Ancient Rome

Goes to the Movies

Encore Learning

Spring Semester 2018

Instructor – Tom Wukitsch

Table of Contents

Page 2

Front matter

Page 40

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Page 67

Scipio Africanus – The Defeat of Hannibal

Page 80


Page 112

Julius Caesar (Shakespeare)

Page 123

Antony and Cleopatra (Shakespeare)

Page 139


Page 161


Page 174


Page 200


Page 216

Titus (Andronicus) (Shakespeare)

Page 234

Appendix A: a Wikipedia list of films set in ancient Rome

Page 237

Appendix B: abbreviated Roman Timeline


[Syllabus word origin: Neo-Latin: syllabus or syllabos, probably a misreading (in manuscripts of Cicero) of Greek síttybos, accusative plural of síttyba = a label for a papyrus roll (Earliest known use:  1650–60)]

Ancient Rome in the Movies (History 303)

Ten two to three hour sessions (depending on length of films)
Tuesdays, March 6 through May 8, each class starting at 12 noon
Classes will be held in room 244 at George Mason University, 3401 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA

Some filmmakers got ancient Rome right.  Some got it wrong.  Some didn't get it at all.  Many films about Rome tell us more about the biases of the times in which they were made than about the times they claim to depict.  Some are "message" films, and some just carry forward the message of the books on which they were based.  There is nothing in the historical account of Spartacus, for example, that would lead us to accept the "Christian" message of the Spartacus film epic or of the Howard Fast novel on which it is based (nor, for that matter, is there any proletarian internationalism that could explain the former Soviet fascination with "Spartakiad")  Recent big budget films, made for theaters, tend to get the background right, but they badly garble their historical story lines.  Lower budget theater films don't even try for background accuracy much less for historical fact -- "Sword of the Arena", a girl-gladiator flick, comes to mind (although there were some documented female gladiators).  Television productions vary greatly in authenticity:  the History Channel, just one example, will buy and broadcast almost any show that claims to be "historical", so some History Channel content is completely bogus.  Also, television time is usually sold in small chunks, so instead of getting an "in depth" 145 minute theater version of Rome, we may only get the 60 minute television version -- minus, of course, about 13 minutes for "messages from our sponsors."  The recent and ongoing Italian-made "Rome" series falls into its own category: it's an in depth fictional soft porn soap opera and has almost no accurate historical content.  (That doesn't mean it's not fun to watch, but we won't, so watch it on your own time.)  There are, of course some good films on ancient Rome, and some of them have unusual formats.  "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", our first film, based on plays by ancient Rome's best comedic playwright, fully captures the irreverence for status and authority of the ancient Roman stage.  Other films will follow.  Popcorn not provided.

Textbooks:  No textbook will be needed for this course.  The usual  handouts will be provided for each unit.  But if you really think you must have a book, try one of these:

Big Screen Rome, by Monica Silveira Cyrino, or

Imperial Projections: Ancient Rome in Modern Popular Culture, by

Sandra B. Joshel et al., or,

Projecting the Past: Ancient Rome, Cinema, and History, by Maria Wyke

For a few rambling general introductory notes for this course, go to:

Course Units (one film per unit):



Note that some of the links below are from Wikipedia, "the free
encyclopedia that
anyone can edit".  Like much other information on the Internet, what appears in Wikipedia should be taken cum grano salis.

1.  A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)
97 Minutes

A movie based on a Broadway musical, which was based on three plays that Plautus (ca. 200 bc), may be copied from the Greek stage.  The broad comedy of Zero Mostel made the movie and the Broadway musical a success, and he was also the force behind bringing other previously blacklisted actors and staff into the production.

2.  Scipio Africanus -- The Defeat of Hannibal (1937)

93 Minutes

Made by Mussolini's son in 1937, the year of the Italian Trans-Libyan  Highway and Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, this film won the Venice Film Festival prize for that year.  It's clearly a propaganda piece glorifying Italian imperialism, but it is, nonetheless, surprisingly accurate. Its climax is the Battle of Zama (in modern Tunisia) in 202 BC, which ended the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage.


3.  Spartacus (1960)

198 Minutes

A very fictitious story of Rome's Third Servile War (73 - 70 BC), this is the movie that really broke the Hollywood blacklist.  Kirk Douglas, producer as well as star of the epic, brought in the blacklisted screen-writer Dalton Trumbo and insisted that he be credited with the authorship of the screenplay.   Trumbo drew his story from Howard Fast's 1951 novel and, like fast, portrayed Spartacus as a popular revolutionary.  Many scholars disagree saying that Spartacus was just a wily escapee with no grand revolutionary agenda.  It's impossible to say who was right:  the  historical evidence is extremely sketchy.

4.  Julius Caesar (1953)

121 Minutes

Julius Caesar  is the name of the production, but he dies early on. Shakespeare's story is really about Marc Antony's destruction of the liberatori  who had assassinated Caesar.  This film is recognized as one of Brando's greatest performances, and it is acclaimed by Shakespeare  specialists as well as by the Hollywood crowd.  Time period covered is 44 and 43 BC.
    part of


5.  Antony and Cleopatra (1974)
161 Minutes

Not Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  It is an ITV television production of Trevor Nunn's stage version performed by London's Royal Shakespeare Company, which was shown in the United States to great acclaim in 1975.  Most critics agree that it's the best mass media A and C ever produced. The time period is from 41 BC through 29 BC, but the action is much compressed by Shakespeare.

6.  Augustus (2003)
178 Minutes

"....equal parts history lesson and soap opera, and thoroughly engaging  at all levels".   Peter O'toole is Augustus on his deathbed and remembering/retelling his life.  The film is surprisingly accurate.  Also, surprisingly, the multiple flashback (and even flashbacks within flashbacks) form holds the film together.  The only really jarring note is the gratuitous inclusion of Jesus in the last words of the film, supposedly spoken by the (ghost of?) Augustus in what appears to be a parody of his Res Gestae Divi Augusti (= Deeds of the Divine Augustus).  The movie covers the life of Augustus from 45 BC until his death in 14 AD.


7.  Caligula (1979, reworked several times, ours is essentially the R rated 1981 version.)
101 Minutes

This is an attempt to return to the Gore Vidal Caligula screenplay.  Penthouse Magazine operatives had inserted almost an hour of gratuitous explicit sex and gore, which was removed for this "R" rated (cleaned up) version of the notorious Penthouse production.  Caligula was undoubtedly evil and perhaps insane, but most of what we "know" about him was written by” historians" in the pay of his enemies after his assassination, and most of that is suspiciously similar to what had been written about previous tyrants in the ancient world.  The action takes place between 31 AD when Caligula was summoned to the Villa of Tiberius in Capri and Caligula's death in 41 AD.

8.  Satyricon (1969)
129 Minutes

Satyricon (Fellini Satyricon) is a 1969 film by Federico Fellini that is loosely based on the Petronius novel Satyricon, a series of bawdy and satirical episodes written during the reign of the emperor Nero and set in imperial Rome.  Many literature "experts" call the Petronius work the world's first novel.  The original text survives only in large fragments, and instead of trying to connect the fragments that survived, Fellini presented the material in a series of somewhat disjointed and dislocated scenes.  Petronius, usually identified with Petronius Arbiter, is thought to have been Nero's "master of the revels".  The date of the "events" in the Satyricon is unclear, but the work most likely dates from Nero's reign 54 - 68 AD.


9.  Gladiator (2000)
155 Minutes

A fiction set in the reign of Commodus, the film, nonetheless, is very good on Roman architecture, costume, life style, and general ambiance -- good enough for the film to become a staple of university ancient history and archeology courses.  The history of Commodus, like that of Caligula 120 years before him, was written by historians in the pay of his erstwhile enemies.  Commodus was named Caesar by his father, Marcus Aurelius, at age 5 in 166 AD and was  made co-Augustus , in 178 AD. He reigned  alone from his father's death in 180 AD until 192 when he was assassinated -- he was not killed in the arena as shown in the movie.

10.  Titus (1999)
162 Minutes

Titus Andronicus, one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, is certainly his most violent.  It was written, before Shakespeare found his own more mellow style, for an Elizabethan audience already inured to violent "revenge plays" modeled after the nine Senecan tragedies.  Our movie is Julie Taymor's production, in which she fearlessly shows all of Shakespeare's violence.  It is set in the period of "military anarchy" beginning with Maximus Thrax and ending with the formation of the Tetrarchy by Diocletian (235 - 285 AD) during the reign of a fictional Emperor Saturninus.  Shakespeare's and Taymor's bloody story accurately reflects the violence of that time.  Something to consider:  Who commits the first violent act that provokes revenge? Taymor had staged Titus in New York in 1995 before her Lion King success and returned to it for her first movie.

RomeMoviesMovies for ALRI Course #303

Roman Movies  -- Timeline


Films will be discussed/viewed in the order listed, which corresponds to their historical context.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Titus Maccius Plautus, generally referred to simply as Plautus, was a playwright of Ancient Rome. He is believed to have been born in Sarsina (a city in Umbria) around 254 BC. His comedies are among the earliest surviving intact works in Latin literature.  To protect himself, Plautus featured "Greek" characters and situations in all of his comedies, and they, in fact, may have been derived from earlier Greek works (a fine copying tradition, which was played out again later, during the Renaissance, when Shakespeare, among others, used the plays of Plautus as sources for their own comedies). The Broadway musical that preceded this movie was drawn from three plays by Plautus (Miles Gloriosus, Pseudolus, and The Haunted House) that ridicule three aspects of Roman Republic life:  the braggart warrior, the clever slave who outwits his masters, and fear of ghosts. It wasn't very successful until Zero Mostel took over the leading part of Pseudolus.

Scipio Africanus, The Defeat of Hannibal

Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major (235 -- 183 BC) was a general in the Second Punic War and statesman of the Roman Republic. He was best known for defeating Hannibal of Carthage, a feat that earned him the surname Africanus, the nickname the Romans gave him for in victories and as recognition as one of the finest commanders in Roman military history.


Scipione l'africano, written by Carmine Gallone, won the Mussolini Cup for the greatest Italian film at the 1937 Venice Film Festival.  Fascist Italy's most spectacular costume epic, it celebrates ancient Rome's conquests in Africa during the Second Punic War. Produced during Italy's war against Abyssinia, and heavily backed by Mussolini's government, this was at the time the most expensive Italian film ever made. Drawing upon Rome's imperial past to justify Italy's expansionist present, Scipio Africanus piles cinematic spectacle -- a cast of thousands, savage battle scenes, and stunning recreations of Rome and Carthage -- atop its ideological agenda.


Spartacus (ca. 120 BC -- ca. 70 BC, at the end of the Third Servile War), according to Roman historians, was a gladiator-slave who became the alleged leader of an unsuccessful slave uprising against the Roman Republic.  Little is known about Spartacus beyond the events of the Third Servile War, and the historical accounts of the war that have survived into modern times are sketchy and often contradictory.  However, Spartacus' struggle, often portrayed as the struggle of oppressed people fighting for their freedom against a large powerful State, has found new meaning for modern writers since the 19th century.  The figure of Spartacus and his rebellion have become an inspiration to many modern literary and political writers, who have made the character of Spartacus an ancient/modern folk hero.


Julius Caesar (Shakespeare)

Gaius Julius Caesar (July 12 or July 13, 100 BCMarch 15, 44 BC), often simply called Julius Caesar, was a Roman military and political leader and one of the most influential men in world history.  He played a critical role in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.

Leading his legions across the Rubicon, Caesar sparked civil war in 49 BC that left him the undisputed master of the Roman world.  After assuming control of the government, he began extensive reforms of Roman society and government.  He was proclaimed dictator for life, and he heavily centralized the bureaucracy of the Republic. This forced the hand of a friend of Caesar, Marcus Junius Brutus, who then conspired with others to murder the dictator and restore the Republic.  This dramatic assassination occurred on the Ides of March (March 15th) in 44 BC and led to another Roman civil war. In 42 BC, two years after his assassination, the Roman Senate officially sanctified him as one of the Roman deities.


The film features a splendid characterization of Marc Antony by a very young Marlon Brando, who appears to have learned to speak clearly for this roll.


Antony and Cleopatra (Shakespeare)

Marcus Antonius (c. 83 BCAugust 1, 30 BC), known in English as Mark Antony, was a Roman politician and general.  He was an important supporter of Gaius Julius Caesar as a military commander and administrator.  After Caesar's assassination, Antony allied with Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus to form an official triumvirate which modern scholars have labeled the Second Triumvirate. The Triumvirate broke up in 33 BC and the disagreement turned to civil war in 31 BC, in which Antony was defeated by Octavian at the Battle of Actium and then at Alexandria. Antony committed suicide along with his lover, Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt, in 30 BC. 


Cleopatra VII (January 69 BCNovember 30, 30 BC) was a Hellenistic co-ruler of Egypt with her father (Ptolemy XII Auletes), and with her brothers/husbands Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV.  Shea consummated a liaison with Gaius Julius Caesar that solidified her grip on the throne, and, after Caesar's assassination, aligned with Mark Antony, with whom she produced twins. In all, Cleopatra had four children, one by Caesar (Caesarion) and three by Antony (Cleopatra Selene, Alexander Helios, Ptolemy Philadelphus). Her unions with her brothers produced no children (it is possible that they were never consummated).  In any case, they were not close.  Her reign marks the end of the Hellenistic and the beginning of the Roman era in the eastern Mediterranean.  After Antony's rival and Caesar's legal heir, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian (who later became the first “Princeps”, Augustus brought the might of Rome against Egypt, it is said that Cleopatra took her own life on August 12, 30 BC, allegedly by means of an asp. Her legacy survives in the form of numerous dramatizations of her story, including William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and several modern films.

The BBC film we will see is universally acknowledged to be the best Antony and Cleopatra ever made.


Augustus (also Octavian) (September 23, 63 BCAugust 19, AD 14), known as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus for the period of his life prior to 27 BC, was the first and among the most important of the Roman Emperors (although he never claimed the title).

Although he preserved the outward form of the Roman Republic, he ruled as an autocrat for 41 years, longer than any subsequent Emperor; and his rule is the dividing line between the Republic and the Roman Empire. He ended a century of civil wars and gave Rome an era of peace, prosperity, and imperial greatness, known as the Pax Romana, or Roman peace, which lasted for over 200 years.

Although somewhat fictionalized, this film still is probably the most accurate portrayal of Augustus ever filmed.



Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (August 31, 12January 24, 41 AD), most commonly known as Caligula (= "Little Boots"), was the third Roman Emperor and a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, ruling from 37 to 41. Known for his extreme extravagance, eccentricity, depravity and cruelty, he is remembered as a despot. He was assassinated in 41 AD by several of his own guards.

The Roman historian Suetonius referred to Caligula as a "monster", and the surviving sources are universal in their condemnation. One popular tale, often cited as an example of his insanity and tyranny, is that Caligula appointed his favorite horse, Incitatus, to a seat on the Senate and attempted to appoint it to the position of consul. The story, however, owes its unrelenting currency to its strangeness: it is based on a single misunderstood near-contemporary reference, in which Suetonius merely repeats an unattributed rumor that Caligula was thinking about doing it (Suet. Cal. 55.3).  Caligula is also often alleged to have had incestuous relationships with his sisters, most notably his younger sister Drusilla, but there is no credible evidence to support such claims either.  In short, the surviving sources are filled with anecdotes of Caligula's cruelty and insanity rather than an actual account of his reign.  This makes any reconstruction of his time as Princeps nearly impossible.

There are several versions of this film available, and the "R" rated version that we will see is the closest to Gore Vidal's original screenplay.  The "unrated" version has an additional hour or so or extraneous perverted sex and violence, which was a post-production addition by Larry Flint and the Penthouse Magazine producers.  That's the version that we will not be seeing.


Fellini Satyricon

Petronius (c. 2766) was a Roman writer of the Neronian age; he was a noted satirist. He is identified with Gaius Petronius Arbiter, but the manuscript text of the Satyricon calls him Titus Petronius.  He is usually thought to have been Nero's "Master of the Revels."

His sole surviving work, the Satyricon (often called the earliest known novel) is an entertaining and earthy tale that tells us nothing directly of his fortunes, position, or even century. Some lines of Sidonius Apollinaris refer to him and are often taken to imply that he lived and wrote at Massilia (Marseille, France). If, however, we accept the identification of this author with the Petronius of Tacitus, Nero's courtier, we must suppose either that Massilia was his birthplace or, as is more likely, that Sidonius refers to the novel itself and that its scene was partly laid at Massilia.

The chief characters of the story are evidently strangers in the towns of Southern Italy where we find them. Their Greek-sounding names (Encolpius, Ascyltos, Giton, etc.) and literary training accord with the characteristics of the old Greek colonies in the 1st century (Magna Graecia). The high position among Latin writers ascribed by Sidonius to Petronius, and the mention of him by Macrobius beside Menander among the humorists, when compared with the absolute silence of Quintilian, Juvenal and Martial, seem adverse to the opinion that the Satyricon was a work of the age of Nero. But Quintilian was concerned with writers who could be turned to use in the education of an orator, nor does it seem to have lain in Quintilian's personality to appreciate the rollicking, scurrilous humor of the Satyricon of Petronius. The silence of Juvenal and Martial may be accidental or it is possible that a work so abnormal in form and substance was more highly prized by later generations than by the author's contemporaries.

Fellini Satyricon is a 1969 film by Federico Fellini. It is loosely based on the Petronius novel, a series of bawdy and satirical episodes written during the reign of the emperor Nero and set in imperial Rome. The original text survives only in large fragments, and, instead of trying to connect and "patch up" the fragments that survived, Fellini decided to present the material in a series of somewhat disjointed and dislocated scenes.



Maximus, an entirely fictional character invented for the movie and a supposed protégé and commander of the army of Marcus Aurelius on the northern frontier, is,in the movie, unjustly disgraced by Commodus.  He is enslaved and works his way up through the gladiatorial ranks and back to Rome. There he eventually fights with and kills Commodus in the Colosseum.  The story is complete fiction except for the names of some of the major characters.  But the background incidents and ambiance are so good that the film has become a staple of university Roman History and Archeology courses.

Gladiator supposedly takes place during the reign of Commodus (more properly Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus), (180 -- December 31, 192 AD) the presumed son of Marcus Aurelius – there were rumors of a gladiator in the back room with Faustina Minora while old Marcus was away fighting along the Danube.

Commodus has been very badly treated by "history":  all of the great Roman era historians were in the pay of the "optimati" while Commodus had been the darling of the "populares".  Commodus ended the wasteful wars along the Rhine frontier and brought home the armies – and this was extremely unpopular with the Senatorial "military-industrial complex" whose paid historians later derided his reign and probably made up most of what we "know" about his "disastrous" rule.  In his own time, he was undoubtedly the best-loved emperor excepting perhaps Augustus.



Titus is a powerful 1999 film adaptation of Shakespeare's revenge tragedy The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus, about the downfall of a Roman general. It was the first film of the play (aside from TV productions). The film is the directorial debut of Julie Taymor who co-produced and wrote the screenplay. 

There was no real Roman Emperor named Saturninus, but during the long "period of military chaos" (192 – 284 AD) between Commodus and Diocletian there was a "fictional" "Saturninus" – inserted mistakenly by the author(s) of the Historia Augusta (or perhaps just misread) as "also ruled" during the reign of Gallienus (260-268 AD).  Saturninus could actually have been a co-Consul with Gallienus.

The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus may be Shakespeare's earliest tragedy. It depicts a fictional Roman general engaged in a cycle of revenge with his enemy Tamora, the Queen of the Goths. The play is by far Shakespeare's bloodiest, taking its inspiration from Senecan Tragedy of Ancient Rome, the gory theatre that was sung to bloodthirsty circus audiences between gladiatorial combats.


Recommended, but not necessary, reading

Review from: Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.07.29

Reviewed by Kirk Ormand, Oberlin College,


Imperial Projections: Ancient Rome in Modern Popular Culture by Sandra Joshel, Margaret Malamud, Donald T. McGuire,

Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.  Pp. 299.  ISBN 0-8018-6742-8.  $45.00. 

Contributors: William Fitzgerald, Martin M. Winkler, Alison Futrell, Sandra R. Joshel, Nicholas J. Cull, Margaret Malamud, Martha Malamud, Maria Wyke, Donald T. McGuire, Jr.


