Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Renato Raffaelli, Alba Tontini (ed.), Lecturae Plautinae Sarsinates. XI. Mercator (Sarsina 29 settembre 2007). Ludus Philologiae. Lecturae Plautinae Sarsinates 11. Urbino: QuattroVenti, 2008. Pp. 116. ISBN 9788839208439. €16.00 (pb).
Reviewed by John Henderson, King's College, Cambridge

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Nil desperandum, no need to hide: Mercator is a happening script. Formerly stuck in the shadow of Casina, Rudens, even Trinummus, this intricate and well-turned play is now updated and revalued by Antony Augoustakis,1 and soon to get the rigorous editio Plautina Sarsinatis series treatment from Boris Dunsch, plus there is an edition with commentary for Cambridge in preparation.2 After a scene-setting and curtsey-to-sponsor 'Presentazione' from the series editors, the first three pieces substantially revalue important aspects of Mercator; the other two draw us on into the humanist reception of Plautus in Italy.

1. Where Matt Leigh's chapter on Mercator3 parses the play for ideological mileage with adulteration through import culture, Dunsch stresses the dramatic baggage of maritime trade as harbouring play within the figure of the merchant, between the father's father, his son the father and the father's son. Here the middle man, the senex amator pater, had already halfways escaped from his own repressive farming background (just a glimpse of first night at the Panathenaea proms every fourth year, 65-8), and he is reproduced, through lip-deep denial, in the adventures of his son abroad scoring in the skin-trade as in his payback of father's investment of cargo: in an unwitting extension of shared venture-risk, the pair of buccaneers compete with each other in the same coin through their re-doubled proxies, trading bids to land the catch as they pass in the night, homing on a safe haven to store the dreamboat contraband, but losing control of the laundering, as they run bang into the brick wall of their own domus -- built on the sanctions of marriage, dowry, propriety, same as the grim old work-ethic farm. The difference is that the exemplum of, and betrothal by, grandad imposed on father was enough that he missed the love-boat and can't now clamber on board when he's past it (ask momma, no don't ask momma), whereas his son was read the 'grampa' riot-act at second-hand but after faithfully flogging along father's trade route collected a tasty-naughty bonus, plonked in his lap for a night on Rhodes and his for a cut of pa's unwitting float. The comic difference, that is, which Dunsch traces through to the deal we are cut at the death: the closing invitation to bless the new wave of Roman play-boys launched out across the empire to wheel and deal in oceans of fun and fluff 'for' us. Dunsch carefully lines up Cato with the commercial calculus dished out in the linguistic fencing, in the showpiece metaphorics of dreamwork marked up for cashing out and in the auctioneering hype of gazumping imperatives that see and raise 'first buckle down and make your fortune' against 'once you've made it, leave spills and thrills in your wake'. Filthy lucre, sexy money, Mercator drives hard bargains through repetition-compulsion until it's time to cut and, maybe, run. When the deal goes down.

2. Mazzoli pitches into the distended prologue where the boy's version of the preliminaries proudly, in lingering, loving detail, skews the play's. This self-aware role-player worms libido into fibula, warping amor into amorgumentum, till his querulous denunciation of love's downsides churns out a chanting cascade of comically associative slogans that anticipate the business of the whole script, nailing seductive 'charm' in with the rest of the black marks that extrude the lover from regulation normality. M. tracks the proleptic shopping list through scene upon scene, as servus currens and comrade 'helper' in turn make a point of telling us, in no uncertain terms, above the hubbub and bustle. Until the flourish delivers when this pal weighs in as a six-pack-in-one of Succour, spelling curtains for a corresponding half-dozen Plagues and welding the show tight and the script fast (845-7 vs 848-9). Rhetoric packages a winning team of comic-over-elegiac brags from freeloading espousal of the societal support system of fides that twists in the caricature to smuggle whingeing in as above board and fair play. Together with Slater's new paper,4 M.'s scrupulous close-reading utterly blows away wrong-headed carping at the verbal hypergymnastics of Mercator's funoramic prologue and bumps up the later paraded hotspots of this taut script-writing to full valuation. It's a bargain.

3. Raffaelli uses Ovid's narratological-cum-metapoetic massaging with Alcyone's dream in Metamorphoses 11 as prelude to his on-the-money re-reading of Mercator's star item, father Demipho's metatheatrically heralded psychedelic-cum-metapoetic dreamscape on his first appearance (miris modis di ludos faciunt hominibus ..., 225-270). R. leaves in his wake all attempts to beat the dreamer at his own game by completing his stumped item-by-item decoding for him, equation-style, as he alerts us instead to beware our inevitable inveigling into extrapolation from our expertise in comic dynamics. Look at us join in and conjure up dummies for each role, too, as we project ahead how we'd like the drama to pan out, or get lost, and dread either or both these eventualities, like dreamers and audiences do. Trapped along with R., we shall simultaneously register the match of self-blindness shot through this mock-reader on stage's incapacity to conceive of the twists that have his double trade places with his ordained function of helper and switch to play snitch, betrayer, exposer and obstructer instead. R. details both how one wife can (not) stand-in for another and how a plot makes the characters assign roles as if they were in charge rather than making it up, cock-eyed, on the hop. Yay, they might as well be dreaming -- dreamatically. Robust differentiation from the initially akin (goodie not goaty) father's dream in Rudens and sharp scotching of oneiric arguments for branding Dreamipho's dreamwork as Diphilan, Philemonic, or Elemental-Plautine conclude this pitch for the stage as public workshop on fantasising: R. transposes to theatre the Freudian displacement argued by Daniela Averna,5 but could also profitably slip in the subliminal festal histrionics revealed by Stavros Frangoulidis;6 and Cathy Connors has nailed the simulation of the similar that multiplies the pet generic catachresis of simian for mimics 'apeing' their betters into undetected surrogates, imaginary doubles, and other social animals caged in the comic zoo.7 These are offers you can't refuse.

