Titus Maccius Plautus, Roman actor
, born 254 B.C. in Umbria
, died 184 B.C., the year of Cato the Elder
ship, probably in Rome
. He probably began his career "in operis artificum scaenicorum"
("in the works of the stage-artisans", Aulus Gellius
3.3.14), a vague description that could cover anything from set-design to production and everything in between. Several more anecdote
s survive. Tried several jobs before acting, including work as a merchant
and in a grain mill
. Apparently, according to Gellius, he wrote two of his plays while in prison for slander
This could be the gullible man's biography of Plautus. Most of it is based on the Noctes Atticae of Aulus Gellius, written some 350 years later, which takes its details from Varro, who wrote some 100 years after Plautus' death, and in turn took most of his facts from rumour and a rather liberal, biographical reading of his plays. His place of origin is probably based on such a reading of the Mostellaria, while most of the anecdotes come from stock-situations in the New Comedy. The prison-story is probably the result of Gellius confusion of Plautus with Naevius. Even his name is probably an affectation based on the three names given to the Roman nobility, and were either taken up late in his life or granted by posterity.
We can say with (relative) certainty that he was an author of Roman comedies who flourished at roughly the same time as Cato the Elder. He was probably an Italian slave, later a freedman, who gained what social status he had solely through his writings (not the simplest thing to do in a culture where drama and acting are considered signs of Greek decadence).
His style borrows heavily from the comedy of Menander. Characters are archetypes drawn from everyday life, a reductio ad humanum from the fantastic absurdities of Aristophanes; common characters are the cook, the parasite, the love-struck young man, the pompous soldier, the pimp, and the darling slave-girl (with whom the young man is in love, and who, through the wonders of fate, always turns out to be not really a slave at all). Plautus combined Menander's style with the popular Italian farce and mime, with a greater use of music and slapstick (or at least physical comedy; cf. the beginning of the Curculio, which relies heavily on the parasite, Curculio, running in from the stage wings, out of breath and knocking aside the passers-by; a servus currens.) The language is heavily influenced by archaic forms; e.g. suom replaces suum, as servos does servus.
After his death, the name attracted many spurious forgeries; Aulus Gellius mentions some 120 plays circulating under the name of Plautus. There are 21 plays which are accepted as authentic today, most of which come from two manuscripts, dating to the 10th/11th century, now in the Vatican library. The difficulty of textual edition is compounded by the variable orthography, probably rooted in the time of Plautus himself, when the budding concept was viewed as nothing more than a pretty good suggestion. A list of the surviving plays by Plautus:
Plautine play, and a great introduction to Plautus, is the Curculio
, which, though not his best, contains almost all the stock characters and for which annotated student editions are readily available.