i.e. Hadas/Copley (1965) and Eckel/Duckworth (1942) - do not include translations of fragments.
2.   The introduction is equipped with a set of illustrations, mainly of the Roman theater, and two appendices (one, a list of key dates in the history of Roman drama, and the other, a listing of Roman dramatic poets and titles of plays associated with each one).
3.   The latter was the subject of a seminar at the most recent (2011) APA conference:
4.   Including the following well-known passages: Livy (7.2) on the introduction of ludici scenici at Rome, Horace on the early history of dramatic performances (Epistles 2.1.145-67 on the Fescennina licentia and the beginnings of literary translations of Greek drama), and Pomponius Atticus' chronology of the early Roman poets, reported by Cicero in Brutus, which has in turn become accepted in modern scholarship.
5.   e.g. testimonia on Plautus in vol. 1 of Goetz and Schoell's (1898-1901) edition of Plautus' comedies, or, for Terence, the first volume of Wessner's Teubner edition of Donatus. More accessible sources include the Handbuch der Lateinischen Literatur der Antike (ed. Suerbaum), which contains testimonia and bibliography on authors and literary genres; not to mention the standard handbooks (Beare 1964, Duckworth 1952, repr. 1994) and editions with commentary on individual plays.
6.   The dialogue between Medea and her nurse at the beginning of the play, and Medea's monologue betraying her internal struggle over whether to commit infanticide.
7.   As Dryden modestly states in the prefatory epistle, "more than half of it is mine, and...the rest is rather a lame Imitation of their [Plautus' and Moliere's] excellencies, than a just Translation."
8.   The typos are infrequent and unobtrusive, but note: pp. 35 Andrea (for Andria), 77 walk along Greek street (add "a"), 98 segnitae (for segnitiae ), 45 this (for these), 47 open rabies (for open madness), 50 accommodatum (for accommodatam), 86 in eius modi fabulas (for in eius modi fabulis), 104, terras (for terrae), 110 egregiisima (for egregissima), 117 interpreteers (for interpreters), 171 reigns (for reins), 178 inted (for intend), 195 damatic (for dramatic), 201 fas (for far), ibid. swingeing (for swinging), ibid. they (for thy), 208 Androncius (for Andronicus). At p. 144, lines 40-41 of Adelphoe, the correct punctuation (and that which Kauer and Lindsay print in their OCT) must be: "atque ex me hic natu' non sed ex fratre. is adeo/ dissimili studiost iam inde ab adulescentia". As for the translations, I suggest the following modifications : p. 123 (Amphitryo line 108): "[Jupiter] took the use/enjoyment [usuram] of her body for himself" (cf. line 1135 and OLD s.v. usura 1); at p. 191 (Gwinne passage), translate lines 834-835 as follows: "Jupiter Stator, Tarpeian one, ruler of earth [soil], but [living in] in the heavens, and Romulus Quirinus, from the earth, but inhabitant of the heavens."

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