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Form: Titus Maccius.
The greatest of the Roman comic poets, born 254 B.C. at Sarsina in Umbria, of humble extraction. Having earned some money by finding employment at Rome among workmen engaged by persons who gave theatrical representations, he set up a business outside the city; but in this undertaking he lost his property. Returning to Rome, he fell into such poverty that he was obliged to take service with a miller, and earn wages by turning a handmill. It was here that he began to write comedies in verse, and in later times three pieces were still known, which he was said to have composed while thus employed. He continued actively writing to an extreme old age, and died in 184 B.C. His productivity must have been altogether extraordinary, even if a considerable portion of the 130 pieces which were known by the ancients under his name, were not really his work; for not only were the pieces of a certain Plautius reckoned as his, on account of the similarity of name, but numerous comedies by forgotten poets, who worked in his style, were generally ascribed to him as the most popular of poets. Not only was he a favourite with the public and long remained so (even in Cicero's time pieces by him were put upon the Stage) but he also early attracted the interest of scholars, to whom he offered a rich material for study in the departments of philology, criticism, and the history of literature. Special and peculiar attention was paid to him by Varro, who composed several works about him and established the claims of 21 comedies as undisputedly genuine. Of these "Varronian plays" we still possess 20 more or less complete, and of the last, the Vidularia , considerable fragments. These extant plays (in addition to which there are a number of fragments of lost plays), are the oldest complete monuments of Roman literature. They have not come down to us quite in their original form, but bear manifold traces of having undergone revision on the occasion of representations after the poet's death, especially in the latter half of the 2nd century B.C. This is particularly the case with the prologues, which are prefixed to most of the pieces. The plays have been handed down in the following order: Amphitruo, Asinaria (comedy of asses), Aulularia (comedy of a pot), Captivi (the prisoners), Curculio, Casina, Cistellaria (comedy of a chest), Epidicus, Bacchides, Mostellaria (comedy of ghosts), Menaechmi, Miles gloriosus (the braggart), Mercators (trader), Pseudolus, Paenulus(the Carthaginian), Persa(the Persian), Rudens (the cable), Stichus, Trinunmus (the three coins), Truculentus (the grumbler), Vidularia (Comedy of a trank) The titles refer sometimes to characters, sometimes to the action of the piece. If several of them are comparatively weak in plot and character-drawing, still not a few belong to the first rank. Such are the Aulularia, Menaechmi (the former the model of Moliere's Avare, the latter of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors), Captivi, Bacchides, Mostellaria Miles gloriosus, Pseudolus, Rudens, and Trinummus. The Amphitruo is remarkable as an instance of comic treatment of a mythical subject. The Miles is one of the oldest pieces; the Stichus was brought out in 200, the Pseudolus in 192, the Trinummus about 190; the Truculentus also dates from the extreme old age of the poet. Though Plautus followed Greek models, such as Philemon, Diphilus, and Menander, he did not simply translate his originals, but worked them up with great freedom and nationalised them by additions of his own. He is a master in the use of language, metre, and material, and possesses an inexhaustible and pungent, if often coarse, wit. That he understood how to handle serious and moral subjects is proved by the Captivi and Tinummus. He must be reckoned among the greatest geniuses of his nation.--The name of the Aulularia of Plautus was once erroneously given to a play with the alternative title of the Querolus, a wretched production of the 4th Century A.D.
Type: Standard
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