Friday, October 8, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
John Henderson (ed.), A Plautus Reader: Selections from Eleven Plays. BC Latin Readers. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2009. Pp. xvii, 182. ISBN 9780865166943. $19.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Wolfgang David Cirilo de Melo, Ghent University

Table of Contents

This little book by John Henderson is intended as an "authoritative introduction" to Plautus for "intermediate or advanced college Latin study." A very brief introduction is followed by passages from eleven comedies (616 lines). The largest part of the book is devoted to a commentary on these passages. There are two appendices, one listing divergences from the Oxford Classical Text by Lindsay, the other providing an elementary introduction to metre. There is also a vocabulary list and a list of personal names. In addition, Henderson has put the Latin text with his own scansion online.

Henderson claims that Plautine "plays are no trouble to get the hang of, even for beginners" (p. ix), which is perhaps one reason why he kept his introduction short; it is in fact so short that it is rather uninformative, and some of the simplifications Henderson makes may lead to wrong impressions about Plautus. Thus he claims that "[n]one of the Greek scripts that he uses and abuses have survived for us to compare" (p. xii); but a certain amount of direct comparison is possible because of a longish fragment from Menander's Dis exapaton, which corresponds to a passage from the Bacchides. In this connection I was rather surprised that no mention at all is made of Fraenkel's opus magnum.1

The Latin passages are well chosen, presenting all major stock scenes and characters. The text is essentially that of Lindsay, with a few divergences mostly based on other editions; Henderson has compiled a list of these divergences, but unfortunately it is incomplete. Some of the divergences are questionable, and sometimes a divergence would have been appropriate, but is not made. Note especially:

Amphitruo: seven divergences (three not indicated). Problematic: l. 400: Henderson (with the Palatine manuscripts) has nec nobis praeter med (the manuscripts actually have me), Lindsay (with Nonius) has nec praesente nobis, an ablative absolute with a fossilized participle that does not agree in number with the pronoun. Since such ablative absolutes are attested elsewhere (Pompon. com. 168) and since the text in the Palatine manuscripts looks like a simplification, Nonius' reading is to be preferred. L. 408: both Henderson and Lindsay add mi(hi), but Henderson does so in a syntactically odd place. L. 442: Henderson writes simile est instead of similest (=similis est), despite the masculine antecedent. Asinaria: two divergences, both good. Casina: seven divergences (one not indicated). Problematic: l. 807: Henderson adiuuabo (Ambrosian Palimpsest), Lindsay adiutabo (Palatine manuscripts); the frequentative form seems more Plautine. L. 827: Henderson tu, Lindsay tu[n]; Lindsay's text scans better. L. 834: Henderson's speaker assignment is idiosyncratic. Neither Henderson nor Lindsay gives the ending of the play to Pardalisca, who seems best suited to deliver it.2 Cistellaria: one divergence (not indicated): in l. 221 Henderson chooses a manuscript reading which makes better sense, but is metrically more difficult (experitur instead of expetitur). Curculio: two divergences (not indicated). Problematic: l. 477: Henderson (with Leo) supera, Lindsay (with the manuscripts) supra; Henderson changes here in order not to violate the law of Bentley and Luchs, but the form is not Plautine and supra lacum could be taken as a fixed phrase counting as one metrical word, like malam crucem, which does not violate the law. L. 485: accepted by Henderson, deleted by Lindsay; there are good reasons both for accepting and for deleting the line. Menaechmi: five divergences, all minor and good; Henderson follows the manuscripts more closely. Poenulus: seven divergences (four not indicated). Problematic: l. 5: Henderson (with the Palatine manuscripts) has sedeate, Lindsay (with the Humanist editions) has sedeant. Leo defended the corrupt sedeate as by-form of sedeatis because he believed that final -s after short vowel could be lost even before a word beginning with a vowel, as we get one here, but this theory is by now completely outdated. Lindsay is better here. Pseudolus: three divergences (one not indicated). Here Henderson has remained closer to the manuscripts, which scan well. Rudens: six divergences (two not indicated). Problematic: l. 1006: Henderson accepts at, Lindsay (with Guyet) deletes; Henderson makes the verse unmetrical. Two more comments: Henderson often, though not systematically, writes v instead of u to mark a bilabial, non-syllabic glide; he also does so in tua in l. 966, but this produces another unmetrical verse. Secondly, l. 1040 is harsh or even unmetrical in both Lindsay and Henderson; one solution would be to write eo (with Sonnenschein) instead of ibo. Truculentus: eleven divergences. Problematic: in l. 505 Henderson again writes simile est instead of similest (=similis est), despite the masculine antecedent.

