I AM convinced of the truth of the statement which I have heard made by men well trained in literature, who have read a great many plays of Plautus with care and attention: namely, that with regard to the so-called “doubtful” plays they would 1 trust, not the lists of Aelius or Sedigitus or Claudius or Aurelius or Accius or Manilius, but Plautus himself and the characteristic features of his manner and diction. Indeed, this is the criterion which we find Varro using. For in addition to those one and twenty known as “Varronian,” which he set apart from the rest because they were not questioned but by common consent were attributed to Plautus, he accepted also some others, influenced by the style and humour of their language, which was [p. 247] characteristic of Plautus; and although these had already been listed under the names of other poets, he claimed them for Plautus: for example, one that I was recently reading, called The Boeotian woman. For although it is not among those one and twenty and is attributed to Aquilius, still Varro had not the least doubt that it was Plautine, nor will any other habitual reader of Plautus doubt it, even if lie knows only the following verses from that play, which, since they are, to speak in the manner of that famous poet, most Plautine, I recall and have noted down. There a hungry parasite speaks as follows: 2
The gods confound the man who first found outMy master Favorinus too, when I was reading the Nervularia of Plautus, and he had heard this line of the comedy: 3
How to distinguish hours! Confound him, too,
Who in this place set up a sun-dial
To cut and hack my days so wretchedly
Into small portions! When I was a boy,
My belly was my only sun-dial, one more sure,
Truer, and more exact than any of them.
This dial told me when 'twas proper time
To go to dinner, when I had aught to eat;
But nowadays, why even when I have,
I can't fall to unless the sun gives leave.
The town's so full of these confounded dials
The greatest part of the inhabitants,
Shrunk up with hunger, crawl along the streets.
Old, wheezing, physicky, mere foundered hags[p. 249] delighted with the wit of the archaic words that describe the ugly defects of harlots, cried: “By heaven! just this one verse is enough to convince one that the play is Plautine.” I myself too a little while ago, when reading the Fretum—that is the name of a comedy which some think is not Plautine—had no manner of doubt that it was by Plautus and in fact of all his plays the most authentic. From it I copied these two lines, 4 with the intention of looking up the story of the Arretine oracle: 5
With dry, parched, painted hides, shrivell'd and shrunk,
Now here we have at the great games 6 the Arretine response:Yet Marcus Varro, in the first book of his Comedies of Plautus, 7 quotes these words of Accius: 8 “For not the Twin Panders nor the Slave-ring nor the Old Woman were the work of Plautus, nor were ever the Twice Violated or the Boeotian woman, nor were the Clownish Rustic or the Partners in, Death the work of Titus Maccius.” 9 In that same book of Varro's we are told also that there was another writer of comedies called Plautius. Since his plays bore the title “Plauti,” 10 they were accepted as Plautine, although in fact they were not Plautine by Plautus, but Plautinian by Plautius. [p. 251] Now there are in circulation under the name of Plautus about one hundred and thirty comedies; but that most learned of men Lucius Aelius thought that only twenty-five of them were his. 11 However, there is no doubt that those which do not appear to have been written by Plautus but are attached to his name, were the work of poets of old but were revised and touched up by him, and that is why they savour of the Plautine style. Now Varro and several others have recorded that the Saturio, the Addictus, and a third comedy, the name of which I do not now recall, were written by Plautus in a bakery, when, after losing in trade all the money which he had earned in employments connected with the stage, he had returned penniless to Rome, and to earn a livelihood had hired himself out to a baker, to turn a mill, of the kind which is called a “push-mill.” 12 So too we are told of Naevius that he wrote two plays in prison, the Soothsayer and the Leon, when by reason of his constant abuse and insults aimed at the leading men of the city, after the manner of the Greek poets, he had been imprisoned at Rome by the triumvirs. 13 And afterwards he was set free by the tribunes of the commons, when he had apologized for his offences and the saucy language with which he had previously assailed many men.
I perish if I don't, and if I do, I'm flogged.