Imperial Projections is a terrific book. It successfully merges modern cultural critique with sound classical scholarship, and does so in a manner that is enjoyable to read and intellectually challenging.


tkwiBookHD:Users:mmdtkw:Desktop:Imperial projections.jpgThe premise of the book is promising. The editors wish to explore the Rome that exists in the American imagination and to articulate how we have used Rome as a site of projection for modern cultural conflicts and anxieties. All the essays are good, some are outstanding, and the volume explores a wide range of expressions of popular culture. Included here are the grandiose Roman epic movies of the 50's and 60's, the parodies of that form, the BBC's I, Claudius, a film by Derek Jarman, and even the architectural wonders of Caesars [sic] Palace in Las Vegas. Each author succeeds in analyzing a modern artifact, while taking into account the various modes of production that surround it, the public response to it, and the social currents that inform that production and response. This is cultural criticism at its best, providing us with interesting readings of modern American culture, while also exploring that oft-neglected topic, the form and function of our relation to the classical world.


Should I stop there in my praise I might be thought effusive. And yet there is more to praise. The authors of the book generally avoid jargon, and none explicitly refers to a body of theory. Each essayist, however, demonstrates a sure knowledge of modern critical approaches, and underlying the various theses here one will find the theories of intertextuality, queer theory, Marxist ideology, feminist theory, and cinema studies. (Each contributor is well known as a classicist, and the authors' competence here is also evident, though the focus of the book is not on the ancient world per se). In analyzing Spartacus, or the BBC's I, Claudius, for example, Futrell and Joshel incorporate into their readings a subtle and effective critique of gender roles, and of the ways in which the domestic becomes a safe site for the movies to explore political revolution. Wyke's treatment of Jarman's Sebastiane is also an important discussion of the eroticization of suffering, drawing on the work of queer theorists. And so on. But none of the authors spends time justifying the theoretical stances that they take up; rather, their analyses stand on their own merits, and the authors assume that the reader is smart enough to follow along. This sure-footedness regarding issues of gender, sexuality, social class, and critical theory is both welcome and encouraging.


Beyond that, the book holds together uncommonly well for a collection of essays on diverse productions across a range of media. The authors clearly know each other's essays and have gone to some pains to cross-reference one another. There is some overlap of treatment in a few of the pieces, but generally this ends up being complementary. The book is attractively produced, with a solid bibliography and thorough index.


In the paragraphs that follow, I briefly summarize each of the essays that appear in the volume. I have one or two quibbles with some of the pieces, but these should in no way be seen to detract from the importance of this book, or the enjoyment to be derived from reading it.


Joshel, Margaret Malamud, and Wyke have written an eloquent introduction to the volume in which they outline the major lines of representation of the Roman Empire in American popular culture. Rome is a virtual chameleon as a site of projection: at times Rome represents a tyrannical empire populated by actors with suspiciously upper-class British accents, doomed to be overthrown by plucky Christians who all have American accents. At other times Rome (especially the Republic) is America, the forerunner of our notions of law and, curiously, democracy. In still other venues Rome is characterized by excess, either negatively, as when an emperor (such as Nero) demonstrates moral failure through sexual and economic profligacy, or positively, when Caesars Palace becomes a celebration of that most American of activities, going to the mall. We can identify with Rome, or distance ourselves from it; in either case, Rome becomes a safe space in which to explore anxieties about shifting gender roles or sexual identities, or America's role as a former colony of Great Britain, or as an emerging world empire.


In "Oppositions, Anxieties, and Ambiguities in the Toga Movie," William Fitzgerald explores the persistent trope of Rome as a tyrannical empire that is doomed to be replaced by Christianity. As Fitzgerald argues, the movies of the 50's (especially Quo Vadis, and Ben Hur) are careful to champion Christianity without showing the Christians as actually subversive. The films negotiate this bit of ideology by casting it in the domestic sphere: the hero (played by an American) is converted after falling in love with a Christian woman (played by a European). Thus the rough American is domesticated at the same time that the hero is able to turn away from the flawed, decadent political power of public life at Rome. Fitzgerald is also lucid on the ways in which these films present erotic relations between men (in varying degrees of latency) as an emotional driving force, often masked behind a spectacle of violence.1


Martin Winkler draws a more explicit connection between the films of the 50's and contemporary politics, arguing that Quo Vadis and Ben Hur figure the Roman empire as an analogue to Nazi Germany. One of the more interesting translations of this analogy has the Christians of ancient Rome as the counterparts to the Jews persecuted by Hitler. While Winkler comments on this oddity (64), he does not quite theorize how it comes about in the American imagination. Moreover, at times he seems to push his evidence a bit far. Order and a desire for empire do not necessarily connote the Nazis. Nonetheless, Winkler has a good deal of interest to say about the iconography of the Roman Eagle in Hollywood films, the depiction of Nero as Antichrist, and Frank Capra's involvement in American Office of War Information films of the 1940's.


Alison Futrell's piece, "Seeing Red: Spartacus as Domestic Economist," is a model of cultural analysis. She traces the history of the representation of Spartacus' revolt, showing how the historical event becomes a vehicle in turn for "natural equality," nationalism, and eventually socialism in subsequent retellings. She then shows how the famous movie version reshapes the overt Marxist motivations of Howard Fast's play by moving the political revolution to the sphere of the family. Futrell points out that the movie is itself embroiled in a somewhat quieter revolution, as the employment and crediting of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was an important step in dismantling the Hollywood blacklist. This essay, like several others in the volume, also has interesting insights into the ways in which the female lead in these movies of Rome is used to assure the "natural" superiority of its stirring hero.


A highlight of the volume, Sandra Joshel's "I, Claudius: Projection and Imperial Soap Opera," discusses the way in which the BBC's adaptation of Robert Graves' novel takes on the form and function of a soap opera. In contrast to the movies of Rome, this small-screen series reduces every aspect of the Empire to the imperial household, so that the decadence of Roman government becomes a family drama. As in soaps, "... family disintegration is repetitive, not cumulative" (143). And most important, the real threat to an orderly society in this domestic drama is a series of manipulative, greedy, lascivious women. Not coincidentally, the series depicts these women (especially Augustus' wife Livia) as pro-empire, where the "good" men of the series are forced to accept the empire against their desires for a return to the Republic. And finally, Joshel argues that the American showing of this drama had the particular effect of allowing us to see the Romans as "not us," because they were, essentially, British. Joshel is particularly strong on the way the medium of television itself molded this production, and on the ways in which Alistair Cooke and the reviewers shaped public response to it.


Nicholas Cull's analysis of the British camp comedies of ancient Rome does a nice job of tracing the roots of this particular genre, in this case to British military humor. There is less critique in this essay than in other pieces in the volume, as a good deal of space is devoted to simply describing the jokes and parodies in Carry On, Cleo, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Up Pompeii. Some of the most interesting material here is Cull's discussion of the way the "camp" was used to explore anxieties about sex and sexuality in the 60's. A closing argument makes the point that the kind of "camp" used by these movies is only possible in an era of relative "innocence and repression" (184). What seemed cheeky in the 60's is pretty tame today, and that makes it difficult to camp things up in quite the same way.


In "Brooklyn on the Tiber: Roman Comedy on Broadway and in Film," Margaret Malamud gives an extended treatment of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Malamud explores the way that the works of Plautus (themselves derivative of a Greek tradition) were appropriated and recast for the Broadway stage production by Jewish comics who had cut their teeth in the "Borscht Belt." This Rome is a place where the comic tradition of the clever slave becomes a venue for exploring Jewish-American identification and assimilation. In the movie version of A Funny Thing, however, the story takes on a different tone, as Richard Lester wanted to criticize both the Hollywood film industry and what he understood as the socially unjust world of ancient Rome. He was limited in his ability to do so, however, by producer Melvin Frank. The result is an odd mix of gritty realism (a Rome populated by slaves in rags surrounded by rotting vegetables) and vaudevillian humor.


Martha Malamud writes a cogent essay about Colleen McCullough's series of novels on ancient Rome in "Serial Romans." Most interesting here is the observation that these novels are essentially conservative: bloodlines determine social class, and correctly so; women are weak and subordinate; homosexuality is an identity and an indication of moral degeneration; eastern characters are effeminate and luxurious; and so on. Malamud is also instructive on the way in which McCullough infantilizes her characters, producing upper class Romans who are all Id. Finally, the essay critiques the marketing of the novels themselves, and the ways in which the novels re-make Roman history into a supermarket Romance.2


One of the more sophisticated readings of the volume is Maria Wyke's discussion of Derek Jarman's 1976 film Sebastiane, "Shared Sexualities." Wyke traces the historical representation of Saint Sebastian, exploring the process by which his suffering is increasingly seen as erotic and particularly representative of gay male experience and pleasure. She then critiques Jarman's film, relating it both to this history and to underground gay male pornographic films (some with a vague classical setting) of the 50's and 60's. In Jarman's film Rome becomes a trope for homosexual liberation, rather than homosexuality being a sign of Roman decadence and decline. In creating this representation, however, Jarman focuses not on the interior of the imperial court, but on "barren barracks life on the edges of empire" (230). As such the film re-made both our understanding of homosexuality and of ancient Rome. (Again particularly interesting are the contemporary critics' attempts to direct and control the potential viewers of the film.) A brilliant, densely argued close to the essay discusses the "potential erotic ecstasy of self-renunciation" (245) of the film in light of our post-Foucauldian understanding of homosexual identity.


The volume closes with a lighthearted, and somewhat light, piece on the history and architecture of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, by Margaret Malamud and Donald McGuire. It is clear that the authors have spared no expense to research their topic, and this is in keeping with the theme of the Palace. This is the Rome of Commerce with a capital C, where luxury and power are celebrated as part of the American vision of "extravagant consumption" (262). As with some of the camp films of the same era, Caesars Palace succeeds (to the extent that it does) because of a kind of willful ignorance, a willingness on the part of the consumer to wink, nudge, and roll her eyes.


In sum, Rome has never been just Rome; and the Empire in particular has been a backdrop against which modern America works out its sense of identity. Imperial Projections goes a long way towards articulating the relation between modern America and ancient Rome, and towards theorizing the many subtexts that inform that relation.



1.   I missed reference here to Eve Sedgwick, 1985. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia University Press.

2.   Reference could have been made here to two standard works on popular "women's" fiction: Janice Radway, 1984. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Leslie Rabine, 1985. "Romance in the Age of Electronics: Harlequin Enterprises," Feminist Studies 11: 39-60.



"Scholia Reviews" ns 16 (2007) 27.


Monica Silveira Cyrino, Big Screen Rome


Oxford: Blackwell, 2005

Pp. xiv + 274

ISBN 1-4051-1684-6. UK£19.99

Reviewer:  Suzanne Sharland, Classics, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 7/11/07


Since film courses that focus on screen representations of Classical antiquity seem to be becoming such a staple of Classical Civilisation programmes everywhere, Monica Silveira Cyrino’s "Big Screen Rome" comes as a welcome and timely addition to the growing store of secondary literature in this rapidly expanding area of Classical studies. Well-organised and appropriately illustrated, Cyrino’s lively contribution suggests itself as a suitable textbook to prescribe for such courses. This is not to say, however, that there are no problems with the work. As the title implies, Cyrino’s book concentrates on the Roman side of things and excludes the Greek portion of Classically themed films -- recent films such as Wolfgang Petersen’s "Troy" (2004) and Oliver Stone’s "Alexander" (2004) are noteworthy omissions dictated by the study’s exclusively Roman bias.[[1]] Even within the Roman film universe, the work is far from exhaustive; Cyrino focuses on a relatively small selection of films in the book. These, she explains, are the films she has tried and tested in her own film course at the University of New Mexico (p. 3). Unfortunately, the restrictions of the academic year mean that every lecturer or course co-ordinator designing a film studies module has inevitably to decide what to include and what to leave out. Nevertheless "Big Screen Rome" treats all the major and most famous Classically themed films of yesteryear and provides a solid, useful starting point for the Classics in the Movies student, who should be encouraged to build upon the basic information imparted by the study.


What gives Cyrino’s work such potential as a textbook is the meticulously organised manner in which information about a number of Classically themed films is imparted. Indeed, it is clear that it is precisely as a textbook that Cyrino’s book has been composed. Every chapter deals with just one film, thus avoiding unnecessary confusion, although there is some discussion of previous versions or direct predecessors of the film in question. Within each chapter the same structured organizational approach is taken. Cyrino arranges each chapter under a number of headings that are always the same and in the same order. This predictability makes the book easy to use. For example, on the first page of each chapter, one finds important information about the film’s production studio, director, screenplay, cast and so on. This provides a useful reference point to turn to if one has, for example, forgotten the name of an actor or the year in which a film was released. Cyrino follows this, in each case, with an equally useful ‘Plot Outline’, which is detailed summary of the plot of each film. Cyrino anticipates that this will help students and lecturers place significant scenes and clear up confusion about the sequence of the narrative (p. 5). Cynics may comment that the plot summary will be of great help to those incorrigible students who, as incredible as it may seem, have failed to watch the film itself.


Next in every chapter comes a section entitled ‘Ancient Background’ which describes the ancient sources or the historical background that inspired the film. In these sections, Cyrino usually delves into some recorded history of ancient Rome, concerning which the modern films can be extraordinarily cavalier. The exception to the historical approach is in Chapter 6 (pp. 159-75), on "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (1966), where the ‘Ancient Background’ section focuses instead on the background to Roman comedy, the genre on which this purely imaginary film is based. The section ‘Background to the Film’ in each case discusses the more recent background to the movie, with, as Cyrino explains, ‘an examination of other appropriations, literary or figurative, of the story or its major characters since antiquity, and in particular the use of the story or characters in other media such as novels, stage plays, and other cinematic versions’ (p. 5). This section explains, in addition, the manner in which the film project came to be assigned to a particular director and provides a brief summary of the particular director’s career (p. 5). Cyrino’s credentials as a film buff and her impressively broad knowledge of Hollywood (after all, she grew up in the neighbourhood)[[2]] enable her to impart interesting and often very revealing information about other films on non-Classical themes made by the directors in question.


The next section, ‘Making the Movie’, in each case highlights the actual production of the film under discussion, frequently involving intrigues, struggles, and expenses of such proportions that they rival the epic itself. This section also examines technical issues such as ‘the development of the screenplay, directorial decisions about the shooting location and casting of actors, the film’s artistic design, musical score, exceptional set-piece scenes, special effects and new cinematic technologies’ (p. 5). The final major section, ‘Themes and Interpretations’, provides in each case an in-depth analysis of the major themes of the film, as well as situating the movie in the broader social, political, and cultural context of the time of its production and release. Cyrino evaluates each film’s degree of critical and commercial success, and she also looks for reasons for this. Each chapter concludes with a potentially useful list of ‘Core Issues’ (take note, students!), a set of important themes and issues that Cyrino has identified as arising out of each film. One can almost see already the garishly coloured highlighter pens coming out to underline or otherwise mutilate these questions, helpfully posed in point-form.


Many of the films Cyrino discusses tell us more about the attitudes and trends in American society than about the ancient world. Cyrino is particularly good at contextualising each movie in the American society of the particular era in which it was made. She examines perceptively the degree to which each film she analyses captures its "Zeitgeist", and her book as a whole is set out chronologically so as to follow the evolution of the ‘swords and sandals’ epic from its heyday in the early 1950s to its sudden resurrection with the success of Gladiator in the year 2000. "Big Screen Rome" in effect tracks the changes in American political, religious, sexual, and cultural attitudes during the second half of the twentieth century. Cyrino’s first three chapters treat three religious-themed American epics from the 1950s, "Quo Vadis" (1951), "The Robe" (1953), and "Ben-Hur" (1959). As Cyrino remarks (p. 3), these post-War religious epics all inherit as well as perpetuate similar mythologies about Rome. Their presentations of gender, race, and class are limited by the prejudices of that era. One of the problems faced by the lecturer today is how to make these pious films, which sometimes look like walking Christmas cards, accessible to the contemporary secularly-minded and often agnostic student. Yet it is important that students are familiar with this sub-genre of epic film in order for them to appreciate the subsequent parodies of it, in films like "Monty Python’s Life of Brian" (1979). On the political front, Cyrino takes care to situate these films within the tense cultural and political climate of the United States during the Cold War period, another scenario that is entirely foreign to the modern eighteen- to twenty-year-old student. The next two chapters examine secular films about Rome made during the early 1960s, "Spartacus" (1960) and "Cleopatra" (1963). Few film courses about the ancient world would ignore these two highly significant movies. Cyrino follows this with three chapters treating comedies, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (1966), "Monty Python’s Life of Brian" (1979), and Mel Brooks’ "History of the World, Part 1: The Roman Empire Sequence" (1981). Cyrino finishes off with a very well-written chapter on "Gladiator" (2000), the film which launched the return of the Classically themed epic film.


In her introduction (pp. 1-6), Cyrino observes that there is both an attraction to the power and spectacle of Rome, as well as a simultaneous abhorrence felt towards what are perceived as the excesses of this ancient civilisation: ‘Contemporary audiences readily relate to and even define themselves by the on-screen portrayal of the ancient Romans whose provocative combination of dignity and decadence both fascinates and disturbs’ (pp. 1f.). Traditionally, however, American audiences do not seem to have been encouraged to identify themselves with the Romans. In the movies on the ancient world, until fairly recently, the American actors (or actors with American accents) never played the evil, oppressive Romans, but rather appeared as slaves, Christians, and other innocent victims of Rome’s abuse of power. According to the Hollywood ‘linguistic paradigm’, actors with British accents that were ‘posh’-sounding to American audiences played the evil, corrupt and oppressive Romans. This all changed, as Cyrino observes (p. 232), with "Gladiator" (2000), when Australian Russell Crowe adopted a gruff but refined English accent (‘Royal Shakespeare Company two pints after lunch’) in order to play the hero Maximus. However, the villain Commodus, played by American Joaquin Phoenix, also adopted an accent that veers occasionally into Cockney (‘ . . . busy likkle bee . . . ’). On America’s shoulders, it seems, the mantle of Rome rests uneasily. Issues of power and empire suggested by the paradigm of ancient Rome have never been more significant for contemporary society, and to the rest of the world today, America is clearly Rome. Only certain recent films, however, have made a direct link between the ancient Roman empire and its most striking contemporary parallel.[[3]] By treating mostly earlier American-made movies,[[4]] however, which subscribe to the conventional paradigm, Cyrino has narrowed our perspective of ancient Rome.


In Cyrino’s selection there are not enough recent films under discussion, and thus the entire focus of her book is on early material which, one anticipates, will eventually largely be replaced by later portrayals of the ancient world. Much of the more recent film material has been about Greece rather than about Rome. But even on the Roman side of things there have been many made-for-television spectacles (admittedly mostly British) that merit attention. These television series have often been less flashy but more historically accurate than the Hollywood blockbusters, and in the past I have found it useful to have students compare small and large screen presentations of the same historical figure. The nature of a television series allows the scriptwriters to go into greater detail on minor background issues that of necessity are swept under the carpet in the Hollywood blockbuster. If, for example, the 1963 Cleopatra film had been a television series as opposed to a lengthy movie, there may have been a chance to show aspects of Mark Antony’s early career and his relationship to Julius Caesar that had to be edited out of the film version and which may have helped explain some of his later behaviour.[[5]] Cyrino has severely limited her choice of films by being strictly ‘Big Screen’ and ‘Rome’ (and almost exclusively American).


While a post-modernist analysis of the multi-layered meanings of the films and their reflections on antiquity may be instructive, on a more practical level, as Cyrino herself suggests (p. 2), we need to question why we teach these films at all in the context of the Classics classroom. What bothers me, however, is that on the whole Cyrino’s attitude towards the films she has selected (clearly her favourites) is more approving than critical. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying the spectacles, often it is necessary to focus on the movies’ faults rather than their good points in order to enable our students to learn something about the ancient world from them. Do these films as artistic representations make any attempt at historical accuracy? To what extent could inaccuracies in these movies cause confusion or misconceptions in the minds of some of our students? How far-fetched must a film be before it loses any relevance to a study of the ancient world?[[6]] While it is true that most of our impressions of the ancient world are mediated by some previous representation, that there is no modern representation of antiquity that can be truly objective, and that all films about the ancient world are really about the modern one, it would be hard to justify giving up all attempts at historical accuracy in films that are, after all, promoted as historical ‘period pieces’. Historical accuracy is what the lay person always wants to know about: I think it would be condescending and dismissive to suggest that the ordinary film-going public does not care about this. By failing to tackle the thorny question of historical accuracy head-on, "Big Screen Rome" ultimately is unable to raise itself out of the limited level of a class textbook to the status of a more rewarding and abiding contribution to scholarship.


