Sunday, December 17, 2017


Daniel Nodes, Parables on a Roman Comic Stage: Samarites - Comoedia de Samaritano Evangelico (1539) by Petrus Papeus. Introduction, Edition, and Translation. Drama and Theatre in Early Modern Europe, 7. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2017. Pp. xvi, 375. ISBN 9789004317871. $148.00.

Reviewed by Mark Riley, California State University, Sacramento (

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Preview

Thousands of Latin plays were written during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries for presentation by school and university students, as well as for civic events like royal visits and weddings. The Jesuits are particularly known for requiring their literature teachers to write a new play every year for their students to put on stage, but many other teachers (occasionally students) wrote Latin plays inspired by varied topics from the Bible and ancient history to satires of contemporary student life. Hundreds of these plays can now be read online in the various digital collections. Some printed texts with translations are readily available. Gary Grund's Humanist Comedies (2005) and Humanist Tragedies (2011) have been reviewed in BMCR (2006.02.54 and 2011.06.36). The plays of Nicodemus Frischlin have been published with a German translation and commentary (various editors, Frommann-Holzboog 1992-2014). Many Anglo-Latin plays can be read online.

An early example of a biblically inspired play, Samarites, The Good Samaritan, is now available in this handsome volume by Daniel Nodes. In addition to a Latin text derived from the play's six printings from 1539-1542 (the play was popular!) and a facing-page English translation with detailed notes on words and sources, Nodes' introduction gives all the necessary information about the religious context of the play. In this same volume he has also edited and translated the commentary on Papeus' play by Alexius Vanegas of Toledo (1542), a commentary which is (as one might expect) more than 30 times longer than the play itself, by my line count. Such a detailed contemporary commentary on a Neo-Latin play is unique to my knowledge (perhaps Vanegas was trying to update Donatus) and gives us an excellent insight into traditional methods of explicating a text. Nodes' inclusion of Vanegas' work is a valuable addition to Neo-Latin studies.1

This short (905 lines) five-act play, originally written for a school in Flanders, then part of the Spanish Netherlands, is inspired by two parables: the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) and the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). Following an exegetical tradition of the time, Papeus connects these two stories by assuming that the Prodigal Son is the unfortunate traveler rescued by the Good Samaritan. Samarites devotes its first four acts to the Prodigal Son's seduction by Gulo (Appetite) and Hedylogus (Sweet-Talk) acting on behalf of the Devil, which leads to the Son's rebellion against his father Megadorus (Great Giver) and his departure from Jerusalem for Jericho, where he hopes to meet the meretrix Sarcophilia (Flesh-Lover), despite the good counsel of the Son's tutor Eubulus (Good Counsel). Only in Act 5 do the priest, the Levite, and the Good Samaritan enter the stage. The Samaritan (allegorized as Christ) entrusts the wounded Prodigal Son to the Innkeeper (allegorized as the Pope) until the Samaritan's planned return. Thus ends the play. This fusion of the two parables changes the message of both: It shows us the motivation for the traveler's departure from home, which is just a given in the original parable, and it eliminates the Prodigal Son's repentance and return to his father's house, replacing those plot elements with freely given divine grace and salvation.

As usual in Neo-Latin plays, Papeus combines the language and style of Plautus and Terence with contemporary sixteenth-century ethics and morals, thus striving for the two primary goals of Latin schools, to inculcate a good knowledge of Latin and to promote the students' moral education. The characters in Samarites remind us of Plautus and Terence: Megadorus is the Senex, Aegio (the Prodigal) is the adulescens amator, Diabolus is the Leno, and Gulo is the parasite whose quarrels with Hedylogus, the insolent slave, add the required touch of comic mutual abuse. As Nodes points out, Papeus has cleverly made all these characters Plautine, as well as part of a Christian allegory.

In his introduction Nodes thoroughly discusses the exegetical background of the two parables from Origen through Augustine to the medieval theologians, a topic that seems to be his primary interest. He quotes extensively from all relevant exegetical texts. The discussion of Samarites as a drama is limited: little on meter, problems of staging, or whether it was in fact actually produced on stage. In detailed footnotes Nodes translates the rare Latin words characteristic of these school comedies, explains mythological references in sufficient detail for a non-classical audience (Medea is defined several times in the notes), and describes motivations and plot devices. In addition, Nodes lists the sources of the play's unusual words and phrases, primarily Plautus and Terence, but also Erasmus' Adagia (a major secondary source for all Neo-Latin literature), Persius, and others. We can find many of the same notes in Vanegas' commentary, but in a more elementary fashion and with frequent translations into Spanish, giving even more assistance to local students. Vanegas also explains the allegory in excruciating detail so that the most slow-witted can grasp it. Moreover, Vanegas prefaces his exposition with several essays, among them a list of his corrections to the printed text from which he worked, an essay proving the superiority of Christian comedy to ancient comedy, a description of the four types of interpretation from Augustine, and a long, still useful essay on the meters of Latin comedy. Nodes' translation of this essay supplements his own sparse comments on meter.

