BMCR 2008.12.15

Plauto in Apuleio

, Plauto in Apuleio. Testi e manuali per l'insegnamento universitario del latino ; nuova ser., 94. Bologna: Pàtron, 2007. 227 pages ; 22 cm.. ISBN 8855529102. €17.00 (pb).

In this book, Pasetti (hereafter P.) offers a detailed study of some linguistic aspects of Apuleius’s language and its Plautine influence. It is based on frequency analyses of three selected phenomena, and its three chapters always conclude with word lists for Apuleius and Plautus and statistics. The method of the book is thus quantitative and stylistic analysis.

In many respects it uses and replaces Desertine,1 which was a decontextualised attempt at comparing (often only listing) Plautine words in Apuleius, and, especially in its first chapter, Abate.2 Both works are difficult to access, and a more modern replacement of these is very welcome. Like these books, P.’s is very technical, and thus does not go the way of Callebat,3 who combines a linguistic with a thematic-interpretative approach and contextualises the use of Plautine language, especially in the novel.

P.’s book is useful because its analysis expands to cover all extant works by Apuleius, an approach much favoured in recent scholarship. She distinguishes carefully between Apuleius’s use of words he found in Plautus (and occasionally the larger comic tradition), and words he formed himself, following comic word formation patterns (mostly in the Metamorphoses). Thus her work is full of detailed analyses of special cases.

Proceeding methodically, she usually starts by discussing words shared by both Plautus and Apuleius and no other authors in Latin, which she subjects to detailed contextualised analysis. P. restricts herself to giving some context and parallel passages, but generally refrains from a more detailed discussion of possible literary functions, though sometimes some more literary observations can be found, e.g. on the use of diminutives in erotic subtexts (p. 19) in both authors.

There are three main sections, and each discusses a major morphological feature: diminutives, adverbs in – tim, and nominal compounds. In the main part of each chapter P. discusses systematically each or most occurrences of the phenomenon at hand. These phenomena are not chosen randomly, but rather selected because of their frequency in archaic Latin, followed by a decline of usage during the Classical period, and then again their popularity in later Latin.

Few people will read this book cover to cover, but since it consists of many single sections and its argument is orderly structured, many will wish to consult it.

I will now look at the three main sections in detail:

In the chapter on diminutives P. distinguishes comic from archaic usage. Diminutives, P. argues, in later Latin did not always maintain their diminutive character, but have become part of the language pattern, often used by Apuleius for rhetorical and euphonic reasons. Diminutives are found amongst Apuleius’s works mainly in the Metamorphoses, and are, according to P., often (but not always) inspired by context and stylistic richness, but equally often used just for phonetic or rhetorical reasons (p. 22).

Topics inviting Apuleius to form new diminutives are primarily food and sex, but they are also often found in highly rhetorical passages, especially ekphraseis, thus enhancing Apuleius’s Kunstprosa. Diminutives, if not taken directly from Plautus, may often be inspired by Plautine ethos.

The first chapter finishes with a quick run-through of other possible sources of diminutives, e.g., neoteric poetry or other archaic dramatists. P. finds that Apuleius derives his diminutives from similar semantic areas to dramatists: the sermo comicus and ekphrasis, and enhancing his stylistic level is his main purpose in using them.

The second chapter discusses adverbs in – tim. This morphological category was most frequent in Plautus and other comic theatre (e.g. Atellana), much less so in Lucilius, but another cluster can be found in tragedy, and occasionally also in other authors and genres, in prose primarily in Sisenna’s Historiae. Thus the analysis of – tim adverbs can focus less on Plautus. Furthermore, most second century authors (Apuleius, Fronto and Gellius) have many new formations of this type. Apuleius’s interest in – tim words, P. finds, is again partly archaising, partly neologising, and he likes to combine two or more of these adverbs for effect. P. offers a detailed morphological analysis of different types of – tim adverbs, and again concludes that Apuleius uses them for rhetorical purposes, as he is very fond of their capacity for jingling homoioteleuta. The overlap of – tim adverbs between Plautus and Apuleius is surprisingly small (P. finds only four, all of them in the Metamorphoses) but even if neologisms and – tim adverbs are not restricted to derivations from Plautus, much comic influence can be felt here.