When it comes to the visual recreation of the movie set, it has been observed, historical accuracy resides in the details of that recreation.[[7]] What I miss in Cyrino’s book is a discussion of the historical anachronisms of each film, some of which are petty, others irritating, and still others dangerously misleading. I am not overly concerned about such legendary alleged slip-ups as the automobile in the arena or the wristwatch on the arm of a Roman soldier, amusing as these things may be to spot. Somewhat more insidious, however, is Judah’s elderly servant Simonides (Esther’s father) bumbling about in "Ben-Hur" with a "yarmulke" (skullcap) on his head centuries before this became the practice in Jewish communities.[[8]] Again, Judah’s experience as a slave has him rowing a galley as a dire form of punishment, while in practice being an oarsman was a highly paid and respected profession. In battle, after all, it was better to depend on free men rather than on slaves.[[9]] In "Cleopatra" (1963), Cleopatra and Antony sit upright to eat their banquet on the queen’s boat afloat on the River Cydnus. They look ridiculous: why aren’t they reclining? Cyrino’s book could have been made more useful if she had compiled a list of these anomalies. Even the minor infringements are worth noting, so that these can be brought to the students’ attention.


A more serious dilemma, in my view, is whether Spartacus dies on a cross, as in Stanley Kubrick’s movie, or in battle, as Plutarch tells us.[[10]] At a push, an anonymous Spartacus could indeed have been among his numerous followers crucified between Capua and Rome as a reprisal for antiquity’s most successful slave uprising, but this is not what Plutarch says. As Classicists and Ancient Historians we need to ask why sometimes deliberate alterations to historical events and phenomena are made in modern films about the ancient world, and what effect this has on our students’ understanding of the ancient world. Having Spartacus die on the cross,[[11]] for example, is useful in dramatic terms, as it gives Kirk Douglas a Christ-like profile and a chance to have some dialogue with Jean Simmons, but knowledge of the ancient world reveals that dying in battle as a warrior and not on the cross like a slave would be the path that Spartacus himself (and any other ancient with an ounce of self-respect) would undoubtedly have preferred. It is important that we use the opportunities for discussion afforded by the films’ inaccuracies to engage with our students, and to introduce them to the real challenges of the ancient world, in which the issues of right and wrong were not always as clear-cut as in a Hollywood movie.




[[1]] With the release of "300" (2007), a dramatisation of the battle of Thermopylae, might it not soon be time for a companion volume entitled "Big Screen Greece"?


[[2]] See ‘Acknowledgments’, p. viii.


[[3]] According to Lou Marinoff, ‘America is Rome reincarnate. Like the Roman empire, the American empire is vastly powerful and unfathomably corrupt. Like Rome, America imposes her civilisation upon an ungrateful world. Like Rome, America needs bread, circuses and philosopher-statesmen to forestall and yet to hasten her demise’ ("The Philosopher’s Magazine", Summer 1998 -- I owe this reference to Susan Haskins.) "Gladiator" (2000), prior to the disaster of 9/11 and all the propaganda that has followed it its wake, was in my view a high point in the United States’ cultural biography at which point America could look at herself and admit that she was Rome.


[[4]] An exception to this is, of course, "Monty Python’s Life of Brian" (1979), which Cyrino ably treats in her seventh chapter (pp. 176-93).


[[5]] Cyrino notes this problem with the editing of Burton’s portrayal of Mark Antony at p. 145. However, she dismisses the 1999 BBC mini-series "Cleopatra" as ‘feeble’ (p. 151). An excellent example of a recent mini-series, perhaps too recent for Cyrino’s book, to be fair, is the series "Rome" created by John Milius, William J. Macdonald, and Bruno Heller (London: BBC & HBO, 2006).


[[6]] Kathleen Coleman, herself an academic consultant to the movie "Gladiator" (2000), raises many questions regarding the issue of historical accuracy and the role of the academic consultant in her chapter ‘The Pedant Goes to Hollywood: The Role of the Academic Consultant’ in Martin M. Winkler (ed.), "Gladiator: Film and History" (Oxford 2004) 45-52. She concludes (p. 52) that historical accuracy need not be sacrificed to artistic sensibility provided that there is a sophisticated working relationship between the academic consultant and the filmmakers.


[[7]] Coleman [6] 49 observes that while scholars are often accused of being too focused on the minutiae, which may be a problem for an academic consultant working on a film set, nevertheless, it should be remembered that ‘detail is the repository of authenticity’.


[[8]] Covering the head before God is very ancient practice in Judaism, but any form of head-covering is acceptable in terms of Jewish law. A wide variety of head-coverings has been worn by Jewish men from ancient times to the present, and many regional differences used to exist. It seems that the "yarmulke" as we know it dates from Medieval times. The word is Yiddish and the practice of wearing this cap probably comes from Poland. It has even been suggested that ‘the so-called Jewish garb of Poland, including even the ‘jarmulka’ (undercap), is simply the old Polish costume which the Jews retained after the Poles had adopted the German form of dress’ ( - COSTUME, p. 20; accessed on 11/5/07).


[[9]] Ancient warship designs required that each oarsman be responsible for one oar, and therefore rowing was a skilled job, performed by trained personnel. J.G. Landels in his work "Engineering in the Ancient World" (London 1980) notes that however well designed a warship may have been, ‘it was only one half of a partnership, the other being a fit, well trained crew whose morale was high’ (p. 149). Where slaves were used on ancient galleys, they were apparently freed and trained first. Later designs, however, required three to seven men handling one oar, so individual skill mattered less, and from about the sixteenth century A.D., European powers started using condemned criminals and prisoners-of-war to man their galleys. From there the commonplace of a condemned ‘galley slave’ made its way into literature, and what eventually became a literary tradition seems to have influenced the portrayal of "Ben-Hur".


[[10]] Plutarch "Life of Crassus" 11.6-7. Plutarch (id. 8.3) also suggests that Spartacus the Thracian was in fact not born into slavery at all, as in the movie, but was enslaved through capture. I think that this is significant; the attitudes instilled in Spartacus by his free birth may explain the indomitable spirit that enabled him to lead the slave rebellion in the first place. It is not accidental that the Roman slave-owning classes preferred the home-born slave, the "verna", to formerly free individuals captured in warfare. 

TKW note:  the reference to Spartacus as a “Thracian” does not necessarily mean that he was from geographic Thrace (i.e. that he was from southeastern Bulgaria -Northern Thrace, northeastern Greece - Western Thrace, or the European part of Turkey - Eastern Thrace).  He, in fact, merely may have been a gladiator designated as a “Thraex”, one who was armored in the Thracian manner and was trained to fight with Thracian style weapons.


[[11]] As far as I can tell, this is an innovation of the screenplay. Both the novel on which the film is loosely based, Howard Fast’s "Spartacus" (London 1952), as well as Arthur Koestler’s "The Gladiators" (London  1939), have Spartacus dying in battle.



0101RomeFilmIntro .doc

Some Introductory Notes

for the Rome-Movies Course


Although the US political system is a conscious copy of the Roman Republic, it is the Empire that fascinates us.


Throughout history, peaks of Roman Empire interest seem to be co-temporal with empire building:  e.g., Shakespeare's tremendously successful Roman plays during the Elizabethan era and modern fascination during the US "(sole) Imperial superpower" age.  (Cf., the sword and sandal flicks of the post WW2 period).  There are comparable German, Russian, and Italian examples.


Strictly speaking (and why not?), in Hollywood, ancient Religious – often biblical or ersatz biblical -- stuff is made into "Sword and Sandal movies".  Movies with a non-religious Roman setting are "Toga movies".


Almost always, lessons are being taught – authors and movie producers are trying to teach the audience.  There is often a great difference between the intended lesson and what is "received" by the audience, and "reception", of course, is time sensitive (see below).




Film – what people with pretensions of "culture" go to see at small "art" theaters in northwest Washington.


Movie -- what the rest of us go to see at multiplex theaters in the burbs.


Flick – what they usually show in places where you can also get a beer -- like your TV room.


Cinema – what they do in France and at the "Cinema and Draft House" at the corner of Glebe and Fillmore in Arlington VA (the latter of which is a better place.)


Two other words that you often hear in "film as literature" courses are "reception" and "gaze".  There is great controversy about what these words mean and how they should be used.  My simplistic definitions are as follows: 


Reception refers to how material is taken in by a member or members of the audience – it is passive, although there is (usually) an active element, which is how the audience member processes the material, i.e., how the material is stirred into what the person already believes of knows.  (The French "deconstruction" fad took this element to the extreme, saying that what the author might have intended the audience to take away had lost its relevance as soon as the author's words (or producer's product) were offered:  the only thing that mattered was how the audience processed the information.  This fad, remarkably, held sway throughout the West for a while, but we are now said to be in the "post-deconstructionism" phase.  This is all, of course, just specialist jargon.)


Gaze (sometimes "look") is what the author or producer is trying to attract, to the story as a whole and to particular aspects of the story.  Gaze is much more active than reception:  the audience has to look rather than just see.


Both reception and gaze are, of course, modified by time.  The time between when the story is written down and when it becomes available to a particular audience changes both reception and gaze.  With our material, this happens several times: 


First, when the event happens (or when the story is made up) and the original recording of the event takes place.  This is not always as easy to define as it might seem.  Some examples with our material are: the comedic situations in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which appear to be Roman but were actually derived from earlier Greek stock situations and the "horrors and sex" in the Caligula story, which appear to be derived from historical accounts of Caligula's reign, but are really derived from pre-existing stock descriptions of ancient tyranny:  nothing in what comes down to us about Caligula from the ancient "historians" has any necessary relationship to what he actually did, but what we can be sure about is that he was immensely unpopular with the successors in whose employ were the "historians".  Nonetheless, it makes for a titillating story so it's repeated down through the ages.


Later intermediate retellings change the "lesson".  In our material, three of the films (Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Titus) are based on explicit retellings by Shakespeare, who had lessons of his own to add.  All of the stories in all three films were reworked by European Renaissance "humanists" (i.e., people – almost invariably men -- who rediscovered the "classic" Roman stories and rewrote them into Ciceronian Latin or their own vernaculars, their avowed purpose being to find "human" exemplars to replace the biblical exemplars of the earlier "scholastics".)  It's worth noting here that Shakespeare got his Roman histories (Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, but not Titus Andronicus) from Sir Thomas North's 1579 English translation of Plutarch's Parallel Lives, and that North would have been working from Latin text(s) as rendered by Italian or French humanists. 


Recent productions (i.e., 20th/21st century) have their own added lessons to teach. 


The 1937 Scipio film was a glorification of Italian fascist imperialism, which had been expanding in Libya ("Tripolitania" and "Cyrenaica") since Mussolini's accession and which, a few months after Scipio's premier would lead to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.  The intended Italian audience reveled in the idea of imperial expansion.  Seventy years later we look on it with revulsion:  the "reception" has changed, undoubtedly because of current "political correctness".


The post WW2 Hollywood epics (both Biblical and Roman) were based on 19th century Protestant "novelizations".  Quo Vadis, The Robe, and The Ten Commandments were clearly "religious message" films, and, not incidentally, had post-war anti-war messages.  They are outside the scope of this course even though the first two were definitely "Roman".  Ben Hur, which we will not see, was also blatantly religious, but that's not why we won't be seeing it.  The choice was between Spartacus and Ben Hur, and the former has more lessons to teach both about Rome and about the societies that made the movies.  (We will see the eight-minute chariot race scene from Ben Hur, however, (twice):  it's too iconic and exciting to miss.)  The Spartacus film also has Christian resonance, first because of the initial explicit tie-in to Christianity provided by the off-screen narrator and then because of how the Christian West reacts to crucifixion, not to mention the subtext of supposed Christian virtues that run through the whole film.  (The narrator's opening "Christian" remarks are not nearly as jarring to the educated ear as are the remarks – supposedly the words of Augustus in a reference to his Res Gestae brag sheet – at the end of the 2003 Italian Augustus TV film that refer to the birth of "Jesus of Nazareth" in the 23rd year of his reign.


The Caligula movie was the result of several different visions (some of them clearly perverted) working at cross-purposes.  The version we will see is the least perverted (R – rated with Gore Vidal's name back on the label).  We'll talk about but not see the other versions.


Fellini's Satyricon, based on the surviving fragmentary Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter, Nero's supposed "master of the revels", was produced to draw parallels between Dolce Vita 1960s Italy and Nero's Rome.  It's pretty tame by today's standards.  What could Fellini have wrought today?  (Something to think about: were the Satyricons of Petronius and Fellini about satire or Satyrs?)


Gladiator is yet another big sword and sandal blockbuster.  The story is pure fiction except for the names of some of the main characters.  It gets an "F" for historical accuracy, but the background material – costumes, ambiance, architecture, and the feel of the colosseum are very accurate.  When Gladiator first lit the silver screen, several movie critics said that it was too violent and bloody, but we "Romanists" know (don't we?) that the movies wasn't nearly bloody and violent enough to accurately depict the Colosseum and Roman society. 


Our final film will be Titus, Julie Taymore's fairly accurate rendering of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus (see This was Shakespeare's most violent play, and Ms. Taymore doesn't cringe from reflecting Shakespeare.  Shakespeare scholars say that he was inspired by the "revenge dramas" of Seneca, nine "plays" intended to be read rather than performed that were written in blank verse by the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca in the 1st century AD. Rediscovered by Italian humanists in the mid-16th century, they became the models for the revival of tragedy on the Renaissance stage. The two great, but very different, dramatic traditions of the age -- French Neoclassical tragedy and Elizabethan tragedy -- both drew inspiration from Seneca.  There are certainly "modernisms" throughout the film, but they are clearly both intentional and to the point.  Taymore is better known for her design, direction, staging of "The Lion King" (which, in fact, has some elements that could easily have been drawn from Shakespeare – see Macbeth.)  Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is, of course, fiction and does not portray any known persons or incidents in ancient Rome.  However, it does reflect the way life and politics worked in the higher reaches of Rome during the “crisis of the third century” (235 – 284 AD).  C.f., .

0103Chariot Racing.doc

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Article at:


Chariot Racing


Chariot racing was one of the most popular ancient Greek and Roman sports.


Early chariot racing

The chariot race at the funeral games of Patroclus


It is unknown exactly when chariot racing began, but it may have been as old as chariots themselves. It is known from artistic evidence on pottery that the sport existed in the Mycenaean world, but the first literary reference to a chariot race is the one described by Homer in Book 23 of the Iliad, at the funeral games of Patroclus. The participants in this race were Diomedes, Eumelus, Antilochus, Menelaus, and Meriones. The race, which was one lap around the stump of a tree, was won by Diomedes, who received a slave woman and a cauldron as his prize. A chariot race was also said to be the event that founded the Olympic Games; according to one legend, King Oenomaus challenged his daughter's suitors to a race, but was defeated by Pelops, who founded the Games in honour of his victory.


The Olympic Games

In the Olympics, as well as the other Panhellenic Games, there were both four-horse (tethrippon) and two-horse (synoris) chariot races, which were essentially the same aside from the number of horses. The chariot racing event was first added to the Olympics in 680 BC (but was not, in reality, the founding event). The race was begun by a procession into the hippodrome, while a herald announced the names of the drivers and owners. The hippodrome at Olympia was about 600 yards long and 300 yards wide, and up to 60 chariots could race at one time (though in practise the number was probably much lower). It was located beneath a hill, which provided standing room for possibly as many as 10 000 spectators. A race consisted of twelve laps around the hippodrome, with sharp turns around the posts at either end. Various mechanical devices were used, including the starting gates (hyspleges, sing. hysplex) which were lowered to start the race. According to Pausanias these were invented by the architect Kleoitas, and staggered so that the chariots on the outside began the race earlier than those on the inside. The race did not actually begin properly until the final gate was opened, at which point each chariot would be more-or-less lined up alongside each other, although the ones that had started on the outside would have been travelling faster than the ones in the middle. Other mechanical devices known as the "eagle" and the "dolphin" were raised to signify that the race had begun, and were lowered as the race went on to signify the number of laps remaining. These were probably bronze carvings of those animals, set up on posts at starting line.

ß A chariot race at the

ancient Olympic Games


Unlike the other Olympic events, charioteers did not perform in the nude (see nudity in sports), probably for safety reasons because of the dust kicked up by the horses and chariots, and the likelihood of bloody crashes. The chariots themselves were modified war chariots, essentially wooden carts with two wheels and an open back, although chariots were by this time no longer used in battle. The charioteer's feet were held in place, but the cart rested on the axle, so the ride must have been bumpy to say the least. The most exciting part of the chariot race, at least for the spectators, was the turns at the ends of the hippodrome. These turns were extremely violent and often deadly. If a chariot had not already been knocked over by an opponent before the turn, it might be overturned or crushed (along with the horses and driver) by the other chariots as they went around the post. Deliberately running into an opponent to cause him to crash was technically illegal, but nothing could be done about it (at Patroclus' funeral games, Antilochus in fact causes Menelaus to crash in this way), and crashes were likely to happen by accident anyway.


The chariot race was not as prestigious as the stadion (the foot race), but it was more important than other equestrian events such as racing on horseback, which were dropped from the Olympic Games very early on. In Mycenaean times the driver and owner would have been the same person, and therefore the winning driver received the prize. However, by the time of the Panhellenic Games, the owners usually had slaves who did the actual driving, and it was the owner who was awarded the prize. Arsecilas, the king of Cyrene, won the chariot race at the Pythian Games in 462 BC, when his slave driver was the only one to finish the race. In 416 BC the Athenian general Alcibiades had seven chariots in the race, one of which won; obviously he could not have been racing all seven chariots himself. Philip II of Macedon also won an Olympic chariot race in an attempt to prove he was not a barbarian, though if he had driven the chariot himself he would likely have been considered even lower than a barbarian. This rule also meant that women could technically win the race, despite the fact that women were not allowed to participate in or even watch the Games. This happened rarely, but a notable example is the Spartan Cynisca, daughter of Agesilaus II, who won the chariot race twice.


Chariot racing was also an event at other games in the Greek world, and was the most important event at the Panathenaic Games in Athens. At these games, the winner of the four-horse chariot race was given 140 amphorae of olive oil, an extremely expensive prize, as this was more oil than an athlete would ever need in his career. Most of it was probably sold to other athletes. There was another form of chariot racing at the Panathenaic Games, known as the apobotai or the anabotai. This involved jumping out of the chariot and running alongside for some distance (the anabotai); the apobotai apparently also including jumping back into the chariot after running alongside it. In these races there was a second driver who held the reins while the first driver jumped out, but of course neither of these were considered the winner.


Roman chariot racing

The Romans probably borrowed chariot racing from the Etruscans, who themselves borrowed it from the Greeks, but the Romans were also influenced directly by the Greeks especially after they conquered mainland Greece in 146 BC.


A winner of a Roman chariot race, from the

 Red team  ą


In Rome the main centre of chariot racing was the Circus Maximus in the valley between Palatine Hill and Aventine Hill, which could seat 150 000 people. The Circus probably dated back to the time of the Etruscans, but it was rebuilt by Julius Caesar around 50 BC so that it had a length of about 600 metres and a width of about 225 metres. One end of the track was more open than the other, as this was where the chariots lined up to begin the race. The Romans used a series of gates known as carceres, an equivalent to the Greek hysplex. These were staggered in the same way as the hysplex, but they were slightly different because Roman racing tracks also had a median (the spina) in the centre of the track. The starting positions had to be lined up on one side of the spina, rather than across the entire track as they were in Greece. When the chariots were lined up the emperor (or whoever was hosting the races, if they were not in Rome) dropped a cloth known as a mappa, signalling the beginning of the race.


Once the race had begun, the chariots could move in front of each other in an attempt to cause their opponents to crash into the spina. The spina had "eggs", similar to the "dolphins" of the Greek races, which may have dropped into a channel of water that ran along the top of the spina to signify the number of laps remaining. The spina eventually became very elaborate, with statues and obelisks and other forms of art, so that the spectators often could not see the chariots on the other side (but they seem to have thought this was more suspenseful and exciting). At either end of the spina there were turning posts (metae), and spectacular crashes took place there as well, as in the Greek races. Crashes in which the chariot was destroyed and the charioteer and horses incapacitated were known as a naufragium, also the Latin word for a shipwreck.