4. For the second barrel of the twin editors' essays, Tontini reawakens the shockwaves that hit the early 1430s Italian cultural scene by analysing how Frulovisi's Mercator-based 'Emporia', unearthed in St. John's College Cambridge and eventually published by the medieval historian Charles Previté-Orton),8 fastens for its plot on the then fresh-discovered dozen Plautus scripts (Bacchides and everything from initial M- through Truculentus), though still securing its 'modernizing' Latin prose by doubling up phrasing with Terence. Frulovisi's teacher Guarino had the dynamite MS to copy and ponder through most of 1433, and 'Emporia' was in a run of three plays dashed out and put on between fall 1432 and autumn 1433. Roles and structure are taken over, but the plot deserts Mercator for a scene from Asinaria and pervasive inspiration from Bacchides, with contemporary anticlerical touches and other topical references thrown in, to carve out a first-blush shot at re-tuning pop classicism. De Frulovisi kept producing plays for another year in Ferrara but soon parked himself with Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, polishing up a pirated hagiography for the Duke's late brother, the Vita Henrici Quinti, and penning his final pair of still unperformed comedies (1437-8).

5. To round off a triad from Urbino, Danese checks out a favourite of the Lecturae series, the prolific C16th Florentine dialect playwright Cecchi,9 whose 'La Stiava' (= serua) proves just how well-turned a script Mercator really is, by creatively adapting, or butchering, it along just about all the fault-lines that scholarly deprecation has alleged as Plautine botchery, and then some. (An 'Appendice', 114-16, compares and contrasts the two scripts by tabulation scene on scene.) First published as Italian prose in 1550, then re-issued as hendecasyllables in 1585, the play jumps in with lead boots, revealing to the loverboy right away in Act I scene 2 that it's his father who has the hots for the Pretty Woman; she will never appear, and (you guessed it, from the diddle of the title) will turn out to be no stiava at all, but rather the long lost daughter of father's double next door and so available for marriage to the lead lad (who already tied the knot on board ship). The prologue is shrunk, the dream elided into a flicker of metaphor (dove, but no goats, no monkey); the leering goes crude ('mi vorresti | ficcare una carota. :: Sì, i vorrei | ficcar la fava ..') with allusions to Ariosto including one to a Poggio pleasantry (the Faustian dream on how to keep a wife faithful by not pulling your finger out), but this sure is no Casina and the wholly new Act V finds a whole new imaginary place to hide the bride-to-be for the finale, when 'Adelfia' will at last get to land ashore in one piece, to general merriment and a wedding to get ready. What a swizz.

Table of Contents:

7-10: C. Questa and R. Raffaelli, 'Presentazione'
11-41: B. Dunsch, 'Il commerciante in scena: temi e motivi mercantili nel Mercator plautino e nell'Emporos filemoniano'
43-58: G. Mazzoli, 'I vitia dell'amore e i suoi sodales nel Mercator plautino'
59-81: R. Raffaelli, 'Sogni letterari e sogni teatrali'
83-99: A. Tontini, 'L'Emporia di Tito Livio Frulovisi'
101-16: R. M. Danese, 'La Stiava di Giovanni Maria Cecchi come rielaborazione drammaturgica del Mercator'


1.   Antonios C. Augoustakis (2009) Plautus Mercator. Bryn Mawr Latin Commentaries. Bryn Mawr, PA.
2.   Declaration of intent in his essay, 'Vater sein dagegen sehr. Komik und Spott in der römischen Komödie im Spiegel des Vater-Sohn-Konflikts', in Gymnasium am Kaiserdom (Hrsg.), Chronik Schuljahr 2002/2003, Speyer 2003: 7-32.
3.   (2004) Comedy and the Rise of Rome, Oxford: 137-48.
4.   Niall W. Slater, 'Opening Negotiations: The Work of the Prologue to Plautus's Mercator' in Nina Copellino (ed.) Change and Exchange in Plautus's Mercator, a special issue of New England Classical Journal (37.1, February 2010), 5-14.
5.   (1987) 'La scena del sogno nel Mercator plautino', Pan 8: 5-17.
6.   (1997) 'Dream and theatre: Dionysiac vs. Apollonian elements in Plautus, Mercator', in Handlung und Nebenhandlung: Theater, Metatheater und Gattungs- bewüsstsein in der römischen Komödie (Drama: Beiträge zum antiken Drama und seiner Rezeption, Beiheft 6), Stuttgart: 133-143.
7.   (2004) 'Monkey business: imitation, authenticity, and identity from Pithekoussai to Plautus', Classical Antiquity 23:179-207, at 194-7.
8.   (1932) Opera hactenus inedita Titi Livii de Frulovisiis de Ferraria, Cambridge.
9.   Other treatments of Cecchi are listed at 101 n. 3. Nb The series carries no indices, and bibliography is documented ad loc. at first citation.

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