The largest part of the book consists of the section called "Commentary." This is a misnomer, as there is hardly any literary or philological discussion. Henderson summarizes the passages in his own words, but does not always provide satisfactory plot summaries of the comedies the passages are taken from. There is also some translation help, but several grammatical phenomena that are bound to cause consternation to a beginner are ignored.

The summaries are not always exempt from factual errors. To begin with Amphitruo, on p. 115 we read that "Amphitryo King of Thebes" is returning from a war in "faraway Greece"; but the king of Thebes was Creon (Amph. 194) and we are dealing with Thebes in Greece, not Thebes in Egypt. Sosia's battle report is not "lies, all lies" (p. 115): Mercury says that he has been speaking the truth (Amph. 248-9). In Captivi, Henderson states that there is "room for some mini-adventures in the skin trade -- but with a toy-boy, and on the side, by innuendo, not as mainspring of the plot" (p. 137). Admittedly the name Paegnium means "toy," but this is the name given to him by his father and does not have the connotations of English "toy-boy," a term used for young male sexual partners of older women; note that there are no female roles in the entire play. Later the boy was called Tyndarus, and because of Capt. 992 we can assume that he was never used for sex. In Menaechmi, Henderson claims that Erotium has never really known who Menaechmus is: "a man with a past; somebody's twin" (p. 71). This does not tally with Men. 408-12, where Erotium states where Menaechmus is from and who his father was; presumably she knows his history, but does not realize that she is dealing with Menaechmus' twin Sosicles -- hardly surprising when not even the twins themselves recognize each other at first.