The race itself was much like its Greek counterpart, although there were eventually dozens of races every day, sometimes for hundreds of consecutive days each year. However, a race consisted of only 7 laps (and later 5 laps, so that there could be even more races per day), instead of the 12 laps of the Greek race. There were four-horse chariots (quadrigae) and two-horse chariots (bigae), but the four-horse races were more important. In rare cases, if a driver wanted to show off his skill, he could use up to 10 horses, although this was extremely impractical. The Roman drivers also wore helmets and other protective gear, unlike the Greeks, and they wrapped the reins around their arms, while the Greeks held the reins in their hands. Because of this the Romans had a much harder time letting go of the reins after a crash, so they could be dragged around the circus until they freed themselves. They carried knives to cut the reins in such a situation. A famous attempt to reconstruct a Roman chariot race can be seen in the 1959 movie Ben-Hur.


Another important difference was that the charioteers themselves, the aurigae, were considered to be the winners, although they were usually also slaves (as in the Greek world). They received a wreath of laurel leaves, and probably some money; if they won enough races they could buy their freedom. Drivers could become celebrities throughout the Empire simply by surviving, as the life expectancy of a charioteer was not very high. One such celebrity driver was Scorpus, who won over 2000 races before being killed in a collision at the meta when he was about 27 years old. The horses, too, could become celebrities, but their life expectancy was also low. The Romans kept detailed statistics of the names, breeds, and pedigrees of famous horses.


Seats in the Circus were free for the poor, who by the time of the Empire had little else to do, as they were no longer involved in political or military affairs as they had been in the Republic. The wealthy could pay for shaded seats where they had a better view, and they probably also spent much of their times betting on the races. The emperor's palace was located close to the Hippodrome, and he would often watch the games as well. This was one of the only opportunities for the general population to view their leader. Julius Caesar frequently watched the races specifically so that the public could see him, although he apparently was not very interested as he usually brought something to read.


Nero was interested in the races almost to the exclusion of everything else. He was a driver himself, and won the chariot racing event at the Olympic Games, which were still being held in the Roman era. Under Nero the major racing factions began to develop. The four most important factions were the Reds, Blues, Greens, and Whites. They had existed before Nero, probably as friends and patrons of the various stables that produced the racehorses. Nero, however, subsidized them so that they grew almost beyond his control. Each team could have up to three chariots each in a race. Members of the same team often collaborated with each other against the other teams, for example to force them to crash into the spina (a legal and encouraged tactic). Drivers could switch teams, much like athletes can be traded to different teams today. Domitian created two new factions, the Purples and Golds, but by the 3rd century only the Blues and Greens had any importance.


There were many other circuses throughout the Roman Empire; there was even another major circus outside Rome, the Circus Maxentius. There were major circuses at Alexandria and Antioch, and Herod the Great built four circuses in Judaea. In the 4th century Constantine the Great built a circus in his new capital at Constantinople.


Byzantine chariot racing

Like many other aspects of the Roman world, chariot racing continued in the Byzantine Empire, although the Byzantines did not keep as many records and statistics as the Romans did. Constantine preferred chariot racing to gladiatorial combat, which he considered a vestige of paganism. The Olympic Games were disbanded by the later Christian emperors, but chariot racing continued to be popular. The Hippodrome of Constantinople (really a Roman circus, not the open space that the original Greek hippodromes were) was connected to the emperor's palace and the Church of Hagia Sophia, allowing spectators to view the emperor as they had in Rome.


ß The bronze horses

 from  the Hippodrome

are now in Venice.


There is not much evidence that the chariot races were subject to bribes or other forms of cheating in the Roman Empire. In the Byzantine Empire there seems to have been more cheating; Justinian I's reformed legal code prohibits drivers from placing curses on their opponents, but otherwise there does not seem to have been any mechanical tampering or bribery.


Chariot racing in the Byzantine Empire also included the Roman racing clubs, but by this time only the Blues and Greens were important. One of the most famous charioteers, Porphyrius, was a member of both the Blues and the Greens at various times in 5th century. However, they were now more than simply sports teams. They gained influence in military, political, and theological matters, with, for example, the Blues tending towards Monophysitism and the Greens remaining Orthodox. They also developed in something like street gangs, responsible for robberies and murders. Although they had rioted as far back as the reign of Nero, the rioting throughout the 5th century and into the 6th century culminated in the Nika riots of 532 during the reign of Justinian, which began when some of their members were arrested for murder. Chariot racing seems to have declined after this incident, but they had in any case become much too expensive for the racing teams, or even the emperors, to pay for.


The Hippodrome in Constantinople remained a sanctuary for the emperors, until it was sacked during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. During the looting, the Crusaders removed a set of bronze statues of four horses, originally part of a monument depicting a quadrigae that was built by Constantine the Great. The horses still exist, but they are now at St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice.




Š               Boren, Henry C. Roman Society. Lexington: D.C. Heath and Company, 1992. ISBN 0-699-17801-2


Š               Finley, M. I. The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years. New York: Viking press, 1976. ISBN 0-760-52406-9


Š               Harris, H. A. Sport in Ancient Greece and Rome. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972. ISBN 0-8014-0718-4


Š               Homer. The Iliad (trans. by E. V. Rieu). London: Penguin Classics, 2003. ISBN 0-140-44794-6


Š               Humphrey, John, "Roman Circuses: Arenas for Chariot Racing". Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. ISBN: 0-5200-4921-7


Š               Jackson, Ralph. Gladiators and Caesars: The Power of Spectacle in Ancient Rome. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. ISBN 0-520-22798-0


Š               Treadgold, Warren T. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8047-2630-2




A Funny Thing Happened

on the Way to the Forum


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart.

Based on the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus, it tells the story of a slave named Pseudolus and his attempts to win his freedom by encouraging the romance between his master's son Hero and a young virgin named Philia, owned by Marcus Lycus, a dealer in courtesans, and promised to swaggering soldier Miles Gloriosus. The humor is broad, bawdy and fast-paced.


Original Broadway Production

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum opened on Broadway May 8, 1962 at the Alvin Theatre. Directed by Broadway legend George Abbott and produced by Harold Prince, it was a smash, running 964 performances.

The show's creators originally wanted Phil Silvers in the lead role of Pseudolus, but he turned them down. So did Milton Berle. Eventually, Zero Mostel was cast.

The production was in trouble out of town. Director Abbott tried various fixes, including simplifying the complex plot, but nothing worked. Famed director Jerome Robbins, who idolized Abbott, and who had originally promised to direct the production before dropping out, was called in to make changes. Robbins had "named names" during the McCarthy era, and some feared he and the formerly blacklisted Mostel would clash, but they worked together well enough to turn the show around. (They soon worked again on Fiddler On The Roof.)

The biggest change Robbins demanded was a new opening number to introduce the bawdy, wild comedy. Stephen Sondheim complied, creating the famous song "Comedy Tonight." From then on, the show was a success.

Along with Mostel, the show featured a cast of seasoned performers, including Jack Gilford (Mostel's friend and fellow blacklist member), David Burns, John Carradine, Ruth Kobart and Raymond Walburn. The young lovers were played by Brian Davies and Preshy Marker

. Karen Black was originally cast as the ingenue but was replaced out of town.

The show won several Tony Awards: best musical, best actor, best supporting actor (Burns), best book and best director. The score, Sondheim's first time on Broadway writing both words and music, was coolly received, however, not even garnering a nomination.


Motion Picture

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was made into a film in 1966, directed by Richard Lester, with Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford recreating their stage roles. It also features the great--if ailing--clown Buster Keaton and the man who turned down the lead in the Broadway production, Phil Silvers. Also appearing are Lester favorites Michael Crawford, Michael Hordern and Roy Kinnear.

The script was adapted for the screen by Melvin Frank and Michael Pertwee. It rearranges the plot and cuts most of the songs. The movie was not well-received when first released, but has since acquired a cult following.


Broadway Revivals

In 1972 there was a critically well-received Broadway revival, directed by co-author Burt Shevelove and finally starring Phil Silvers (see above). Larry Blyden, who played Hysterium, the role created by Jack Gilford, also helped produce. Two songs were dropped from the show, and two new Sondheim songs were added.

The production ran 156 performances, but had to close soon after Phil Silvers suffered a stroke. The show won Tonys for Silvers and Blyden.

The musical was also revived with great success in 1996, starring Nathan Lane as Pseudolus, who was replaced later in the run by Whoopi Goldberg and also by David Alan Grier. The production, directed by Jerry Zaks, ran 715 performances. Lane won the Best Actor Tony for his work.

It's remarkable that every actor who has opened in the role of Pseudolus on Broadway--Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers and Nathan Lane--won a Best Actor Tony. In addition, Jason Alexander, who performed as Pseudolus in Jerome Robbins' Broadway, also won a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical.


West End Productions

The show was presented thrice in London's West End. The 1963 production and its 1986 revival were staged at the Strand Theatre and the Piccadilly Theatre respectively, and featured Frankie Howerd starring as Pseudolus. In 2004 there was a limited-run revival at the Royal National Theatre starring Desmond Barrit as Pseudolus, Philip Quast as Miles Gloriosus and Isla Blair as Domina. (Incidentally, Isla Blair played Philia in the 1963 production.)



Š      Pseudolus – A Roman slave, owned by Hero, who seeks to win his freedom by helping his young master win the heart of Philia, who is a virgin in the house of Marcus Lycus.

Š      Hero – Young son of Senex who falls in love with the virgin, Philia.

Š      Philia – A virgin in the house of Marcus Lycus, and Hero's love interest.

Š      Senex – A Roman Senator living in a less fashionable suburb of Rome.

Š      Marcus Lycus – A purveyor of courtesans, who operates from the house to the left of Senex.

Š      Domina – The wife of Senex. A manipulative shrewish woman whom is loathed by even her husband.

Š      Erronius – The elderly neighbor to the right of Senex who is searching for his two children, kidnapped in infancy by pirates.

Š      Gymnasia – A mute courtesan from the house of Lycus, for whom Pseudolus falls. (she is mute only in the film).

Š      Miles Gloriosus – A conceited captain in the Roman army.

Š      Hysterium – The chief slave in the house of Senex.

Š      Fertilla the Populator – A female "Breeding Slave" (film only).

Š      Crassus – A merchant at the docks (film only).

Š      Tintinabula – A courtesan in the house of Lycus.

Š      Vibrata – A courtesan in the house of Lycus.

Š      Geminae – Twin courtesans in the house of Lycus.

Š      Panacea – A courtesan in the house of Lycus.

Š      Domina's Mother – Senex's whip-wielding mother-in-law (talked of in the play but seen only in the film).




[tkw note:  The image is not at all contemporary with Plautus and bears no necessary  similarity to how he really looked.}


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Although we cannot verify much about Plautus’ early life, we have certain ideas. It is believed that Titus Macchius Plautus was born in Sarsina (a city in Umbria) around 254 B.C. According to Morris Marples, in the early years of Plautus’ life he worked as a stage-carpenter or scene-shifter.[1] This might have been where his love of the theater originated. After having worked in the theater, his talent as an actor was eventually discovered, and he adopted the names 'Macchius' (a clownish stock-character in popular farces), and 'Plautus' (a term meaning "flat-footed"). Tradition also says that he eventually made enough money to go into the shipping business, but that the venture collapsed. He then is said to have worked as a manual laborer and studied Greek drama – particularly the New Comedy of Menander – in his spare time. His studies led to the production of his plays, which were first produced between c.205 BC and 184 BC. Plautus attained such popularity, that solely his name was a guarantee of theatrical success.


Plautus' comedies, which are among the earliest surviving intact works in Latin literature, are mostly adaptations of Greek models for a Roman audience and are often directly based on the works of the Greek playwrights. (Some might more properly be called 'adaptations') His works include Stichus, Pseudolus, Amphitruo, Asinaria, Aulularia, Bacchides, Captivi, Casina, Cistellaria, Curculio, Epidicus, Menaechmi, Mercator, Miles Gloriosus, Mostellaria, Persa, Poenulus, Rudens, Trinummus, Truculentus, and Vidularia.  [tkw note:  The Funny Thing action is drawn from incidents in three of these plays:  Pseudolus, Miles Gloriosus, and Mostellaria (Haunted House).]


Historical Context


The historical context within which Plautus wrote to some extent dictated the nature of his plays, in that there are certain ways in which Plautus comments on contemporary events and people. Plautus was a popular comedic playwright while Roman theater was still in its infancy, still feeling the birth pangs of theatrical evolution. Simultaneously, the Roman Republic was expanding its sphere of influence and control.


 Plautus and the Gods of Roman Society

H.M. Tolliver discusses the state gods of Rome and their importance as seen in the Plautine Theater. These gods were an important part of everyday life to the Romans of Plautus’ time and a citizen had a duty to his state to worship them. Tolliver tells us that the gods were not exactly like our contemporary gods. They were worshipped but also stood as a national symbol, somewhat like our flag of today. State religion also served as a political tool. If the gods supported a corrupt leader, then the people should too. Plautus is sometimes accused of teaching the public indifference and mockery of the gods. Any character in his plays could be compared to a god. Whether to honor a character or to mock him, these references were demeaning to the gods. These references to the gods include characters comparing a mortal woman to a god or saying he would rather be loved by a woman than the gods. Pyrgopolynices from Miles Gloriosus (vs. 1265) to brag about his long life says he was born one day later than Jupiter. In Pseudolus, Jupiter is compared to the Ballio the pimp. It is not uncommon too for a character to scorn the gods as seen in Poenulus and Rudens. However, when a character scorns a god, it is usually a character of low standing such as a pimp. Plautus perhaps does this to further demoralize the characters. The audience is not supposed to love the pimp, so by making the pimp do sometime against the proper conventions of society, the audience will dislike the character even more. Tolliver also relates the ways in which the gods are referenced to by the stock characters. Soldiers often bring ridicule among the gods. The young men, meant to represent the upper social class, often belittle the gods in their remarks. The parasites, pimps, and courtesans often praise the gods with scant ceremony. Tolliver goes on to argue that drama both reflects and foreshadows social change. There was most likely already much skepticism about the gods during Plautus’ era. Plautus did not make up or encourage irreverence to the gods, but reflected ideas of his time. Some of Plautus’ often religious beliefs may have come out in his works, but the state controlled stage productions, and Plautus’ plays would have been banned had they been too risqué.[2]


 Gnaeus Naevius

Gnaeus Naevius, another Roman playwright of the late third century B.C.E., wrote tragedies and even founded the fabula praetexta (history plays), in which he dramatized historical events. He is known to have fought in the First Punic War and his birth, therefore, is placed around the year 280 B.C.E.[3] His first tragedy took place in 235 B.C.E. Plautus would have been living at the exact time as Naevius, but began writing later.[4] Naevius is most famous for having been imprisoned by the Metelli and the Scipios – two powerful families of the late third century. The Metelli and Scipios were bitter rivals of Naevius’ patron, Marcus Claudius Marcellus. Marcellus was the head of the family, the Marcelli, who were also one of the most powerful families in Rome.[5] Naevius was caught between this rivalry and was “the victim of punishment (including incarceration) inflicted by the chief men of the state (principes civitatis, nobiles) for his attacks upon them.”[6] According to A.J. Boyle, there is a reference in Plautus’ Miles Gloriosus to a “foreign poet,” showing that poets might have been “imprisoned for unbridled speech.” Naevius’ imprisonment and eventual exile is a case of state censorship that may have been a factor in Plautus’ writing. Naevius was being exiled when Plautus was writing and this must have had an effect on what Plautus chose to speak about in his plays.


 The Second Punic War, The Macedonian War and their Influence on Plautus’ Plays

The Second Punic War, which occurred from 218-202 B.C.E. was the second engagement that Rome had with Carthaginian forces, especially Hannibal. M. Leigh has devoted an extensive chapter about Plautus and Hannibal in his recent book, Comedy and the Rise of Rome. He says that, “the plays themselves contain occasional references to the fact that the state is at arms...”[7] One good example is a piece of verse from the Miles Gloriosus, the composition date of which is not clear but often placed in the last decade of the 3rd century B.C.[8] A. F. West believes that this is inserted commentary on the Second Punic War. In his article, “On a Patriotic Passage in the Miles Gloriosus of Plautus,” he states that the war “engrossed the Romans more than all other public interests combined.”[9] The passage seems intended to rile up the audience, beginning with hostis tibi adesse or, “the foe is near at hand.”[10] At the time, the general Scipio Africanus was requesting to go out against Hannibal, a plan “strongly favored by the plebs.”[11] Plautus apparently pushes for the plan to be approved by the senate, working his audience up with the thought of an enemy in close proximity and a call to outmaneuver him. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that Plautus, according to P.B. Harvey, was “willing to insert [into his plays] highly specific allusions comprehensible to the audience.”[12] M. Leigh writes in his chapter on Plautus and Hannibal that, “the Plautus who emerges from this investigation is one whose comedies persistently touch the rawest nerves in the audience for whom he writes.”[13] Later, coming of the heels of the conflict with Hannibal, Rome was preparing to embark on another military mission, this time in Greece. While they would eventually move on Philip V in the Second Macedonian War, there was considerable debate beforehand about the course Rome should take in this conflict. In the article “Bellum Philippicum: Some Roman and Greek Views Concerning the Causes of the Second Macedonian War,” E.J. Bickerman writes that “the causes of the fateful war…were vividly debated among both Greeks and Romans.”[14] Under the guise of protecting allies, Bickerman tells us, Rome was actually looking to expand its power and control eastward now that the Second Punic War was ended.[15] But starting this war would not be an easy task considering those recent struggles with Carthage – many Romans were tired of conflict to think of embarking on another campaign. As W.M. Owens writes in his article, “Plautus’ Stichus and the Political Crisis of 200 B.C.,” “there is evidence that antiwar feeling ran deep and persisted even after the war was approved."[16] Owens contends that Plautus was attempting to match the complex mood of the Roman audience riding the victory of the Second Punic War but facing the beginning of a new conflict.[17] For instance, the characters of the dutiful daughters and their father seem obsessed over the idea of “officium,” the duty one has to do what is right. Their speech is littered with words such as “pietas” and “aequus,” and they struggle to make their father fulfill his proper role.[18] The stock parasite in this play, Gelasimus, has a patron client relationship with this family and offers to do any job in order to make ends meat; Owens puts forward that Plautus is portraying the economic hardship many Roman citizens were experiencing as a result of the cost of war.[19] With the repetition of responsibility to the desperation of the lower class, Plautus establishes himself firmly on the side of the average Roman citizen. While he makes no specific reference to the possible war with Greece or the previous war (that might be too dangerous), he does seem to push the message that the government should take care of its own people before attempting any other military actions. Plautus was notably influenced by the political events of his time and thus gives modern readers a greater insight into the politics of the ancient world and how an average Roman citizen living during his time might have viewed those events and the attitudes they might have possessed as a result.


 Greek Influence

The influence of Greek playwrights is obvious when looking at the texts of the plays of Plautus. In the delayed prologue of the Miles Gloriosus, Palaestrio quite clearly states that, “Alazon Graece huic nomen est comoediae, / id nos Latine ‘gloriosum’ dicimus. hoc oppidum Ephesust.”[20] So, from the outset, though the opening is delayed a bit, the audience, if they were not already aware, find out that the play’s origin and setting are Greek. Added to this, and just as telling, is the overt use of Greek names and language. Though the Greek influence is quite evident, Plautus’ plays are in no way Greek plays. Greek influence only penetrates the texts of Plautus’ plays superficially, i.e., names, language, setting, and plot outline. Everything that comes in between these things is Roman.