Of course in a work full of such detail one can always find points of dispute. The translation is occasionally awkward or misleading. Surely dignitatis (page 68, line 9) is "rank"; criminum (80, 62) is "crimes"; virgulam divinam (102,332) is "magic wand," so translated on p. 235; praecipitantia (114,444) is "rushing around, hastiness"; in puerum fallaciam intendi (126, 589) is "a deceitful trick is aimed at the boy"; adiicite (134,673) is "add"; indignis examplis (142, 739) is an uncommon Neo-Latin idiom for "in a most unworthy manner [that should be a warning to everyone]."2 A few references should be corrected: Adagia 529 should be 1378 (p. 78, note on l. 39) and Adagia 1309 should be 1209 (p. 108, note on l. 387).

More serious is one error of excessive modernizing. At 102, 333 Nodes' text reads: Aureis divitat nebulo sartis centonibus, "he makes folks rich with a gilded patchwork sewn together with cloud," (where nebulo is the nominative of the word for "good-for-nothing bum," not a form of nubes/nebula). The printed texts of Papeus' play have fartis centonibus; all early editions of Plautus have centones farcias at Epidicus 455, Papeus' source; Erasmus' Adagia 1358 also has centones farcias with an explanation of its meaning. Indeed Vanegas' commentary quotes this adage of Erasmus, without naming the suspected heretic. There is no doubt that Papeus wrote fartis centonibus, not sartis centonibus. Nevertheless, following the modern texts of Plautus, which print Lambinus' 1576 excellent emendation of farcias to sarcias, Nodes has quite unjustifiably emended Papeus. Neo-Latin authors worked with the texts that they had before them, not with our versions, and a realization of this fact will affect our interpretation of their texts. In this case the phrase must mean something like "this good-for-nothing enriches you with a crammed-full pile of gilded rags."

This well-made volume from Brill is sturdily hard-bound and carefully printed, as it should be for the price. I spotted no typos. It is graced by color illustrations of title pages from the early editions, a thirteenth-century manuscript page from the Gospel of Luke illustrating our parables, and a humorous New Yorker cartoon, "The Good Samaritan Gives a Lift to the Prodigal Son" in his sports car, of course. It is marred, however, by the publisher's unhistorical and inconsistent use of upper- and lower-case u and v, perhaps in an attempt to reproduce the appearance of the originals. In the text of the play we find monstrosities like Uenus, Uergilius, Uerbum, but inconsistently: Vitiati and Uel occur in adjoining lines (p. 90, ll. 184-5). When printing Vanegas' commentary the publisher decided to use lower-case v in words like vt, vllum, vndecumque, vter, but again inconsistently: Ut and vt, Veneri and Uoluptatis occur on the same page (244, 268 respectively). I hope this disorder is not contagious.

Despite these quibbles, Nodes has produced a fine text that materially adds to our knowledge of Neo-Latin drama and a relatively unknown Neo-Latin dramatist, and through the inclusion of Vanegas' commentary, gives us insight into traditional methods of commenting and interpreting.


1.   Gnapheus' Acolastus (1528), a Protestant competitor for the Catholic Samarites, also received a commentary by Gabriel Prateolus Marcossius (1554). Several early editions of Samarites are on Google Books: the 1539 Antwerp edition, the 1549 Cologne edition, and Vanegas' commentary.
2.   For this usage compare indignis exemplis with At te.../Maximus exemplis pessimis perdat Deus (N. Frischlin, Phasma Act 1 scene 2; similar usage in Frischlin's Rebecca Act 4 scene 4), imitated in F. H. Flayder, Ludovicus Bigamus 326-7,; also Non pluribus potest exemplis perdier / Homo, sed is Deo confisus perstitit. Joseph Lorich (Io. Lorichius Hadamarius), Iobus, Patientiae Spectaculum Act 5, scene 1.

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