The grammatical help provided is the least appealing part of the book. Amph. 370: uapulare, called an "appalling" verb by Henderson, has nothing to do with the victim being "the agent responsible for inflicting the torture" (p. 118); it originally meant no more than "scream in pain." Asin. 749: faxo is not colloquial, but stylistically neutral.3 Asin. 770: sigmatic subjunctives like aspexit (a form which here is more likely to be a future) never have the temporal value of perfect subjunctives; the same mistake recurs in the commentary on Amph. 454, Amph. 461, Asin. 794, Cas. 825, Cas. 1016, Men. 553, Poen. 27, Truc. 524. Asin. 808, mortualia is not explained. Funerary dirges were proverbially silly; without knowing this one cannot understand the passage. Capt. 1030: subigitatio means "fondling" and does not go as far as "deflowering (virgin)." Cas. 833: impercito is not "originally a 3rd person form"; the imperative was originally unmarked for person, so that *inparce-tōd, with the ablative of a deictic pronoun meaning "from then on," could be used for the second as well as the third person. The form is not "polite," but refers to a more distant future. The mistake is repeated in Rud. 1029. Cist. 213: on ita mi sunt omnia ingenia Henderson remarks: "nothing's making any sense to the wreck, and he isn't making much, either: "I've got all the personalities going" ("I am legion")." The sentence makes sense if we translate "all my moods are like this"; for this meaning of ingenium see OLD s.v., 1C; Most. 318 is a parallel. Cist. 229: memoratu is not the ablative of the supine, but the dative.4 Curc. 467: an adposition behind a relative/interrogative pronoun is not unusual in Plautus, pace Henderson Curc. 470: the imperative ito is not a "jussive subjunctive." Men. 356 and 358: the "indicative" objects are indirect objects. Poen. 1: Achillem cannot undergo iambic shortening to Achĭllem; accented syllables cannot normally become light. There is shortening in the following word, Arĭstarchi. Poen. 43: why is scrib(i)litae classified as slang? Poen. 44: the "non-Latin" h is also a Latin sound, pace Henderson, albeit one that was bound to disappear; and h does not have "consonantal value" in this line; hiatus is too common after the ninth element of the senarius to warrant such unorthodox explanations.5 Poen. 543: ne with the imperative is not colloquial, but inhibitive ("stop doing"). Pseud. 410: eccum does not come from ecce-hunc, but *ecce-hum, without deictic -ce. Rud. 938: an etymological connection between rudens "rope" and rudo "bellow, bray" is far-fetched. A connection with Greek eruō "pull" seems more likely. Rud. 945: malum is not a vocative referring to a person; quid ... malum means "why the hell/blazes." Rud. 946: qui is indeed an ablative, but it would have been more helpful to mention that at and qui belong together (tmesis). We are told that loquere in quin loquere (same line) is an imperative; possibly, but it could also be an indicative (the phrase would still be directive). Rud. 1012-18: on p. 108 Henderson says: "As both man their boats, Trachalio outmaneuvers the angler nautically." Actually, both go on board the same imaginary boat.6 Truc. 504: the full formula is saluom te aduenire gaudeo, not saluom te uolo. Truc. 539-40: Henderson translates "incense of the sort called Blameless in Greek"; the correct translation is: "I brought you frankincense from Arabia and balm from the Black Sea."

Henderson's style is often idiosyncratic. There are attempts at imitating street slang, but it is not clear what their purpose is. For instance, he states that the word lumbi "licenses me to see you shakin' that ass" (p. 44). Plautine language does contain slang, but not of this type. Henderson makes an effort to be funny, but not always successfully, obfuscating the points he is trying to make.

The appendix on metre is only three pages long and hardly even covers the basics of Plautine prosody or metre. The vocabulary list and the list of personal names contain a substantial number of metrical and other inaccuracies. For this reason, and also because space is limited here, I have refrained from going through the scanned online version of the Latin text.

Time to sum up. Henderson does not advance our understanding of Plautus, but that was not what he wanted. His intention was to provide an introduction to an important author. While the choice of texts is good and their presentation mostly acceptable, the introduction and commentary are unsatisfactory. If used as a course book, Henderson needs to be supplemented with other, more detailed materials.


1.   E. Fraenkel (2007), Plautine Elements in Plautus (Plautinisches im Plautus), transl. of the German edn. (Berlin 1922) and the Italian addenda (Florence 1960) by T. Drevikovsky and F. Muecke (Oxford).
2.   See C. Questa (2004), "Pardalisca regista della Casina," in C. Questa, Sei letture Plautine (Urbino), 137-54.
3.   On such forms see W. D. C. de Melo (2007), The Early Latin Verb System: Archaic Forms in Plautus, Terence, and Beyond (Oxford).
4.   Dative forms of the fourth declension in -ui are an innovation based on the third-declension dative and only arose once the supine was fossilized. The dative in -u still occurs in Plautus.
5.   Hiatus does occur more often before h + vowel than before simple vowel in Plautus, but this is mainly due to the frequency of the phrase flagitium hominis, where hiatus is the norm.
6.   See the notes on this passage in E. A. Sonnenschein (1891), T. Macci Plauti Rudens: Edited with Critical and Explanatory Notes (Oxford).

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree. I find his commentary more confusing than anything. His notes are often more difficult to comprehend than the pun Plautus was making. I will keep reading the selections because I love Plautus, but I won't be paying much attention to the notes added by Henderson.


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