 Plautus’ Influences: Greek Comedy, Menander, and Aristophanes


 Greek Old Comedy

In order to understand the Greek New Comedy of Menander and its’ similarities to Plautus, it is necessary to discuss, in juxtaposition with it, the idea of Greek Old Comedy and its’ evolution into New Comedy. The ancient Greek playwright that best embodies Old Comedy is Aristophanes. Aristophanes, a playwright of 5th century Athens, wrote such plays as The Wasps, The Birds and The Clouds. Each of these plays and the others that Aristophanes wrote are known for their critical political and societal commentary.[21] This is the main component of Old Comedy. It is extremely conscious of the world in which it functions and analyzes that world accordingly. Comedy and theater were the political commentary of the time – the public conscience. In Aristophanes’ The Wasps, the playwright’s commentary is unexpectedly blunt and forward. For example, he names his two main characters “Philocleon” and “Bdelycleon,” which mean “pro-Cleon” and “anti-Cleon,” respectively. Simply the names of the characters in this particular play of Aristophanes make a political statement. Cleon was a major political figure of the time and through the actions of the characters about which he writes Aristophanes is able to freely criticize the actions of this prominent politician in public and through his comedy.


 Greek New Comedy

Greek New Comedy differs greatly from those plays of Aristophanes. The most notable difference, according to Dana F. Sutton is that New Comedy, in comparison to Old Comedy, is “devoid of an serious political, social or intellectual content” and “could be performed in any number of social and political settings without risk of giving offense.”[22] The risk-taking for which Aristophanes is known is noticeably lacking in the New Comedy plays of Menander. Instead, there is much more of a focus on the home and the family unit – something that the Romans, including Plautus, could easily understand and adopt for themselves later in history.


 Father-Son Relationships in Greek New Comedy and Plautus

One main theme of Greek New Comedy is the father-son relationship. For example, in Menander’s Dis Exapaton there is a focus on the betrayal between age groups and friends. The father-son relationship is very strong and the son remains loyal to the father. The relationship is always a focus, even if it’s not the focus of every action taken by the main characters. In Plautus, on the other hand, the focus is still on the relationship between father and son, but we see betrayal between the two men that wasn’t seen in Menander. There is a focus on the proper conduct between a father and son that, apparently, was so important to Roman society at the time of Plautus.

This becomes the main difference and, also, similarity between Menander and Plautus. They both address “situations that tend to develop in the bosom of the family.”[23] Both authors, through their plays, reflect a patriarchal society in which the father-son relationship is essential to proper function and development of the household.[24] It is no longer a political statement, as in Old Comedy, but a statement about household relations and proper behavior between a father and his son. But the attitudes on these relationships seem much different – a reflection of how the worlds of Menander and Plautus differed.



There are differences not just in how the father-son relationship is presented, but also in the way in which Menander and Plautus write their poetry. William S. Anderson discusses the believability of Menander versus the believability of Plautus and, in essence, says that Plautus’ plays are much less believable than those plays of Menander because they seem to be such a farce in comparison. He addresses them as a reflection of Menander with some of Plautus’ own contributions. Anderson claims that there is unevenness in the poetry of Plautus that results in “incredulity and refusal of sympathy of the audience.”[25] This might be a reflection of an idea that the Romans were less sensitive to catering to the audience’s artistic sensibilities and more to their hunger for pure entertainment.



The poetry of Menander and Plautus is best juxtaposed within the context of the prologues. Robert B. Lloyd makes the point that “albeit the two prologues introduce plays whose plots are of essentially different types, they are almost identical in form…”[26] He goes on to address the specific style of Plautus that differs so greatly from Menander. He says that the “verbosity of the Plautine prologues has often been commented upon and generally excused by the necessity of the Roman playwright to win his audience.”[27] However, in both Menander and Plautus, word play is essential to their comedy. Plautus might seem more verbose, but where he lacks in physical comedy he makes up for it with words, alliteration and paronomasia (punning).[28]

Plautus is well known for his devotion to puns, especially when it comes to the names of his characters. In Miles Gloriosus, for instance, the female concubine’s name, Philocomasium, translates to “lover of a good party” – which is quite apt when we learn about the tricks and wild ways of this prostitute.



Plautus’ characters – many of which seem to crop up in quite a few of his plays – also came from Greek stock, though they too received some Plautine innovations. Indeed, since Plautus was adapting these plays it would be difficult not to have the same kinds of characters – roles such as slaves, concubines, soldiers, and old men. By working with the characters that were already there but injecting his own creativity, as J.C.B. Lowe wrote in his article “Aspects of Plautus’ Originality in the Asinaria,” “Plautus could substantially modify the characterization, and thus the whole emphasis of a play”[29]


 The Clever Slave

One of the best examples of this method is the Plautine slave, a form that plays a major role in quite a few of Plautus’ works. The “clever slave” in particular is a very strong character; he not only provides exposition and humor, but also often drives the plot in Plautus’ plays. C. Stace argues that Plautus took the stock slave character from New Comedy in Greece and altered it for his own purposes. What Stace argues gives us both evidence of Plautus’ creativity and his Greek source material. In New Comedy, he writes, “the slave is often not much more than a comedic turn, with the added purpose, perhaps, of exposition.”[30] This shows that there was precedent for this slave archetype, and obviously some of its old role continues in Plautus (the expository monologues, for instance). However, because Plautus found humor in slaves tricking their masters or comparing themselves to great heroes, he took the character a step further and created something very distinct.[31]


 Understanding of Greek By Plautus’ Audience

Philocomasium’s name is not the only character of Plautus’ whose name has Greek origins. In fact, of the approximate 270 proper names in the surviving plays of Plautus, about 250 names, are Greek.”[32] William M. Seaman proposes that these Greek names would have delivered a comic punch to the audience because of their already basic understanding of the Greek language.[33] This previous understanding of Greek language, Seaman suggests, comes from the “experience of Roman soldiers during the first and second Punic wars. Not only did men billeted in Greek areas have opportunity to learn sufficient Greek for the purpose of everyday conversation, but they were also able to see plays in the foreign tongue.”[34] Having an audience with knowledge of the Greek language, whether a limited knowledge or a more expanded one, allowed Plautus more freedom to use Greek references and words. Also, by using his many Greek references and showing that his plays were originally Greek, “It is possible that Plautus was in a way a teacher of Greek literature, myth, art and philosophy; so too was he teaching something of the nature of Greek words to people, who, like himself, had recently come into closer contact with that foreign tongue and all its riches.”[35]


These superficially Greek, yet Roman plays make a great deal of sense. At the time of the plays Rome is expanding, and having much success in Greece. W.S. Anderson has commented that Plautus, “is using and abusing Greek comedy to imply the superiority of Rome, in all its crude vitality, over the Greek world, which was now the political dependent of Rome, whose effete comic plots helped explain why the Greeks proved inadequate in the real world of the third and second centuries, in which the Romans exercised mastery.[36] They are in fact colonizing the region, which is a shadow of what it once was. Plautus was known for his adaptations of Greek originals but, his plays are much more authentic than just adaptations. Plautus was not merely imitating his Greek forefathers he was distorting the plays that he had in mind.


 Plautus: Copycat or Creative Playwright?

Plautus was known for the use of Greek style in his plays. However, this has been a point of contention among modern scholars. One argument states that Plautus writes with originality and creativity – the other, that Plautus is a copycat of Greek New Comedy and that he makes no original contribution to playwriting. However, the reality lies in the middle of these two arguments. Plautus writes with a remarkable amount of creativity. However, he was influenced greatly by the Greek New Comedy playwrights of the past – particularly Menander.


A single reading of the Miles Gloriosus leaves the reader with the notion that the names, place, and play is Greek, but one must look beyond these superficial interpretations. Then again, W.S. Anderson would steer any reader away from the idea that Plautus’ plays are somehow not his own or at least only his interpretation. Anderson says that, “Plautus homogenizes all the plays as vehicles for his special exploitation. Against the spirit of the Greek original, he engineers events at the end... or alter[s] the situation to fit his expectations.”[37] Anderson’s vehement reaction to the co-opting of Greek plays by Plautus seems to suggest that they are in no way like their originals were. It seems more likely that Plautus was just experimenting putting Roman ideas in Greek forms.


Greece and Rome, although always put into the same category, were entirely different worlds with entirely differently paradigms and ways-of-life. W. Geoffrey Arnott says that “we see that a set of formulae [used in the plays] concerned with characterization, motif, and situation has been applied to two dramatic situations which possess in themselves just as many difference as they do similarities.”[38] It is important to compare the two authors and the remarkable similarities between them because it is essential in understanding Plautus. He writes about Greeks like a Greek. However, it is also important to note that Plautus and the writers of Greek New Comedy, such as Menander, were writing in two completely different contexts.



One idea that is important to recognize is that of contaminatio, which refers to the mixing of elements of two or more source plays. Plautus, it seems, is quite open to this method of adaptation, and quite a few of his plots seem stitched together from different stories. One excellent example is his Bacchides and its supposed Greek predecessor, Menander’s Dis Exapaton. The original Greek title translates as “The Man Deceiving Twice,” yet the Plautine version has three tricks. However Plautus might have expanded himself upon the original plot in order to make a statement about Roman culture versus Greek culture – the possibility of another Greek play which happens to fit the space left by Dis Exapaton seems too improbable.[39] V. Castellani commented that:


Plautus’ attack on the genre whose material he pirated was, as already stated, fourfold. He deconstructed many of the Greek plays’ finely constructed plots; he reduced some, exaggerated others of the nicely drawn characters of Menander and of Menander’s contemporaries and followers into caricatures; he substituted for or superimposed upon the elegant humor of his models his own more vigorous, more simply ridiculous foolery in action, in statement, even in language. [40]


By exploring ideas about Roman loyalty, Greek deceit, and differences in ethnicity, “Plautus in a sense surpassed his model.”[41] He was not content to rest solely on a loyal adaptation that, while amusing, was not new or engaging for Rome. Plautus took what he found but again made sure to expand, subtract, and modify. In “Criteria of Originality in Plautus,”[42] Henry Prescott writes that many of the allusions to the Greek culture “come, not from the Greek originals, but from the mind and fancy of the Roman Poet himself.” While Plautus changes much of what he found in the older comedies, he didn’t throw all Greek aspects out the window – he, and his audience, were familiar enough with Greek culture that they could appreciate such jokes. He clearly saw something in those plays that made him leave such a strong Greek air in his adaptations. It seems to be the consensus of at least some scholars that Plautus is influenced by the Greeks only insofar as he needed to when devising his plays during the infancy of Roman comedy. He seems to have followed the same path that Horace did, though Horace is much later, in that he is putting Roman ideas in Greek forms. He is not only imitating the Greeks, but he is in fact distorting, cutting up, and transforming the plays into something entirely Roman. In essence it is Greek theater colonized by Rome and its playwrights.



In Ancient Greece during the time of New Comedy, from which Plautus drew so much of his inspiration, there were permanent theaters that catered to the audience as well as the actor. The greatest playwrights of the day had quality facilities in which to present their work and, in a general sense, there was always enough public support to keep the theater running and successful. However, this was not the case in Rome during the time of the Republic when Plautus would have been writing his plays. Though the debate about this topic has sometimes been hindered by a lack of evidence, scholars have illuminated parts this field, and thus facilitated further research of the subject. What they have found is that while there was public support for theater and people came to enjoy tragedy and comedy alike, there was a notable lack of governmental support. The result was that there was not a permanent theater until Pompey dedicated the first one in 55 B.C.E in the Campus Martius.[43] The lack of a permanent space was extremely influential, and it gives us great insight if we are exploring the history of Roman theater and its ramifications on Plautine stagecraft.


The question of why there were no permanent theaters in Rome until 55 B.C.E. is a puzzling question for contemporary scholars of Roman drama. In their introduction to the Miles Gloriosus, Hammond, Mack and Moskalew say that, “the Romans were acquainted with the Greek stone theater, but, because they believed drama to be a demoralizing influence, they had a strong aversion to the erection of permanent theaters.”[44] This worry rings true when considering the subject matter of Plautus’ plays. The unreal becomes reality on stage in his work. T.J. Moore notes that, “all distinction between the play, production, and ‘real life’ has been obliterated [Plautus’ play Curculio]”.[45] This must have been a concern for any upstanding citizen, and so a place where social norms were upended could not become an institution lest bad, or at least inappropriate, behavior be reinforced. Obviously the aristocracy was afraid of the power of the theater. They wished to assert control over the medium and went about doing so by making it impermanent. It would have been merely by their good graces and unlimited resources that a temporary stage would have been built during specific festivals.


 The Importance of the Ludi

Roman drama, specifically Plautine comedy, was acted out on stage during the ludi or festival games. These plays were acted out during the day on wooden stages. Some were more important to drama - for instance, in his discussion of the importance of the ludi Megalenses in early Roman theater, John Arthur Hanson says that this particular festival “provided more days for dramatic representations than any of the other regular festivals, and it is in connection with these ludi that the most definite and secure literary evidence for the site of scenic games has come down to us.”[46] Because the ludi were religious in nature, it was appropriate for the Romans to set up this temporary stage close to the temple of the deity being celebrated. S.M. Goldberg notes that, “ludi were generally held within the precinct of the particular god being honored”.[47] But that information only tells us the where and the when. While there has been much debate about for whom these plays were performed, it is clear that certain members of the audience had their own special realms around the stage. T.J. Moore notes that, “seating in the temporary theaters where Plautus’ plays were first performed was often insufficient for all those who wished to see the play, that the primary criterion for determining who was to stand and who could sit was social status”.[48] This is not to say that the lower classes did not see the plays, but simply means that they probably had to stand while watching it. So these plays were performed in public for the public with the most prominent members of the society in the forefront.


As noted above, in the place of these familiar permanent theaters of the late Republic and Roman Empire, Plautus used temporary wooden stages, set up by the aristocracy that provided a performance space for the actors. These wooden structures were shallow and long with three openings in respect to the scene-house - because of the time-constraint on the building process, the stages were significantly smaller than any Greek structure that is familiar to modern scholars. The time limits existed because while the plays were performed during these festivals many other events took place that needed their own space as well. Because theater was not seen as the priority, the structures were built and dismantled within a day. Even more practically, they were dismantled quickly because of the fire-hazard in ancient Rome.[49]


 Geography of the Stage

Often the geography of the stage and more importantly the play matched the geography of the city so that the audience would be well oriented to the locale of the play. Moore says that, “references to Roman locales must have been stunning for they are not merely references to things Roman, but the most blatant possible reminders that the production occurs in the city of Rome.”[50] So, Plautus seems to have choreographed his plays somewhat true-to-life. To do this, he needed his characters to exit and enter to or from whatever area their social standing would befit.

Character and social standing are of the utmost importance when trying to figure out the puzzle that is Plautine stagecraft and stage-space. Two scholars, V.J. Rosivach and N.E. Andrews, have made interesting observations about stagecraft in Plautus: V.J. Rosivach writes about identifying the side of the stage with both social status and geography. He says that, for example, “the house of the medicus lies offstage to the right. It would be in the forum or thereabouts that one would expect to find a medicus.”[51] Moreover, he says that characters that oppose one another always have to exit in opposite directions. In a slightly different vein, N.E. Andrews discusses the spatial semantics of Plautus; he has observed that even the different spaces of the stage are thematically charged. He states:


Plautus’ Casina employs these conventional tragic correlations between male/outside and female/inside, but then inverts them in order to establish an even more complex relationship among genre, gender and dramatic space. In the Casina, the struggle for control between men and women... is articulated by characters’ efforts to control stage movement into and out of the house.



So while it seems that there is a place for everyone in the plays of Plautus, no one stays in their place. And what clues us in to these specified realms is the way that the spaces are transgressed.


Andrews makes note of the fact that power struggle in the Casina is evident in the verbal comings and goings. In fact the words of action and the way that they are said are quite important to stagecraft. The words denoting direction or action such as abeo (“I go off”), transeo (“I go over”), fores crepuerunt (“the doors creak”), or intus (“inside”), which signal any character’s departure or entrance, are standard in the dialogue of Plautus’ plays. These verbs of motion or phrases can be taken as Plautine stage direction since no overt stage directions are apparent. Often, though, in these interchanges of characters, in Plautine adaptations of Greek originals, there occurs the need to move on to the next act. Plautus then might use what is known as a “cover monologue”. About this S.M. Goldberg notes that, “it marks the passage of time less by its length than by its direct and immediate address to the audience and by its switch from senarii in the dialogue to iambic septenarii. The resulting shift of mood distracts and distorts our sense of passing time.”[53] And so one method Plautus used to stage the play within the text was to change the meter and type of speech, which clued in the audience to the coming of the next act.


 Relationship with the Audience

The small stages had a significant effect on the stagecraft of ancient Roman theater. Because of this limited space, there was also limited movement. Greek theater allowed for grand gestures and extensive action to reach the audience members who were in the very back of the theater. However the Romans would have had to depend more on their voices than large physicality. There was not an orchestra available like there was for the Greeks and this is reflected in the notable lack of a chorus in Roman drama. The replacement character that acts as the chorus would in Greek drama is often called the “prologue.”[54]

Goldberg says that, “these changes fostered a different relationship between actors and the space in which they performed and also between them and their audiences.”[55] Actors were thrust into much closer audience interaction. Because of this, a certain acting style became required that is more familiar to modern audiences. Because they would have been in such close proximity to the actors, ancient Roman audiences would have wanted attention and direct acknowledgement form the actors.[56]


That relationship between the actor and his audience was a very important one. Not only was the job of the actor in relation to the audience closer than it had ever been, but the relation of the audience to the stage was much closer. Because there was no orchestra, there was no space separating the audience from the stage. The audience could stand directly in front of the elevated wooden platform. This gave them the opportunity to look at the actors from a much different perspective. They would have seen every detail of the actor and hear every word he said. The audience member would have wanted that actor to speak directly to them. It was a part of the thrill, and, to this day, is still a thrill for audiences enjoying comedy or any type of theater. [57]


Plautine stagecraft is a lot more than just stage directions, theater mechanisms and costumes. Most of what we consider traditional stagecraft is still slightly mysterious with respect to Roman drama. The impermanence of early Roman theater undoubtedly affected what theater meant to Plautus’ society - it was something that had not reached the mainstream in the way that we think of mainstream today. That temporary nature was, in a way, done to control the threat posed by depictions of subverted order, even in comedy, maintained by the upper class. However, it’s affect on contemporary and future theater is unmistakable and the significance of audience-actor interaction that is so essential to Renaissance theater during the time of Shakespeare is first seen in these temporary theaters. Despite its limitation, therefore, Early Roman theater was another important step in the evolution of stagecraft.


 Stock Characters

Plautus’ range of characters was created through his use of various techniques, but probably the most important is his use of stock characters and situations in his various plays. He incorporates the same stock characters constantly, especially when the character type is amusing to the audience. His devotion to comedy led him to creating characters that were as humorous as possible despite the repetition or shifts in personality. As Walter Juniper wrote, “Everything, including artistic characterization and consistency of characterization, were sacrificed to humor, and character portrayal remained only where it was necessary for the success of the plot and humor to have a persona who stayed in character, and where the persona by his portrayal contributed to humor.”[58] By sacrificing the characterization for humor’s sake, Plautus’ characters are not terribly deep, only showing the traits for their stock character type.


For example, in Miles Gloriosus, the titular “braggart soldier” Pyrgopolynices only shows his vain and immodest side in the first act, while the parasite Artotrogus exaggerates Pyrgopolynices’ achievements, creating more and more ludicrous claims that Pyrgopolynices agrees to without question. These two are perfect examples of the stock characters of the pompous soldier and the desperate parasite that appeared in Plautine comedies. In disposing of highly complex individuals, Plautus was supplying his audience with what it wanted, since “the audience to whose tastes Plautus catered was not interested in the character play,”[59] but instead, wanted the broad and accessible humor offered by stock set-ups. The humor Plautus offered, such as “puns, word plays, distortions of meaning, or other forms of verbal humor he usually puts them in the mouths of characters belonging to the lower social ranks, to whose language and position these varieties of humorous technique are most suitable,”[60] matched well with the stable of characters.