The third and last main chapter, perhaps the most illuminating and diverse of the three, concentrates on nominal compounds. Plautus uses them, as P. argues, for comic purposes: examples include the colourful expression of the lives and punishments of slaves, or the parody of more serious tragic-epic language and style (e.g. of Ennius). Apuleius, on the other hand, uses them to enrich his prose, with no parodic intentions.

Again, the actual overlap between Plautus and Apuleius is very small: only two nominal compounds that are not too common in other authors ( cordolium and opiparus) form an obviously conscious usage by Apuleius of Plautine words. They are discussed in detail.

Cordolium is found in Apuleius Met. 9.21 (the adulterer Philesitherus’s sandals are found under a woman’s bed by her husband, who then experiences this “heartache”). P. says this situation is comic, but is it not rather inspired by mime, since female adultery is a staple of that genre rather than comedy, where no woman is actively adulterous? In Apuleius, it seems, it is difficult to categorize his conscious use of slippage between genres, even in a linguistic discussion, which is what P. usually restricts herself to. To give an example of P.’s method: she discusses (p. 112) the term versipellis, and lists occurrences in Plautus, and their meaning is briefly contextualised. Then the same is done for other authors (here Lucilius), and then the instances in imperial Latin (Petronius, Pliny the Elder), where a certain narrowing of meaning to “werewolf” alone has taken place. Finally, the passage in Apuleius’s Met. 2.22 is given, with the meaning of the word and its context. There is little analysis as to how the meaning of the word could change subtly, and how its effect as a Plautine or Petronian derivation in the specific Apuleian context would work.

P. also discusses the influence of poetic language (Virgil, Catullus) on Apuleius’s activity as a creator of neologisms, e.g. in the proliferation of semi – composita, or the Augustan influence of – fer compounds on his language. Other suffixes and affixes are again shown to have primarily rhetorical value.

As with the – tim adverbs, there is very little overlap between Plautus and Apuleius in the choice of actual words, but the process of word formation is similar for both authors: both, according to P., are fascinated by the phonetic possibilities of these words, and again Apuleius is rather driven by rhetoric and Kunstprosa. A difference in usage can however be detected: Plautus primarily parodies epic-tragic language in his use of nominal compounds, while Apuleius attempts to poeticise his prose style.

P. concludes that there are different layers and functions of “Plautisms” in Apuleius: They often are intended to embellish the stylistic texture, and in that function Plautine words or word formations are often decontextualised as far as their meaning is concerned. Sometimes, words are chosen to evoke comic situations, but not one specific text. It can however be the case occasionally that Apuleius has a specific Plautine context in mind, and in particular neologisms in Plautine forms can evoke a comic atmosphere.

Only occasional reference is made to the other body of comic authors, not only Terence, whose language is of course very different, but to other fragmentary comic authors, who are rarely brought into the argument, leaving the comparison very much to the two authors of the title, Plautus and Apuleius.

P. offers many analyses, detailed studies of Apuleius’s language, but very little in terms of synthesis and interpretation of the phenomena she discovers. A section summarising the findings for each chapter would have been useful. As it stands now, the information is rather fragmentary and unstructured. The single analyses are often useful and illuminating, but there is little overarching synthesis in the chapters themselves. Surely more can be said about Apuleius’s predilections for these Plautine words and word derivations, for example about their function beyond rhetorical embellishment and Kunstprosa, or a discussion of why an overwhelming amount of the phenomena P. describes derive from the Metamorphoses rather than the other, more rhetorical or philosophical, works by Apuleius. Apuleius for P. is primarily keen on phonetics and a stylist. For Apuleius, Plautus is a poet to be mined for style, both for words and word formations.

Any commentator on Apuleius’s language and editor of his text will need to consult this book, while literary critics may consider it as a starting point for further analysis.

The volume contains several indices, lists of instances of references to secondary literature (not necessarily complete, some gaps are evident), indices of words and themes discussed, as well as of passages. The bibliography is full, but there is the occasional slip or typo. Note for example that footnote 5 on p. 162 should read Swain 2004 instead of 2003, and “commanded” instead of “commended”.


1. H. Desertine, “De Apulei studiis Plautinis”, Diss. Nijmegen, 1898.

2. F.R. Abate, “Diminutives in Apuleian Latinity”, Diss. Columbus, 1978.

3. L. Callebat, Sermo cotidianus dans les Métamorphoses d’ Apulée, Caen 1968; id., Languages du roman latin, Hildesheim 1998, and several other publications.