Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.04.07 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.04.07

Keith Maclennan, Walter Stockert, Plautus: Aulularia. Edited with an Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Aris and Phillips classical texts.   Liverpool:  Liverpool University Press, 2016.  Pp. viii, 256.  ISBN 9781910572382.  £19.99 (pb).  

Reviewed by J.C.B. Lowe, Islip, Oxfordshire (

This is the first commentary in English on the Aulularia to be published for over a century. It is a welcome aid to the study of a play which has some brilliant comic scenes and a problematic central character inviting discussion, has a rich afterlife in European literature, and poses tantalising questions over its lost ending. Much material has naturally been taken over from Stockert’s 1983 edition, but there are also omissions, e.g. some discussions of difficult textual and metrical problems, to which reference is made in this commentary. Stockert has sometimes changed his mind and there are frequent references to publications which have appeared since 1983. Particularly influential has been an article of Primmer which attempts to reconstruct the Greek model of the Aulularia.1 This up-to-date commentary will be very helpful for the students at whom it is primarily aimed. References to works in German and Italian will serve more advanced scholars.

The introduction, in addition to a summary of the action of the play and description of the characters, includes sections on the historical context of Plautus’ comedies and the circumstances in which they were performed, the presumed Greek model of the Aulularia and the lost ending of the Latin play, the transmission of the text, and the reception of the play. The Latin text represents the editors’ selection of manuscript variants and emendations (few new); they justify their choice in the commentary, and alternative possible readings are given in the notes and brief apparatus criticus. Facing the text is a close translation. After the commentary there is a verse translation, in iambic pentameters for the senarii, otherwise in Plautus’ own metres, a considerable feat. Finally, there is a metrical appendix, a bibliography, and indices.

The sections of the introduction on the problematic characterisation of Euclio and on the play’s influence on later literature are particularly useful. On the circumstances of the original production of Plautus’ plays, the editors refer to recent publications but admit that little is certain. They present the arguments for attributing the Greek model of the Aulularia to Menander but in the end leave the question open. About attempts to date the play, they are rightly sceptical. They list certain inconsistencies and other features of the Latin play which suggest Plautine changes to his model and with some reservations present Primmer’s reconstruction of the Greek play as the best so far suggested. The least satisfactory section concerns the number of actors available to Plautus (cf. the commentary on 363ff.). It is not true that “it has been shown that the ‘law of three (speaking) actors’ of tragedy was not valid in Greek comedy.” The question is complicated, but New Comedy is more like tragedy than Old Comedy and good scholars still believe some kind of rule of three actors to be at least a possible explanation. In any case Roman comedy, unlike Menander, regularly has scenes with more than three speaking characters and Maclennan/Stockert admit that the Latin dramatists sometimes added extra characters. Roman comedy is thus differentiated from Greek New Comedy, not surprisingly in view of the very different nature of dramatic performances in Athens and Rome. There is no evidence for any restriction on the number of actors available to Plautus. The schemes to show how the Aulularia could have been acted by four or even three actors are misleading. The number of actors in a grex is another of the unknowns regarding the performance of Plautus’ plays.

The commentary provides plenty of help for the less experienced student, explaining the meaning of technical terms and the ways in which early Latin differed from Latin of the classical period. On points of grammar reference is regularly made to Gildersleeve/Lodge, sometimes also to Hofmann/Szantyr and other standard works. On metre, the student is referred to the appendix of Willcock’s edition of the Pseudolus, but reference is also made to Questa.2 Typical Plautine features of style are noted, and metrical abnormalities, both acceptable and questionable. Allusions to Roman life are explained as well as references to purely Greek institutions. Cases in which it is possible with some confidence to suppose additions or expansion by Plautus are noted, e.g. the tirade against dowried wives in 475ff., topical in Rome around the time of the repeal of the lex Oppia in 195 B.C., and the ‘slave’s catechism’ in 587ff. Ludwig’s very plausible arguments are accepted for attributing to Plautus the slave’s monologue 701-12, the slave’s triumphant entry with the pot of gold having been transposed from after the entry of Euclio.3 The note on 459 makes unnecessarily heavy weather of the cooks’ movements, suggesting that they would have been clearer in Menander. Congrio’s abi tu modo is simply a retort to Euclio’s abi in malum cruciatum (in the new Loeb translation by W. de Melo “you go and be hanged yourself”). It is clear enough that the cooks go into Euclio’s house now that he has left it with the pot of gold. 460 illic hinc abiit must refer to Congrio’s entering the house (cf. 465 intro abi); it can be assumed that his assistants went with him.

There is little doubt that Plautus has altered the balance of his Greek model in favour of the comedy of the Euclio theme at the expense of the theme of Lyconides’ love, and a number of incongruities in the Latin play do look like relics of scenes omitted by Plautus. The location and content of these scenes, however, is very difficult to establish. Primmer’s reconstruction is less than convincing. He relies in part on a questionable theory of the interconnection of the conventional five-act structure of New Comedy with plot-phases Protasis, Epitasis, and Catastrophe. Maclennan/Stockert mention other theories but perhaps underestimate the merits of the theory that Euclio’s hiding the pot of gold in the shrine of Fides is a Plautine doublet of his hiding it in the grove of Silvanus. That 119, 279, and 700 correspond to act-divisions in the Greek play is probable or certain; but the possibility cannot be excluded that 700 corresponds to the end of the third act (greatly expanded by Plautus), rather than the fourth, and that more has been lost from the end of the play than is generally supposed.

In the metrical appendix the editors admit that their treatment of this difficult subject is simplified and incomplete, with the laudable aim of helping beginners to read Plautus. There is a potentially confusing inconsistency, however, in their treatment of septenarii. In the synopsis of metres these are, following the conventional classification, described as cantica, as distinguished from diverbia and mutatis modis cantica. In the Glossary of Basic Terms, however, and elsewhere, cantica are equated with mutatis modis cantica and septenarii are said to be the verse of ‘recitative’ (defined in the Glossary as chanted rather than sung, begging the question of whether this distinction is valid).

Occasional slips are excusable and I have not noticed many. On p. 21, Theuerkauf’s name is misspelt and the title of his dissertation omitted. My review of Primmer cited on p. 22 was in Classical Review, not Quarterly.


1.   A. Primmer, " Der 'Geizige' bei Menander und Plautus," Wiener Studien 105 (1992) 69-127.
2.   C.Questa, La metrica di Plauto e di Terenzio (Urbino 2007).
3.   W. Ludwig, "Aulularia-Probleme," Philologus 105 (1961) 66f.

Read comments on this review or add a comment on the BMCR blog

Read Latest
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010