 The Clever Slave

In his article "The Intriguing Slave in Greek Comedy," Philip Harsh gives evidence to show that the clever slave is not an invention of Plautus. While previous critics such as A.W. Gomme believed that the slave was “ [a] truly comic character, the devisor of ingenious schemes, the controller of events, the commanding officer of his young master and friends, is a creation of Latin comedy,” and that Greek dramatists Menander did not use slaves in such a way that Plautus later did, Harsh refutes these beliefs by giving concrete examples of instances where a clever slave appeared in Greek comedy.[61] For instance, ion the works of Athenaeus, Alciphron, and Lucian there are deceptions that involve the aid of a slave, and in Menander’s Dis Exapaton there was an elaborate deception executed by a clever slave that Plautus mirrors in his Bacchides. Evidence of clever slaves also appears in Menander’s Thalis, Hypobolimaios, and from the papyrus fragment of his Perinthia. Harsh acknowledges that Gomme’s statement was probably made before the discovery of many of the papyri that we now have. While it was not necessarily a Roman invention, Plautus did his own style of depicting the clever slave. With larger, more active roles, more verbal exaggeration and exuberance, the slave was moved my Plautus further into the front of the action.[62] Because of the inversion of order created by a devious or witty slave, this stock character was perfect for achieving a humorous response and the traits of the character worked well for driving the plot forward.


 The Lusty Old Man

Another important Plautine stock character, discussed by K.C. Ryder, is the senex amator. A senex amator is classified as an old man who for some reason contracts a passion for a young girl and who, in varying degrees, attempts to satisfy this passion. In Plautus these men are Demaenetus (Asinaria), Philoxenus and Nicobulus (Bacchides), Demipho (Cistellaria), Lysidamus (Casina), Demipho (Mercator), and Antipho (Stichus). Periplectomenos (Miles Gloriosus) and Daemones (Rudens) are regarded as senes lepidi because they usually keep their feelings within a respectable limit. All of these characters have the same goal, to be with a younger woman, but all go about it in different ways as Plautus could not be too redundant with his characters despite their already obvious similarities. What they have in common is the ridicule with which their attempts are viewed, the imagery that suggests that they are motivated largely by animal passion, the childish behavior, and the reversion to the love-language of their youth.[63] This is a type, like the clever slave, which is fertile ground for comedy simply because of the nature of the character, and that is exactly why Plautus returned to it so many times.


 Female Characters

There is often an inconsistency when it comes to the role designations given to female characters in Plautus’ plays. To examine this it is important to understand where these role designations come from. The original manuscripts contained no prefaced list of character names as most new editions now have. Instead, the manuscripts sometimes have character names in the headings, or at other times we learn the role designation of the character through the play itself - a character will be described before entering the stage or another character will address him by name.

In examining the female role designations of Plautus, Z.M. Packman found that they are not as stable as their male counterparts: a senex will usually remain a senex for the duration of the play but designations like matrona, mulier, or uxor at times seem interchangeable. Most free adult women, married or widowed, appear in scene headings as mulier, simply translated as “woman”. But in Plautus’ Stichus the two young women are referred to as sorores, later mulieres, and then matrona, all of which have different meanings and connotations. Although there are these discrepancies, Packman tries to give a pattern to the female role designations of Plautus. Mulier is typically given to a woman of citizen class and of marriageable age or who has already been married. Unmarried citizen-class girls, regardless of sexual experience, were designated virgo. Aniclla was the term used for female household slaves, with Anus reserved for the elderly household slaves. A young woman that is unwed due to social status is usually referred to as meretrix or “courtesan.” A lena or adoptive mother maybe a woman own these girls.[64]


 Unnamed Characters

Like Packman, George Duckworth uses the scene headings in the manuscripts to support his theory about unnamed Plautine characters. There are approximately 220 characters in the 20 plays of Plautus. 30 are unnamed in both the scene headings and the text and there are about 9 characters who are named in the ancient text but not in any modern one. This means that about 18% of the total number of characters in Plautus is nameless. Most of the very important characters have names while most of the number of unnamed characters are of less importance. However there are some abnormalities - the main character in Casina is not mentioned by name anywhere in the text. In other instances, meanwhile, Plautus will give a name to a character that only has a few words or lines. One explanation is that some of the names have been lost over the years and for the most part, major characters do have names.[65]


 The Language and Style of Plautus



The language and style of Plautus is not easy or simple. He wrote in a colloquial style far from the codified form of Latin that is found in Ovid or Virgil. This colloquial style is the everyday speech that Plautus would’ve been familiar with, yet that means that most students of Latin are unfamiliar with it. Adding to the unfamiliarity of Plautine language is the inconsistency of the irregularities that occur in the texts. In one of his prolific word-studies, A.W. Hodgman noted that:


the statements that one meets with, that this or that form is‘common,’or ‘regular,’ in Plautus, are frequently misleading, or even incorrect, and are usually unsatisfying.... I have gained an increasing respect for the manuscript tradition, a growing belief that the irregularities are, after all, in a certain sense regular. The whole system of inflexion- and, I suspect, of syntax also and of versification- was less fixed and stable in Plautus’ time than it became later[66].


So, it is quite clear that the difficulty of the language and style of Plautus is an old issue, one that fit the bill to be in the first ever issue of The Classical Quarterly. The issue of language and style in the plays of Plautus covers an enormous amount of ground, and it is far too expansive to go into enough detail to do it justice. This glance at Plautine language and style shall briefly try to cover the areas of archaisms, diction, syntax, poetic devices, meter, and the manifestations of the sum of these parts on stage. The purpose of such a task is to inform a first time reader of Plautus of what they should expect in the text. And in turn, this will better the understanding of the material in the collection.



The best place to start then, would be quickly looking at the words that come together to form the plays of Plautus. The most shocking and immediate thing one notices about Plautine diction is the use of archaic Latin forms. Some might find these difficult to understand, but there are a great many possibilities for why we find them in the plays of Plautus. It is important to note, though, that Plautus did not set out to write a play in archaic Latin, using the term “archaic” only comes from our contemporary interpretation of the text. Most scholars seem to note that the plays language is written in a colloquial, everyday speech. M. Hammond, A.H. Mack, and W. Moskalew have noted in their introduction to the text of the Miles Gloriosus that Plautus was, “free from convention... [and that] he sought to reproduce the easy tone of daily speech rather than the formal regularity of oratory or poetry. Hence, many of the irregularities which have troubled scribes and scholars perhaps merely reflect the everyday usages of the careless and untrained tongues which Plautus heard about him”[67]. Looking at the overall use of archaisms within Plautus, one will notice that they commonly occur in promises, agreements, threats, prologues, or speeches. Plautus uses archaic forms, though sometimes for metrical convenience, but more often for stylistic effect. There are many manifestations of these archaic forms in the texts of Plautus’ plays, in fact too many to completely include them in this article[68]. Here now, the most regular of irregularities, i.e., archaisms, will be delineated:

*          the use of uncontracted forms of some verbs like malo


*          the emendation of the final -e of singular imperatives


*          the use of -o in some verb stems where it would normally be -e


*          the use of the -ier ending for the present passive and deponent infinitive


*          often the forms of sum are joined to the preceding word


*          the deletion of the final -s and final -e when ne is added to a second singular verb


*          the replacement of -u with -o in noun endings


*          the use of qu instead of c, as in quom instead of cum


*          the use of the -ai genitive singular ending


*          the addition of a final -d onto personal pronouns in the accusative or ablative


*          there is sometimes the addition of a final -pte, -te, or -met to pronouns


*          the use of -is as the nominative plural ending[69]


These peculiarities are the most common in the plays of Plautus, and their notation should make initial readings a bit easier. Archaic word forms in Plautus reflect the way that his contemporaries interacted. Plautus’ use of colloquial dialogue helps us understand, to a certain extent, how Roman’s would have greeted each other and consequentially responded. For example, there are certain formulaic greetings such as “hello” and “how are you?” that illicit a certain formulaic response such as a returning hello, or answer as to your state of being well. Quid agis here would mean, “How are you?” Other responses are factual and have a less fixed answer. Overall though, archaic forms present the reader with a richer understanding of the Latin language.


 Means of Expression

There are certain ways in which Plautus expressed himself in his plays, and these individual means of expression give a certain flair to his style of writing. The means of expression are not always specific to the writer, i.e., idiosyncratic, yet they are characteristic of the writer. The two examples of these characteristic means of expression are the use of proverbs and the use of Greek language in the plays of Plautus. Plautus employs the use of proverbs in many of his plays. G.L. Beede defines proverbs as sayings currently among the folk. They are fundamentally of popular appeal, employed to drive home a point, to sum up a situation, and to characterize. Many times proverbs will addresses a certain genre such as law, religion, medicine, trades, crafts, and seafaring. Plautus’ proverbs and proverbial expressions number into the hundreds. They sometimes appear alone or interwoven within a speech. The most common appearance of proverbs in Plautus appears to be at the end of a soliloquy. Plautus does this for dramatic effect to emphasize a point. Further interwoven into the plays of Plautus and just as common as the use of proverbs is the use of Greek within the texts of the plays. J.N. Hough suggests that Plautus’ use of Greek is for artistic purposes and not simply because a Latin phrase will not fit the meter. Greek words are used when describing foods, oils, perfumes, etc. This is similar to our use of other languages in the English language such as the words garcon or rendezvous. These words give us a French flair just as the Greek would to the Romans. Slaves or characters of low standing speak much of the Greek. One possible explanation for this is that many Roman slaves would have been foreigners perhaps even speaking Greek.


 Poetic Devices

Plautus also used more technical means of expression in his plays. One tool that Plautus used for the expression of his servus callidus stock character was alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of sounds in a sentence or clause; those sounds usually come at the beginning of words. In the Miles Gloriosus, the servus callidus is Palaestrio. As he speaks with the character, Periplectomenus, he uses a significant amount of alliteration in order to assert his cleverness and, therefore, his authority. Plautus uses phrases such as “falsiloquom, falsicum,falsiiurium” (MG l. 191). These words express the deep and respectable knowledge that Palaestriohas of the Latin language. Alliteration can also happen at the endings of words as well. For example, Palaestrio says, “ linguam, perfidiam, malitiam atque audaciam, confidentiam, confirmitatem, fraudulentiam” (MG ll. 188-9). Also used, as seen above, is the technique of assonance, which is the repetition of similar sounding syllables. Word play is also a technique quite obvious in the plays of Plautus. There are various manifestations of word play in Plautus, but one instance in the Miles Gloriosus is Sceledre, scelus. This example is one of the punning of names in Plautus. Word play figures as an important technique in Plautus because it is fitting for certain characters, especially the clever slave. These poetic devices stand in the text in order to accentuate and emphasize whatever is being said in the text, and it also elevates the artistry of the language.



Further emphasizing and elevating the artistry of the language of the plays of Plautus is the use of meter, which simply put is the rhythm of the play. There seems to be great debate over whether Plautus found favor in strong word accent or verse ictus, stress. Plautus did not follow the meter of the Greek originals that he adapted for the Roman audience. Plautus used a great number of meters, but most frequently he used the trochaic septenarius. Iambic words, though common in Latin, are difficult to fit in this meter, and naturally occur at the end of verses. G.B. Conte has noted that Plautus favors the use of cantica instead of Greek meters. This vacillation between meter and word stress highlights the fact that Latin literature was still in its infancy, and that there was not yet a standard way to write verse.


 Language on Stage

Meter is not the only way in which the poet expressed what he wanted to say. The poet also gave each character a certain way to speak, or perhaps society expected certain stock characters to voice their opinions in certain ways. The servus callidus functioned as the exposition in many of Plautus' plays. According to C. Stace, "slaves in Plautus account for almost twice as much monologue as any other character... [and] this is a significant statistic; most of the monologues being, as they are, for purposes of humor, moralizing, or exposition of some kind, we can now begin to see the true nature of the slave's importance"[70]. Because humor, vulgarity, and "incongruity" are so much a part of the Plautine comedies, the slave becomes the essential tool to connect the audience to the joke through his monologue and direct connection to the audience. He is, then, not only a source for exposition and understanding, but connection - specifically, connection to the humor of the play, the playfulness of the play. The servus callidus is a character that, as McCarthy says, "draws the complete attention of the audience, and, according to C. Stace, 'despite his lies and abuse, claims our complete sympathy'"[71]. He does this, according to some scholarship, using monologue, the imperative mood and alliteration - all of which are specific and effective linguistic tools in both writing and speaking.

The specific type of monologue (or soliloquy) in which a Plautine slave engages is the prologue. As opposed to simple exposition, according to N.W. Slater, “these…prologues…have a far more important function than merely to provide information”[72]. Another way in which the servus callidus asserts his power over the play – specifically the other characters in the play – is through his use of the imperative mood. This is a mood in the Latin language that includes direct statement. In English, sentences such as, “Go!” or “Stay” are in the imperative mood. This type of language is used in order for, according to E. Segal, “the forceful inversion, the reduction of the master to an abject position of supplication…the master-as-suppliant is thus an extremely important feature of the Plautine comic finale”[73]. The language, the imperative mood is therefore used in the complete role-reversal of the normal relationship between slave and master and “those who enjoy authority and respect in the ordinary Roman world are unseated, ridiculed, while the lowliest members of society mount to their pedestals…the humble are in face exalted”[74]. This is not only an essential tool for the stock character of the servus callidus but also an essential tool for laughter.


Mscottknight 05:37, 5 December 2006 (UTC)


 The Influence and Reception of Plautus

Despite Plautus being long dead, his influence lives on in such literary giants as Moliere and Shakespeare. The critical reception of Plautus has been much different than his influence on later literature. On one hand, scholarly reception of Plautus has come from viewing the Plautine corpus as crude to something a bit warmer and more complex. On the other hand, Plautus’ influence on later literature is impressive since it has been an influence on two literary giants, Shakespeare and Moliere. When one puts scholarly approach and the literary influence of Plautus together, you can still find pretentiousness and snobbery thwarting contemporary success of the playwright. The downright denigration of Plautus and his influence on two literary giants seems not to fit together. Plautus lived over 2,000 years ago and his memory and imprint on society still lives on. Playwrights throughout history have looked to Plautus for character, plot, humor, and other elements of comedy. His influence ranges from similarities in idea to full literal translations woven into the play. Plautus’ plays, though farcical in nature, are incredibly penetrating in their exploration of character, even if there are few obvious changes between Plautus’ stock characters from play to play. The playwright’s apparent familiarity with the absurdity of humanity and both the comedy and tragedy that stem from this absurdity have inspired his succeeding fellow playwrights centuries after his death. The most famous of these successors is Shakespeare – on whom Plautus had a tremendous amount of influence when it came to the Bard’s earlier comedies.


 Plautus and Shakespeare

Shakespeare does much the same thing as Plautus. Shakespeare takes from Plautus like Plautus took from his Greek models. He has taken someone else’s plot for his own uses. C.L. Barber says that, “Shakespeare feeds Elizabethan life into the mill of Roman farce, life realized with his distinctively generous creativity, very different from Plautus’ tough, narrow, resinous genius”[75]. So, there seems to have been a growing inclination to use Plautus as time went on, but there has always remained a resistance to him as a playwright. Perhaps one of the most famous plays that Plautine comedy influenced was William Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. Some argue that the Comedy of Errors was a failed attempt to imitate Plautus’ Menaechmi, but H.A. Watt argues otherwise. In his article “Plautus and Shakespeare: Further Comments on Menaechmi and the Comedy of Errors,” Watt shows that while Comedy of Errors was not Shakespeare’s best work, its failure was not due to his departure from the Menaechmi as some have suggested, but due to insufficient skill in character development as it was one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays.


The Shakespearean comedy most studied for its’ Plautine influence and parallels has been The Comedy of Errors. The Plautus and Shakespeare plays that most parallel each other, according to some modern scholarship, are, respectively, The Menaechmi and The Comedy of Errors. In fact, according to Marples, Shakespeare drew directly from Plautus, “parallels in plot, in incident, and in character”[76] and is undeniably influenced by the classical playwright’s work. Marples even uses the word, “borrower” in reference to not only how Plautus borrowed plots and characters from Menander, but how Shakespeare borrowed plots and characters from Plautus – especially Plautus’ Menaechmi. However, Shakespeare didn’t just “borrow,” but he also amplified some key aspects of Plautus’ play in order to make it more relevant for and more influential over his contemporary audience.


In fact, before one explores the connections between the two plays, H.A. Watt stresses the importance of recognizing the fact that the “two plays were written under conditions entirely different and served audience as remote as the poles”[77]. The worlds of Plautus and Shakespeare were entirely different and it is important to keep this in mind when comparing and contrasting their work, but despite such different worlds, their work was remarkably similar and equally relevant for their respective audiences as some things are eternally funny, such as the clever slave outwitting the boorish master.


The nature of the differences between The Menaechmi and The Comedy of Errors is undeniable. In The Menaechmi, Plautus uses only one set of twins – twin servants. Shakespeare, on the other hand, uses two sets of twins, which, according to William Connolly, “dilutes the force of [Shakespeare’s] situations”[78]. This speaks to the idea that Shakespeare took his play “to a new level” in many different aspects. The number of twins is the most prominent. As a result of such modifications of Plautine comedy, Shakespeare succeeds in creating a comedy that is not only Plautine but also Shakespearean.


As a way to show that Shakespeare has a comedic category of fusion between Elizabethan and Plautine techniques, T.W. Baldwin writes, “…Errors does not have the miniature unity of Menaechmi, which is characteristic of classic structure for comedy”[79]. Baldwin discusses the importance in noting that Shakespeare covers a much greater area in the structure of the actual play than Plautus ever does. This is also a result of Shakespeare’s audience because he was writing for an audience whose minds weren’t necessarily focused on house and home but also on the greater world around them and the role that they might have played in that world. Another characteristic of Shakespeare’s audience that is certainly different from the audience of Plautus is that Shakespeare’s audience was dominantly Christian. It was important for Shakespeare to acknowledge this in his writing. So, at the end of Errors, the world of the play is returned to normal when a Christian abbess interferes with the feuding. Menaechmi, on the other hand according to Niall Rudd, “is almost completely lacking in a supernatural dimension”[80]. Rudd says that a character in Plautus’ play would never blame an inconvenient situation on witchcraft – something that is quite common in Shakespeare.


However, regardless of the differences between the two plays, Shakespeare was clearly influenced by Plautus’ work. He used many of the same elements. He used the same type of characters as well as the ever important Plautine idea of the slave versus his master. He used the same type of humor (adjusted for the time) and pushed boundaries in the way that Plautus did, an example of which being the clever slave managing to undo all the chaos created by farcical plot situations, most often a mistaken identity. It is, in the end, an acknowledgement of the brilliance and timelessness of Plautus’ work. Shakespeare, although his play is significantly different from Plautus’ Menaechmi, is a continuation of the playwrighting tradition in general. He in no way tried discredit the work of Plautus, but simply built on what had existed before him. Although he did rely heavily on Plautus’ work for his first comedy, Shakespeare eventually departed from a form of translation to a combination of Plautine devices and facets of Elizabethan drama.


Watt argues that Shakespeare’s departure from the Menaechmi is because Shakespeare takes his influence not only from Plautus, but also from Elizabethan drama. The Menaechmi already has one set of twins, and Shakespeare adds the servant twins as well. One suggestion is that Shakespeare got this idea from Plautus’ Amphitruo, in which both twin masters and twin slaves appear. Another is that the doubling is just a stock situation of Elizabethan comedy (not just Shakespeare). The relationship between a master and a clever slave is also a common element in Elizabethan comedy. Again looking to Elizabethan comedy, Shakespeare often includes foils for his characters to have one set off the other. Another Shakespearian theme stems from Elizabethan romantic comedy. In this genre it is common for the plays to end with many marriages and couplings of pairs. This is something that is not seen in Plautine comedy. In the Comedy of Errors Aegeon and Aemilia are separated, Antipholus and Luciana are at outs, and Antipholus and Luciana have not yet met. At the end of the day, all the couples are happily together. These couplings are something that Plautus would not have dealt with. By writing his comedies in a combination of Elizabethan and Plautine styles, Shakespeare helps to create his own brand of comedy, one that uses both styles. Watt concludes that Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors is not his best and this is due to lack of characterization. Here Plautus succeeds, as he has much more characterization in his comedy. The Comedy of Errors should not be looked at as a failed copy of the Menaechmi, but as a Shakespearian hybrid of Plautine and Elizabethan comedy[81].


 Early Productions of Plautine Comedies

Although a great influence on Shakespeare, Plautine comedies were translated and performed before Shakespeare’s time. W.B. Sedgwick gives us a record, as we know it, of the Amphitruo, perhaps one of Plautus’ most famous works throughout history. It was the most popular Plautine play in the Middle Ages, publicly performed at the Renaissance, and the first Plautine play to be translated into English. As well as having renaissance versions of Plautus’ work, the Elizabethans also knew of Plautus. There is evidence of imitation in Edwardes’ Damon and Pythias, Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, and Heywood’s Silver Age. Heywood sometimes even translated whole passages of Plautus. By being translated as well as imitated, Plautus is a major influence on comedy of the Elizabethan era and the Middle Ages, as can be seen in the Stonyhurst Pageants.


