Sunday, July 5, 2015


Renato Raffaelli, Alba Tontini (ed.), Lecturae Plautinae Sarsinates XVII: Rudens (Sarsina, 28 settembre 2013). Ludus philologiae, 17. Urbino: QuattroVenti, 2014. Pp. 123. ISBN 9788839209894. €25.00 (pb). Renato Raffaelli (ed.), TuttoPlauto: un profilo dell'autore e delle commedie. Letteratura e antropologia, 13. Urbino: QuattroVenti, 2014. Pp. 152. ISBN 9788839209931. €24.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Michael Fontaine, Cornell University (

Version at BMCR home site

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

"The Rope" is Plautus' masterpiece. Adapted from a Greek play by Diphilus, we might have called it "The Shipwreck" or "A Day at the Beach" or "People's Court." The Latin title Plautus gives it refers to a rope (rudens) dangling from the trunk that a poor fisherman has hauled out of the sea, a trunk whose contents the fisherman dreams will make him rich—or does, that is, until a rival claimant steals up behind him, grabs the end of the rope, and starts a tug-of-war (938ff).

That scene is just one of several superb pieces of theater in this remarkable play. Another outstanding feature is the variation in its tone and presentation, with passages that range from bawdy farce to the highest moral seriousness. In quieter moments the play raises questions about ownership, justice, and other controversies of perennial interest—kidnapping, enslavement, recognition, suicide, and the ability of sophistry to win a court case. Rudens also features an exotic setting unmatched by any other in extant New or Roman comedy. Instead of showing us the typical street in Athens or some other Greek town, all the action takes places near a villa on the shore of Cyrene. It is this last aspect of the play—the maritime setting—that looms largest in the first book under review.

Heeding alphabetical order, in 2013 the team of Plautus scholars at Urbino University took Rudens as the text to discuss at their annual one-day conference in Sarsina, the 17th such in the series. The resulting volume contains four long papers and a short one, all in Italian.

In the short essay, "Camerarius and the Rudens: 'Material' traces of his work in manuscripts B and C of Plautus," Giorgia Bandini examines the two manuscripts that Joachim Camerarius (1500-1574), the German philologist, discovered and made the basis of his 1522 Basel edition of Plautus (the first to contain 20 comedies). As Bandini reveals, Camerarius wrote all kinds of marks in each manuscript. She studies the interventions in detail, illustrating some of them with photographs, and deduces their meaning. As she shows, Camerarius introduced act divisions, scene numbers, and running titles at the tops of pages; he reassigned lines and introduced conjectures, and mostly, underlined problematic passages. Scholars interested in the working habits of early modern philologists (or their scruples in handling world-historical heirlooms) will want to take note of the paper.

The four long papers vary in approach and intensity of focus. The second and fourth are concentrated and scholarly, while the first and third are chatty and humbler in ambition.

In the first, "Notes on the Theatricality of the Rudens: The Use of the Senses as an Instrument of Stage 'Re-creation'" (by which she means 'a forming anew in the imagination'), Rosario López Gregoris offers a schematized (to my taste, excessively so) examination of how our different senses create the imaginary world and offstage action of Rudens. In her view, Plautus uses different sensory terms in the play to generate—rather than break—the dramatic fiction, and his choice among senses in doing so seems to entail a moral judgment. The prime example is the approach to shore of the four shipwrecked characters early in the play. First to come are the two young women (with whom we sympathize), followed by the slaver-pimp and his disagreeable companion (with whom we don't). In describing these characters' approach, Sceparnio emphasizes visual elements in both cases, but he does so in admiring terms for the women and in sneering or joking terms for the pimp and his companion. When the characters themselves appear, the women emphasize hearing and hugging, while the baddies emphasize their discomfort at being cold and wet. After analyzing other passages in similar fashion, López Gregoris grants that these details probably go back to Diphilus' play, but suggests that Plautus intensified the physicality of the text to make it more realistic—or rather, more immediately real—for his audience. Though of course unknowable, the suggestion squares with a 2002 essay by Dario Del Corno, who studied the same scenes and came to the same conclusion.1