By looking to the Middle Ages and the entertainment typical of its day, H.W. Cole discusses the influence of Plautus and Terence on the Stonyhurst Pageants. The Stonyhurst Pageants are manuscripts of Old Testament plays that were probably composed after 1609 in Lancashire. Cole focuses on Plautus’ influence on the particular Pageant of Naaman. The playwright of this pageant breaks away from the traditional style of religious medieval drama and relies heavily on the works of Plautus. Overall, the playwright cross-references eighteen of the twenty surviving plays of Plautus and five of the six Terence ones. It is clear that the author of the Stonyhurst Pageant of Naaman had a great knowledge of Plautus and was significantly influenced by this[82]. As well as being performed in the early 1600’s, Plautus’ plays and their influence goes back to even the early 1500’s.


Even though few records of the plays of the 1500’s exist, Bradner discusses the first known university production of Plautus in England. Although uncertain, through the limited records we can guess that this first production was of Miles Gloriosus at Oxford in 1522. The earliest recorded performance of a Plautine play comes from the magnum jornale of Queens College which contains a reference to a comoedia Plauti in either 1522 or 1523. This fits directly with comments made in the poems of Leland about the date of the production. The next production of Miles Gloriosus that we know of from limited records, was given by the Westminster School in 1564[83]. Other records also tell us about performances of the Menaechmi. From our knowledge, performances were given in the house of Cardinal Wolsey by boys of St. Paul’s School as early as 1527[84]. From this we can determine that Plautus had a lasting influence on comedy throughout history. His influence ranges from little known plays such as the Stonyhurst Pageants to greats such as Shakespeare. By having such a wide range of influenced writers, Plautus lives on in others’ works.



 Echoes of Plautine Stock Characters and Plot Devices

As well as passing on his plots, Plautus passed on stock characters and plot devices. Not that Plautus created the stock characters, such as the clever slave and the parasite, not that he created the pun or wordplays, but with the similar plots, it is easy to see where later authors got their inspiration for plots and stock characters and plot devices.


One of the most important echoes of Plautus is the stock character of the parasite, which appears in many of Plautus’ plays and goes on to achieve fame in the work of better known literary giants. Certainly the best example of this is Falstaff, the portly and cowardly knight who appears in three different Shakespeare plays. As J.W. Draper notes, the gluttonous Falstaff shares many characteristics with a parasite such as Artotrogus from Miles Gloriosus. Both characters seem fixated on food and where their next meal is coming from – Falstaff’s great girth and his constant call for food, for instance, echo the pleasure Artotrogus takes in a certain kind of olive spread. But they also rely on flattery in order to gain these gifts, and both characters are willing to bury their patrons in empty praise[85]. Of course, Draper notes that Falstaff is also something of a boastful military man, but notes, “Falstaff is so complex a character that he may well be, in effect, a combination of interlocking types”[86]. And while Shakespeare obviously had a knowledge of Latin literature, the parasite was so common in European drama at the time that he could have, in fact, not have been influenced directly by Plautus but instead received this stock character third-hand[87].


As well as appearing in Shakespearean comedy, the Plautine parasite appears in one of the first English comedies, Ralph Roister Doister. In Ralph Roister Doister, the character of Matthew Merrygreeke follows in the tradition of both Plautine Parasite and Plautine slave, as he both searches and grovels for food and also attempts to achieve his master’s desires[88]. Indeed, the play itself is often seen as borrowing heavily from or even being based on the Plautine comedy Miles Gloriosus[89]. Plautus obviously became the same kind of representative of earlier comedy that he himself found in Menander; as one of the most proficient examples of an older style of comedy who became a kind of gold mine for newer writers.


In terms of plot, or perhaps more accurately plot device, the method of conveying his plot, Plautus served as a source of inspiration and also provided the possibility of adaptation for later playwrights. The many deceits that Plautus layered his plays with, giving the audience the feeling of a genre bordering on farce, appear in much of the comedy written by Shakespeare and Moliere. For instance, the clever slave, which is also a Plautine stock character, has important roles in both L’Avare and L’Etoudri, two plays by Moliere, and in both drives the plot and creates the rouse just like Palaestrio in Miles Gloriosus[90]. These similar characters set up the same kind of deceptions in which many of Plautus’ plays find their driving force, and it is not a simple coincidence.


Beyond this, Shakespeare has many other Plautine elements appear in his work: he uses the same kind of opening monologue so common in Plautus’ plays and includes many Greek names and places, to mention a few of such Plautine elements. He even uses a “villain” in The Comedy of Errors of the same type as the one in Menaechmi, switching the character from a doctor to a teacher but keeping the character a shrewd, educated man[91]. While Watt also notes that this is one of Shakespeare’s least successful plays, it is clear that some of these elements appear in many of his works, such as Twelfth Night or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and had a deep impact on Shakespeare’s writing[92]. Even though Plautus’ influence did not make the first Shakespearean comedy a success, Plautine stock characters do make later Shakespearean comedies successful.

It is in many ways fitting that Plautus became such a source for writers of any age to look at for inspiration, considering his own reference to the New Comedy works of Greece. Many of his tropes have become so commonplace, or so frequently used, that most people wouldn’t even realize the true source of the technique. His popularity in Elizabethan England clearly had a hand in this, as one of the greatest writers of that or any time, Shakespeare found it fit to borrow from Plautus’ writing for his own plays. Like Plautus, he was able to take certain elements, work with them, and create something very original and very fitting for his own time. It is to Plautus’ great credit that his work has remained so influential and accessible in a future that is so different from his own time. It is clear that Plautus was a poet who had many direct influences, such as the Greek author Menander and various other writers of New Comedy. In fact many have written off Plautus as simply a talented translator, but Plautus imbued his work with his own original genius and he himself went on to influence writers hundreds of years in the future. His use of stock character, deceptions, and farce all trickled down from playwright to playwright, appearing in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and 17th Century France.


Footnotes and Works Cited can be found on the internet at:








































The film opens with scenes of desolation and defeat, as Hannibal, the great Carthaginian general, has just defeated Rome's forces at the Plains of Cannae. In response, Rome's politicians argue and dither, until the general Scipio Africanus steps forth with a bold plan: a lightning strike by sea against Carthage itself. A popular general and man of the people, Scipio quickly gains the support of soldiers and the veterans of his Spanish campaigns, and soon his daring strategy is in full operation. Hannibal meanwhile continues to move down Italy, as his brutish soldiers pillage Rome's villas and defile its women. The scene shifts to Carthage, depicted as a place of vaguely oriental decadence and exotic intrigue.


A major subplot concerns the vampish Carthaginian princess Sofonisba, whose marriage to the King of Numidia has ensnared him in a ruinous anti-Roman alliance. Hannibal, meanwhile, learning of Scipio's gathering forces, is forced to depart Italy and bring his armies back to defend Carthage. Finally, inevitably, Hannibal's and Scipio's forces meet on the vast plains of Zama. The spectacular battle scenes include an extraordinarily graphic sequence involving scores of elephants *- Hannibal's most famous military innovation - slaughtered as they charge wildly into Scipio's massed infantry force. Large clashes of cavalry and infantry follow. In the end, a Roman standard rises over the stilled field, pronouncing Rome's great African victory. With the return of peace - and a greatly expanded Roman imperium in the Mediterranean - Scipio returns to his estate to plant next year's wheat crop.


Italy, 1937, B&W, 85 minutes, dubbed in English, Digitally Restored.  Not since Thomas Edison electrocuted Topsy the elephant before the cameras in 1903 had the movies so enraged animal rights advocates. In addition to its 32,848 human extras and 1,000 horses, the making of Scipio Africanus required a cast of 50 elephants. The butchering of many of these elephants -- one is speared in the eye by Scipio himself -- was central to the film's climactic battle scenes. Stampeding madly into crowds of terrified extras, many elephants were hacked and gored to death -- sacrificed in the interests of spectacle and realism.





Scipione l'africano/Scipio Africanus: The Defeat of Hannibal (1937)

"Victory - Or DEATH!"

 Designed to instill a greater sense of nationalism among Italians close to the outbreak of WWII, Scipio Africanus chronicles the pivotal battle by the Roman military leader that quashed Hannibal and his mighty band of warriors and pachyderms at the Battle of Zama, in 202 B.C.

It's an obvious propaganda piece, designed to instill patriotism near the end of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War by Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, but Scipio is less politically overt in spite of some heavy borrowing from the work of Hitler's favourite director at the time, Leni Riefenstahl.

Veteran director Carmine Gallone - whether by his own decision or from the supervision of Mussolini and his 21 year old son Vittorio - employs the same-styled cutaways to waves of saluting, cheering masses, and even mimics the declarations of loyalty by provincial followers when Scipio calls out to fellow Romans for support.

There's no doubt Riefenstahl's brilliant use of montages and music were used to model scenes of moving masses: early sequences are underscored with the same over-abundant, Wagnerian-styled orchestral fugues and chorus that dominate the opening celebrations in Riefenstahl's Olympia: Part 1, but in Scipio, the Riefenstahl riffs are jarring and disjointed, and the decision to mimic a Germanic musical style is a glaring cultural interpolation.

The only sequence where Gallone's nod actually works is at the very end, when a full scale Roman forum is gradually filled with victorious citizens, bearing flaming torches. The dark sky and backlit edifices parallel the sweeping crowds of flame-bearing soldiers in Triumph of the Will, as they assembled for a massive book burning ceremony; or the famous sequence of marching soldiers surrounded by columns of light in the Nuremberg stadium.

(A rare moment of humour, and one evocative of more familiar American WWII action/war genre, has an older Roman gob boarding a military ship for Carthage. Lamenting a lack of action back in Rome, he says he's back to get the job done. From an American angle, it's the familiar pro-active Average Joe who's willing to sacrifice his life for the nation; in Scipio, his stance is a bit more critical, inferring Rome 's power has been completely emasculated by Hannibal and his barbarians, and the only route to victory lies in kicking some Carthaginian butt.)

One key problem with Scipio is Gallone's amazing dull direction, which relies far too much on static shots bearing bland compositions. Whereas an eccentric like Joseph Von Sternberg would've exploited the Roman setting with more expressive set designs, Gallone goes for workmanlike setups covering fairly theatrical sets. Worse are clumsy edits that make one ponder whether it was more stilted dialogue from the reportedly longer Italian 117 min. version that was trimmed to create the shorter English edit (retitled Scipio Africanus: The Defeat of Hannibal) used for this DVD.

The Scipio script is just plain banal, and the English dub track - feeling more like a sixties effort, with some occasional streetwise American tonalities - tries to distill the basic relationships and plot to even more simplistic conflicts; throw in a captured wife (Isa Miranda), and you've got a character marker for the audience to follow the cross-cut narratives, before the warring sides finally meet on the battlefield.

Gallone does effectively uses cross-cutting as the Roman and Carthaginian armies anxiously await the first aggressive step that will kick-start the battle. This stylistic ploy may also have been used in earlier scenes, as characters like the separated Roman couple - the hubbie in Scipio's infantry, the wife now Hannibal's concubine - disappear for a long chunk until the grand finale.

Allegedly patterned after Benito Mussolini, Annibale Ninchi's performance is much more reserved than expected, and the military hero is relegated to a posing icon, mostly administering the nitty gritty battle tactics after throwing the pivotal lance that incites Hannibal 's pachyderm division. As with many good villains, the only figure of genuine interest is Hannibal.

Camillo Pilotto as the cruel invader has some strong scenes, including a few brief moments as he hashes out some theoretical strategies with soldiers in his tent; and, most oddly, when he meets the captured upper-class wife of a Roman soldier (Miranda), whose home was trashed by brown-painted soldiers, and who clearly gets raped off-screen by the self-serving ruler.

Revenge is a main theme in Scipio, and the film opens with a sea of bodies, and a lone Roman staff that beckons justice; reclaimed and elevated to a symbolic relic, the staff manages to survive the bloody Battle of Zama in a severely hacked up form, and bookends Scipio as a sign of sweet revenge.

The action finale is a real mixed bag, largely because the production used real elephants in the combat scenes, and some were clearly maimed and killed for 'authenticity.' Scipio marshals his wary soldiers into battle by grabbing a lance at throwing it right into the eye of a mounted elephant; later scenes show the poor creatures getting lanced in the legs, and a mother dying on her side, while the baby - 'humanely' spared by a smiling Roman - hovers close by.

The rest of the battle is fairly standard, as Gallone never manages to impress the immensity and scope of the battlefield in spite of actually having fields full of infantry and cavalry to play with. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are decent, and unusually gory for the era. (Hollywood 's Production Code mandated sadistic stabs be generally reduced to clean and fatal pokes in the tummy or back.)

In their witty, satirical, and informative 1984 book, The Hollywood Hall of Shame, writers Harry and Michael Medved chronicled Scipio in their 'Fascist Follies' wing, and describe the film as the epic that would restore Italy's stature in the filmmaking world. The film did win a prize - the Mussolini Cup at the 1937 Venice Film Festival - but according to the Medveds' research, the $2 million spectacular lasted a week in Italian cinemas before it was reduced to free screenings at diverse public events, and yearly grade school assemblies in Italy. A New York City premiere failed to ignite the interest of critics and cinemagoers, and the film ultimately disappeared in the art house circuits.

Alongside Stalin's The Fall of Berlin and Goebbels' Kolberg, Scipio Africanus is one of three legendary propaganda epics released by IHF on DVD. The source print for this disc is the shorter American release version, and while in decent shape, the print has some harsh contrasts that detract from scenes that one must assume were shot with greater care for richer shades of gray. The mono mix is standard, and the DVD comes with a brief text essay that provides a good intro, and warns viewers about the animal cruelties.

Director Carmine Gallone explored an interesting mix of genres throughout his long career, notably (or infamously, depending upon one's blick) the silent mega-production, The Last Days of Pompeii / Ultimi giorni di Pompeii, Gli (1927), shot on location among the ruins, and costing seven million Lire. After Scipio, Gallone chose to focus on several biopics and filmed operas (including Madame Butterfly, with Asian actors in a unique Italian-Japanese co-production), and returned to the historical epic in 1960 with Carthages in Flames / Cartagine in fiamme, which featured Camillo Pilotto among the cast.

Film editor Oswald Hafenrichter later edited Carol Reed's Fallen Idol and The Third Man, and an eclectic mix of projects, including the Peter Sellers comedy, Smallest Show on Earth, and several British horror and sci-fic films during the 1960s.

Annibale Ninchi later appeared in Frederico Fellini's La Dolce vita and 8 1/2, and Isa Miranda maintained a lengthy career, popping up in a trio of cult films: Dorian Gray (1970), and Mario Bava's Roy Colt and Winchester Jack / Roy Colt e Winchester Jack (1970) and Twitch of the Death Nerve / Bay of Blood/Reazione a catena (1971).


© 2006 Mark R. Hasan



0203The war moves to Africa.doc

The war moves to Africa


After his victories in Hispania, Scipio returned to Rome a great hero, and, although he was technically ineligible, was elected consul in 205 BC. He resolved to end the war by attacking Carthage itself, and appealed directly to the Centuriate Assembly when he found the Senate opposed this. Thus he was given command of the two legions in Sicily, plus 7,000 volunteers he had recruited, and the next year brought the war to North Africa when he landed at Utica, about twenty miles away from Carthage. Here he was counting on support from some Numidians, who resented Carthaginian control and so agreed to provide him with cavalry.


In 203 BC, when Scipio was carrying all before him in Africa and the Carthaginian peace party were arranging an armistice, Hannibal was recalled from Italy by the war party at Carthage. After leaving a record of his expedition engraved in Punic and Greek upon brazen tablets in the temple of Juno at Crotona, he sailed back to Africa. These records have been quoted by Polybius. His arrival immediately restored the predominance of the war party, who placed him in command of a combined force of African levies and his mercenaries from Italy. Hannibal opposed this and tried to convince them not to send these troops into battle. In 202 BC, Hannibal met Scipio in a peace conference, but political circumstances forced him to take battle. Despite mutual admiration, negotiations floundered due to Roman allegations of "Punic Faith," referring to the breach of protocols which ended the First Punic War by the Carthaginian attack on Saguntum, as well as perceived breach in the idealised Roman military etiquette (Hannibal's numerous ambuscades). Thus being a very biased view of the Roman wartime and postwartime propaganda.


The Battle of Zama


Painting of the Battle of Zama by Cornelis Cort, 1567


This decisive battle soon followed. Unlike most battles of the Second Punic War, the Romans had superiority in cavalry and the Carthaginians had superiority in infantry. The Roman army was generally better armed and a head taller than the Carthaginian. Hannibal had refused to lead this army into battle because he expected them not to stand their ground. There have been very hard arguments between him and the oligarchy. His co-general Hasdrubal Gisco was forced to suicide by a violent mob after he spoke in support of Hannibal not to lead these troops into battle. Before the battle Hannibal held no speech to his new troops, only to his veterans. The new troops proved as cowardly and inexperienced as he had expected.


The Roman cavalry won an early victory, and Scipio had devised tactics for defeating Carthaginian war elephants. However, the battle remained closely fought, and at one point it seemed that Hannibal was on the verge of victory. However, Scipio was able to rally his men, and his cavalry attacked Hannibal's rear. This two-pronged attack caused the Carthaginian formation to disintegrate and collapse. After their defeat, Hannibal convinced the Carthaginians to accept peace. Notably, he broke the rules of the assembly by forcibly removing a speaker who supported continued resistance. Afterwards he was sued to apologize for his lack of behaviour.




Hispania was lost to Carthage forever, and was reduced to a client state. A war indemnity of 10,000 talents was imposed, her navy was limited to 10 ships to ward off pirates, and she was forbidden from raising an army without Rome's permission. Numidia took the opportunity to capture and plunder Carthaginian territory. Half a century later, when Carthage raised an army to defend itself from these incursions, it was destroyed by Rome in the Third Punic War. Rome on the other hand, by her victory, had taken a key step towards domination of West Eurasia.


The end of the war was not universally welcomed in Rome, for reasons of both politics and morale. When the Senate decreed upon a peace treaty with Carthage, Quintus Caecilius Metellus, a former consul, said he did not look upon the termination of the war as a blessing to Rome, since he feared that the Roman people would now sink back again into its former slumbers, from which it had been roused by the presence of Hannibal. (Valerius Maximus vii. 2. §3.). Others, most notably Cato the Elder, feared that if Carthage was not completely destroyed it would soon reacquire its power and pose new threats to Rome, and pressed for harsh peace conditions. Archeology found out that the famous military harbor, the Coton, was built after this war. It could house and quickly deploy 200 triremes, while Carthage was allowed to have 10 triremes and it was a protected against viewing inside.


Hannibal survived the battle of Zama and continued to enjoy a leadership role in Carthage even after the end of the war. However, Carthaginian nobility was upset by his democratisation and battle against corruption. They convinced the Romans to force him into exile, where he met them and their allies on the battlefield. He eventually committed suicide to avoid capture.




Battle of Zama

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The Battle of Zama, generally accepted to have been fought on or around October 19 of 202 BC, was the final and decisive battle of the Second Punic War. A Roman army led by Scipio Africanus defeated a Carthaginian force led by Hannibal Barca. Soon after this defeat on their home ground, the Carthaginian senate sued for peace, ending the 17-year war.




Despite nearly two decades of constant victories, much of it on Italian soil, the Carthaginian commander Hannibal Barca was still in Italia although confined to the south of the peninsula. A decisive victory by Gaius Claudius Nero in the brief Metaurus campaign killed Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal Barca and permanently severed Hannibal from all hope of reinforcements. Hannibal was now stranded, and forced to sustain a scorched earth policy throughout Southern Italy. Hannibal had entered Italy as a victorious conqueror. He humiliated the Romans at Ticinus, Trebia, Lake Trasimeno, and finally Cannae where the cream of the Roman army was slaughtered. Hannibal had anticipated using these victories to convince the Italian city-states to mutiny. Instead, they only produced a growing resolve in the Italian states to rally to Roman leadership.