Marianna Calabretta's essay "Toward a 'Production' of Rudens," which comes next, is a virtuoso piece of scholarship and an outstanding contribution to the study of the play; directors, editors, and translators will not want to miss it. Since the play's setting is so unusual, a basic problem has long been to understand how the buildings and entrances on the stage were originally configured. Here, Calabretta scrutinizes the text for implicit clues to the scenography, asking whether they presuppose the stonework of a Greek theater (and thus the stage of Diphilus' model) or the wooden theater of Rome. Concluding that they presuppose a Greek theater, she comes up with a major insight: namely, the stage must have had a tall cliff in the center, a cliff that helped create a front entrance (p. 61): "The central access to the stage could therefore have been a path to the sea that is made use of first by Palaestra and later on by the chorus of fishermen…" Once you see it this way, the solution seems intuitively and obviously correct, to me at least. It explains why the two shipwrecked young women do not see each other for so long when they enter the stage in 185-258, though they eventually do hear each other. As Calabretta explains, we should imagine "…a rather high cliff that prevents the young women—one of them on the right, the other on the left—from seeing each other." To drive the point home, she points out that similar arrangements are presupposed by Prometheus Unbound, Philoctetes, Peace, and Thesmophoriazusae, and she illustrates them with images taken from H. Bulle and H. Wirsing, Szenenbilder zum griechischen Theater des 5. Jhs. v. Chr. (Berlin 1950). It is worth quoting the summary of her findings (p. 66):

The reconstruction of the stage of Diphilus' comedy as revised by Plautus in the Rudens finds precise points of correspondence with what can be reconstructed on the basis of archaeological evidence, and in particular with the representations of the stage in the theater of Athens as portrayed in Bulle – Wirsing, both for comic and for tragic performances; it can be deduced that in this regard, Plautus respected the indications that Diphilus gave of the masonry theater in Athens quite closely; at least for the Rudens, therefore, the Plautine reworking introduces no particular innovations.

The only thing I missed in this fine essay is a picture of her own reconstruction of the stage in Rudens. I hope the next commentary or translation will include one.

Renato Raffaelli's essay ("Variety and One-offs in the Rudens, with a shot at translating them") showcases his efforts to find elegant (prose) renderings for the funniest or most tragic portions of Rudens, along with reflections on his choices. In the first half he concentrates on puns or ambiguities, such as the racy encounter between Sceparnio and Ampelisca in 414-457. There he translates Sceparnio's slip of the tongue subvolturiumsubaquilum as "sedanoebano (celery…ebony) and ornatus as dotazione (equipment, endowment—an inspired choice, since the joke is phallic). He then turns to the rapid repetitions of catchwords at line end, where the meaning changes in each verse. For licet in 1211-1226 he chooses certamente, and accertamento for licentia in 1225 (though he misses an opportunity by translating infelicet! in the same line only as che… mandi un bel tormento).2 For censeo in 1265-1280 he picks giudico di sì. Other passages he translates include the spat about the vidulus-piscis ("pesce baule") in 987-1001 and the tragically inflected passages late in the play.

In the final long essay, "Ruzante's Piovana and the Rudens," Isabella Valeri discusses a 1532 comedy by Ruzante of Padua (1502-1542), who is sometimes called the father of commedia dell'arte. The play, titled Piovana ("Rain") and written in a Paduan dialect, is set in Chioggia, a coastal island town near Venice. Valeri analyses the play's structure and demonstrates its obvious debts to Rudens (it is "substantially faithful to Rudens in its general lines," 91). Beyond that, however, she shows that Ruzante made changes to Rudens more typical of adaptation than translation—he eliminated monologues and added others, he added two deceptions, four characters, and 19 scenes, and he developed suggestions and potentials implicit in Rudens into larger parts of his play. Valeri traces some of the larger additions to Plautus' Mercator and Terence's Heauton Timorumenus, some of the smaller ones to Plautus' Pseudylus, Miles Gloriosus, and Persa, and in the end draws an apt analogy between Ruzante's practice and (what we think was the ancients' practice of) contaminatio.

All in all the volume is a fine contribution to Rudens studies.3

Renato Raffaelli explains the genesis of the second book under review in the first sentence (p. 7):

A few years ago in Sarsina, at a performance of one of Plautus' comedies at the Plautus festival, I had a look at the books on display in a booth near the entrance. Since I didn't see anything especially appropriate for the occasion, I thought that the audience (or at least some of them) could use a little book that included a scholarly profile of Plautus alongside thoughtful summaries of the comedies— summaries that weren't too long, but not too short either. And since the plots are sometimes a litte intricate, they would offer readers the information they needed to go in and follow the plots comfortably.

And that is exactly what we get. In the first part Raffaelli revises and reprints the richly documented, 35-page overview of Plautus that he and his Urbino colleague, Cesare Questa, originally published as "Plauto di Sarsina: un profilo," in A. Donati (ed.), Storia di Sarsina. I. L'età antica (Cesena: Stilgraf 2008). It reviews the usual data about Plautus (ancient biography, modern appraisals of it, his names) and Plautine comedy (relationship to Greek models, textual transmission, Renaissance recovery, modern philologists and their contributions; "Plautine elements," redefined on p. 30 n.64 as Plautus' "artistic individuality" rather than his "artistic originality"; musicality, contaminatio, and linguistic register). Footnote references send you to the ancient data or to Italian scholarship; scant notice is taken of works of the last 50 years written in other languages, and the emphasis throughout is firmly on philology.

The following hundred pages print Raffaelli's elegant and helpful summaries of each of the 21 plays. They are reprinted from earlier volumes of the Lecturae Plautinae Sarsinates where they exist, or newly devised here. (I noticed a couple of minor variations in the (Italian) acrostic argument of Rudens. The summary is identical in both.) The last four pages list the characters in each play.

In English the title of this book ("Everything about Plautus" or "All Plautus, All the Time") would have to be The Compleat Plautus. Raffaelli himself comments on its connotations (p. 8):

I realize the title could appear pretentious or journalistic, but I merely wanted to signal, briefly, that the essential aspects, life, theatrical praxis, and contents of Plautus' works are treated equally briefly, but without omissions.

I trust he is right about that, but for me it conjured up Roberto Benigni's 2013 show TuttoDante. With books and shows like this, the foreigner can sometimes only envy Italian culture.

Table of Contents: Lecturae Plautinae Sarsinates XVII

1. Rosario López Gregoris, "Appunti sulla teatralità della Rudens. L'uso dei sensi come strumento di 'ricreazione' scenica."
2. Marianna Calabretta, "Per una 'regia' della Rudens."
3. Renato Raffaelli, "Varietà e singolarità della Rudens (con prove di traduzione)."
4. Isabella Valeri, "La Piovana del Ruzante e la Rudens."
5. Giorgia Bandini, "Il Camerario e la Rudens: tracce 'materiali' del lavoro nei codici plautini B.e C."


1.   Dario del Corno, "Raccontare il 'fuoriscena'" in Cesare Questa, Renato Raffaelli, Due Seminari Plautini: La tradizione del testo; i modelli (Urbino: QuattroVenti, 2002), 121-132 (for Rudens see 128-9; I reviewed the book here.)
2.   I realize the quantity of the vowel i is different; but it is at 1305-6 too.
3.   errata: p. 21n8 for L. Matthew read Matthew Leigh; p. 37 for loquere read loqui; p. 95 for invce read invece; p. 103 for uxtrudat read extrudat.

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