After destroying the Carthaginian presence in Spain, Scipio Africanus proposed ending the war by invading Carthage's home territories, an area now roughly comprising modern-day Tunisia. Despite the cautious Senate's opposition to this plan, the Roman people gave Scipio the requisite authority to attempt the invasion. At first Scipio operated cautiously, acting mostly to reinforce his army with local defectors. After Massinissa replaced the pro-Carthage Syphax as chieftain of the Numidians, Scipio felt able to risk a decisive battle and began menacing the city of Carthage itself. The Carthaginian senate recalled Hannibal from Italy and he met Scipio on the plains of Zama leading a ragtag army composed of local citizens and veterans from his Italian campaigns.


The two men are said to have met face-to-face before the battle. Hannibal reminded Scipio of fate's role in the war, and how lenient Hannibal was to Rome when it was on the brink of destruction. Scipio replied that chance played a role in every decision every day, and would not give peace without battle.




Zama marked a reversal from typical battles of the Second Punic War in that the Romans had less infantry, while the Carthaginians — by the defection of the Numidians — were outnumbered 6,000 to 3,000 in cavalry. Hannibal amassed some 50,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry, while Scipio had a total of 34,000 infantry and 8,700 cavalry at his disposal. Placing his inexperienced cavalry on the flanks, Hannibal aligned his troops in three phalangial lines behind eighty war elephants. The first line consisted of mixed infantry of Gauls, Ligurians, and Balerians. In his second line he placed the Carthaginian and Libyan levies while his veterans from Italy were placed in the third line. Hannibal intentionally held back his third infantry line, in order to thwart Scipio's tendency to pin the Carthaginian center and envelop his opponent's lines, as he had previously done at the Battle of Ilipa.


Scipio Africanus  ą


Hannibal hoped that the combination of the war elephants and the depth of the first two lines would weaken and disorganize the Roman advance, whereupon he would complete a victory with his reserves in the third line and overlap Scipio's lines. Though this formation was indeed well-conceived, it failed to produce a victory for the aging Hannibal, who was, by some claims, suffering from mental exhaustion after his campaigns in Italy.


At the outset of the battle, the superior Roman cavalry swept aside their Carthaginian counterparts and pursued them off the field— depriving Hannibal of his entire body of cavalry (though it is believed that Hannibal had intended his cavalry to lure their opponents away from the battlefield, in effect eliminating the advantage the Romans enjoyed in this arm). Likewise, Hannibal’s first two lines, unable to cope against the well-trained and confident Roman soldiers, were disposed of soon thereafter. For years, Hannibal had won victories with his experienced army, but now he faced the best of the Roman army, while he commanded a makeshift army, who fared poorly against the Romans. As Livy states “...the Romans immediately drove back the line[s] of their opponents; then pushing their elbows and the bosses of their shields, and pressing forward into the places which they had pushed them, they advanced at a considerable pace, as if there had been no one there to resist them...” [10].


Moreover, Scipio came up with an inventive method of neutralizing Hannibal's elephants. Hannibal lost all of his original elephant troops (who crossed the Alps with him) by the battle of Cannae, but they were replenished in Africa. First of all, Scipio knew that elephants could be ordered to charge forward, but they could only continue their charge in a straight line. So rather than lining his Roman forces in the traditional manipular lines, which put the velites, principes, and triarii in succeeding lines of 500 men groups, Scipio instead put the maniples in a checker pattern, with his elite heavy infantry in diagonals. Scipio realized that intentionally opening gaps in his troops meant that the elephants would continue between them, without harming a soul. He did this, and after the elephants passed through his troops harmlessly and were picked off on the other side (many of them were so distraught, in fact, they charged back into their own Carthaginian lines). Scipio's troops then fell back into formation and continued marching.


Plan of the battle


Despite these setbacks, the battle remained a closely contested engagement. When the Roman infantry confronted the Carthaginian third line, the resulting clash was fierce and bloody, with neither side achieving local superiority. In fact, at one point during the battle, it seemed that Hannibal was on the verge of victory. However, Scipio was able to rally his men, and his cavalry, after pursuing the Carthaginian cavalry, returned in time to deliver a devastating blow in Hannibal's rear. This two-pronged attack caused the Carthaginian formation to disintegrate and collapse. Unable to cope against the well-trained and confident Roman soldiers with his own indifferent troops after losing his notorious advantage, Hannibal experienced a crushing defeat that put an end to all resistance on the part of Carthage. In total, as many as 31,000 men of Hannibal’s army were mercilessly killed at Zama, while 15,000 were taken as prisoners. The Romans on the other hand, lost as few as 1,500 dead and 4,000 wounded.




Soon after Scipio's victory at Zama, the war ended with the Carthaginian senate suing for peace. Unlike the treaty that ended the First Punic War, and which amounted merely to an extended armistice, the terms Carthage acceded to were so punishing that it was never able to challenge Rome for supremacy of the Mediterranean again. When Rome waged a third war on Carthage 50 years later, the Carthaginians were far from having the power to invade Italy, because the Romans had tricked them into completely disarming beforehand. Unarmed, they could only organize a defense of their home city, which, after an extended siege, was captured and utterly destroyed.




*          Hans Delbrück; Warfare in Antiquity; 1920; ISBN 0-8032-9199-X

*          Robert F. Pennel; Ancient Rome from the earliest times down to 476 A.D; 1890

*          Theodore Ayrault Dodge; Hannibal: A History of the Art of War among the Carthaginians and Romans down to the Battle of Pydna, 168 B.C., with a Detailed Account of the Second Punic War; 1891; ISBN 0-306-81362-9

*          In fiction, Dante's Divine Comedy, poem, Inferno XXXI.97-132, 115-124


Retrieved from ""



          Links:200px-Spartacus_sheetA.jpgThe development of Spartacus was partly instigated by Kirk Douglas's failure to win the title role in William Wyler's Ben-Hur. Douglas had worked with Wyler before on Detective Story, and was disappointed when Wyler chose Charlton Heston instead. Not wanting to appear beaten, he decided to upstage Wyler, and create his own epic, Spartacus, with himself in the title role.


ß the original movie poster


Screenplay development

Originally, Howard Fast was hired to adapt his own novel as a screenplay, but he experienced difficulty working in the screenplay format and was replaced by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, who worked under the pseudonym "Sam Jackson". Some people feel the Spartacus in Trumbo's adaptation is depicted as a form of early communist who fights against the wealthy Roman establishment by liberating the slaves. The filming was plagued by the conflicting visions of Kubrick and Trumbo: Kubrick, a young director at the time, did not have the degree of control he would later have over his films, and the final product is more a result of Trumbo's optimistic screenplay than it is of Stanley Kubrick's trademark cynicism.

In post-production, Douglas was made aware that Kubrick intended to take writing credit for the film instead of Trumbo. The powerful Douglas publicly resisted Trumbo's exclusion, and when Trumbo's name appeared in the credits, the Hollywood blacklist was effectively broken.


Spartacus was originally to be directed by Anthony Mann. However, two weeks into shooting, Mann was fired by the studio because of his lack of leadership and Stanley Kubrick was hired to take over. At this point in his career, Kubrick had already directed four feature films, two of which were major Hollywood productions. Even so, Spartacus was Kubrick's biggest project so far, with a budget of $12 million and a cast of 10,500, an impressive achievement for such a young director (although his contract did not give him complete control over the filming).

Spartacus was filmed using 70 mm Super Technirama cameras, which was a change for Kubrick, who preferred using square-format ratios. Kubrick found working outdoors or in real locations to be distracting and thus preferred to film in the studio. He believed the actors would benefit more from working on a sound stage, where they could fully concentrate. To create the illusion of the large crowds that play such an essential role in the film, Kubrick's crew used three-channel sound equipment to record 76,000 spectators at a Michigan StateNotre Dame college football game shouting "Hail, Crassus!" and "I'm Spartacus!"

The intimate scenes were filmed in Hollywood, but Kubrick insisted that all battle scenes be filmed on a vast plain outside Madrid. Eight thousand trained soldiers from the Spanish infantry were used to double as the Roman army. Kubrick directed the armies from the top of specially constructed towers. However, he eventually had to cut all but one of the gory battle scenes, due to negative audience reactions at preview screenings.








Violence Enters Politics:

133 BCE: Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, a noble plebeian, was elected tribune. He proposed essential land and economic reforms which threatened the wealthy senatorial classes, so he passed these through the Assembly of Tribes. Gracchus was very popular with the masses, so he ran for a second consecutive term as tribune (though this was unconstitutional). A group of senators led an armed band against him in the Assembly and killed him and 300 of his followers.

123-21 BCE: Gaius Sempronius Gracchus (the younger brother of Tiberius) was elected tribune for two successive years; through the Assembly, he increased the power of the equestrian class at the expense of the senators. He also attempted sweeping economic reforms. Opposition between his followers and the Senate broke into riots and bloodshed, and he died in the violence.

The reform efforts of the Gracchi and the opposition these generated in the Senate constituted the foundation of the two political factions, the populares and the optimates.

Rise of the Generals:

107 BCE: Gaius Marius, a plebeian of the equestrian class and a novus homo, was elected consul and was designated by the Assembly of Tribes as general in the African war against the wishes of the Senate. He reorganized the army and successfully concluded several wars. Marius was elected to five consecutive consulships (though this was unconstitutional) and then to a sixth consulship in 100. He became leader of the populares. During this time there was considerable unrest and rioting in Rome.

88 BCE: Lucius Cornelius Sulla, a patrician leader of the optimates, was elected consul and designated by the Senate as general in the war in Asia Minor although the Assembly had given this command to Marius. Sulla marched his legions into Rome itself to enforce his appointment and to stop the reform legislation of the populares; this was the first time in history that a Roman army marched upon Rome. Sulla outlawed Marius and took up his command in Asia Minor.

86 BCE: Marius returned to Rome and outlawed Sulla; he was elected to his seventh consulship and led a five-day bloodbath against the optimates. Marius, however, died within the year.

82-79 BCE: Sulla returned to Italy with his army and had himself proclaimed dictator. He conducted first “proscriptions,” in which he posted lists of those condemned to be executed (the Senate had asked him to publish these names with the following plea: “We do not ask you to pardon those whom you have destined for destruction; we only want you to relieve the anxiety of those whom you have decided to spare”). A large number of Roman aristocrats associated with the populares (520, according to Sorbonne professor Francois Hinard) were proscribed and their property confiscated. Sulla strengthened the power of the Senate, weakened the power of the tribunes, and stopped the grain dole. He passed a law that no army was to be stationed in or near Rome—in effect, he banned standing armies in Italy—and no general was to lead his army out of the provinces without permission of the Senate. Sulla retired and died in 79.

77-72 BCE: Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, Pompey the Great, who had been a general under Sulla and celebrated a triumph at the exceptionally young age of 24, took command of the Roman legions in Spain and put down a revolt led by the followers of Marius.

Revolt of Spartacus:

The real Spartacus was a freeborn provincial from Thrace, who may have served as an auxiliary in the Roman army in Macedonia. He deserted the army, was outlawed, captured, sold into slavery, and trained at the gladiatorial school of Batiatus in Capua.

73 BCE: Spartacus escaped with 70-80 gladiators, seizing the knives in the cook's shop and a wagon full of weapons. They camped on Vesuvius and were joined by other rural slaves, overrunning the region with much plunder and pillage, although Spartacus apparently tried to restrain them. His chief aides were gladiators from Gaul, named Crixus and Oenomaus.

The Senate sent a praetor, Claudius Glaber (his nomen may have been Clodius; his praenomen is unknown), against the rebel slaves with about 3000 raw recruits hastily drafted from the region. They thought they had trapped the rebels on Vesuvius, but Spartacus led his men down the other side of the mountain using vines, fell on the rear of the soldiers, and routed them.

Spartacus subsequently defeated two forces of legionary cohorts; he wanted to lead his men across the Alps to escape from Italy, but the Gauls and Germans, led by Crixus, wanted to stay and plunder. They separated from Spartacus, who passed the winter near Thurii in southern Italy.

72 BCE: Spartacus had raised about 70,000 slaves, mostly from rural areas. The Senate, alarmed, finally sent the two consuls (L. Gellius Publicola and Cn. Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus), each with two legions, against the rebels. The Gauls and Germans, separated from Spartacus, were defeated by Publicola, and Crixus was killed. Spartacus defeated Lentulus, and then Publicola; to avenge Crixus, Spartacus had 300 prisoners from these battles fight in pairs to the death. (map)

At Picenum in central Italy Spartacus defeated the consular armies, then pushed north and defeated the proconsul of Cisalpine Gaul at Mutina. The Alps were now open to the rebels, but again the Gauls and Germans refused to go, so Spartacus returned to southern Italy, perhaps intending to ship to Sicily.

In the autumn, when the revolt was at its height and Spartacus had about 120,000 followers, the Senate voted to pass over the consuls and grant imperium to Marcus Licinius Crassus, who had been a praetor in 73 B.C. but currently held no office. Crassus was the wealthiest man in Rome, a noble from an old plebeian family; since he had received very little support from the conservative nobles who dominated the Senate, he had allied himself with the faction of the populares.

Crassus was given six new legions plus the four consular legions. When one of Crassus' legates attacked Spartacus with two legions, against orders, Spartacus roundly defeated them. Crassus decimated the most cowardly cohort, then used his combined forces to defeat Spartacus, who retreated to Rhegium, in the toe of Italy. Spartacus tried to cross the straits into Sicily, but the Cilician pirates betrayed him.

Meanwhile, the Senate recalled Pompey and his legions from Spain, and they began the journey overland; Marcus Licinius Lucullus landed in Brundisium in the heel of Italy with his legions from Macedonia. When Spartacus finally fought his way out of the toe of Italy, he could not march to Brundisium and take ship to the east because of the presence of Lucullus. (map)

71 BCE: Spartacus started north; some of the Gauls and Germans separated from him and were nearly defeated by Crassus before Spartacus rescued them. The slaves gained one more minor victory against part of Crassus' forces, but they were finally wiped out by Crassus' legions in a major battle in southern Italy, near the headwaters of the Siler river. It is believed that Spartacus died in this battle; there were so many corpses that his body was never found. The historian Appian reports that 6000 slaves were taken prisoner by Crassus and crucified along the Appian Way from Capua to Rome.

As many as 5000 slaves escaped and fled northward, but they were captured by Pompey's army north of Rome as he was marching back from Spain; Pompey subsequently tried to claim the glory of victory from Crassus, although he had not actually participated in any of the battles. The Senate voted Pompey a triumph because of his victory in Spain, but they decreed an ovation (a far less splendid and prestigious parade) for Crassus because his victory had been merely over slaves. There were no political purges or proscriptions after the rebellion was crushed.

70 BCE: Pompey and Crassus were elected consuls, although Pompey was six years too young for the office and had never held any of the lower magistracies. As consuls, they repealed some of the unpopular laws of Sulla and restored the power of the tribunes.

Significance of Spartacus: quotation from Erich Gruen, The Last Generation of the Roman Republic (University of California Press, 1974) 20-21:

It was not the governing class alone that would react in horror to the prospect of a slave insurrection. Whatever the grievances of men disenfranchised and dispossessed by Sulla, they would have found unthinkable any common enterprise with Thracian or Gallic slaves. It causes no surprise that Marxist historians and writers have idealized Spartacus as a champion of the masses and leader of the one genuine social revolution in Roman history. That, however, is excessive. Spartacus and his companions sought to break the bonds of their own grievous oppression. There is no sign that they were motivated by ideological considerations to overturn the social structure. The sources make clear that Spartacus endeavored to bring his forces out of Italy toward freedom rather than to reform or reverse Roman society. The achievements of Spartacus are no less formidable for that. The courage, tenacity, and ability of the Thracian gladiator who held Roman forces at bay for some two years and built a handful of followers into an assemblage of over 120,000 men can only inspire admiration.

The Roman reaction was tardy and ineffective. . . . Error of judgment induced the Senate to treat the uprising too lightly at the outset. By the time Rome took firm steps, Spartacus' ranks had considerably swelled and the state's finest soldiers were serving abroad. But Crassus' efforts obtained full support, and the revolt was wiped out in 71.


Characters in Film with a Recorded Historical Existence:

Marcus Licinius Crassus (Lawrence Olivier)

Marcus Publius Glabrus [real name was Claudius Glaber] (John Dall)

Gaius Julius Caesar (John Gavin)

Lentulus Batiatus (Peter Ustinov—won Academy Award for best supporting actor)

Spartacus (Kirk Douglas)

Crixus (John Ireland)

Cilician pirates


Characters in Film with No Historical Record of Existence:

Antoninus (Tony Curtis)

Gracchus (Charles Laughton)

Helena (Nina Foch) and Claudia (Joanna Barnes)

Varinia (Jean Simmons)—only Plutarch says Spartacus had a wife, a Thracian who was enslaved with him

Marcellus (Charles McGraw)

Draba (Woody Strode)

Tigranes Levantes (Herbert Lom)—though there was a King of Armenia named Tigranes



Barbara F. McManus, The College of New Rochelle
bmcmanus@cnr.edurevised June, 1999


Third Servile War

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The Third Servile War, also called the Gladiator War and The War of Spartacus by Plutarch, was the last of a series of unrelated and unsuccessful slave rebellions against the Roman Republic, known collectively as the Servile Wars. The Third Servile War was the only one to directly threaten the Roman heartland of Italia and was doubly alarming to the Roman people due to the repeated successes of the rapidly growing band of rebel slaves against the Roman army between 73 and 71 BC. The rebellion was finally crushed in 71 BC through the concentrated military effort of a single commander, Marcus Licinius Crassus, although the rebellion continued to have indirect effects on Roman politics for years to come.


tkwiBookHD:Users:mmdtkw:Desktop:Capua_34885_1_03012#1320682.jpgBetween 73 and 71 BC, a band of escaped slaves — originally a small cadre of about 70 escaped gladiators which grew into a band of over 120,000 men, women and children — wandered throughout and raided the Roman province of Italia with relative impunity under the guidance of several leaders, including the famous gladiator-general Spartacus. The able-bodied adults of this band were a surprisingly effective armed force that repeatedly showed they could withstand the Roman military, from the local Campanian patrols, to the Roman militia, and to trained Roman legions under consular command. Plutarch described the actions of the slaves as an attempt by Roman slaves to escape their masters and flee through Cisalpine Gaul, while Appian and Florus depicted the revolt as a civil war in which the slaves waged a campaign to capture the city of Rome itself.


ß  Spartacus, Louvre, Paris

Dennis Fouatier, 1830


The Roman Senate's growing alarm about the continued military successes of this band, and about their depredations against Roman towns and the countryside, eventually led to Rome's fielding of an army of eight legions under the harsh but effective leadership of Marcus Licinius Crassus. The war ended in 71 BC when, after a long and bitter fighting retreat before the legions of Crassus, and the realization that the legions of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus were moving in to entrap them, the armies of Spartacus launched their full strength against Crassus' legions and were utterly destroyed.


While Spartacus' war is noteworthy in its own right, the Third Servile War was significant to the broader history of ancient Rome mostly in its effect on the careers of Pompey and Crassus. The two generals used their success in putting down the rebellion to further their political careers, using their public acclaim and the implied threat of their legions to sway the consular elections of 70 BC in their favor. Their actions as Consuls greatly furthered the subversion of Roman political institutions and contributed to the eventual transition of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.


Slavery in the Roman republic:

Through varying degrees throughout Roman history, the existence of a pool of inexpensive labor in the form of slaves was an important factor in the economy. Slaves were acquired for the Roman workforce through a variety of means, including purchase from foreign merchants and the enslavement of foreign populations through military conquest.[1] With Rome's heavy involvement in wars of conquest in the first and second centuries BC, tens if not hundreds of thousands of slaves at a time were imported into the Roman economy.[2] While there was limited use for slaves as servants, craftsmen, and personal attendants, vast numbers of slaves worked in mines and on the agricultural lands of Sicily and southern Italia.[3]


For the most part, slaves were treated harshly and oppressively during the Roman republican period. Under Republican law, a slave was not considered a person, but property. Owners could abuse, injure or even kill their own slaves without legal consequence. While there were many grades and types of slaves, the lowest — and most numerous — grades who worked in the fields and mines were subject to a life of hard physical labor.[4]


This high concentration and oppressive treatment of the slave population led to rebellions. In 135 BC and 104 BC, the First and Second Servile Wars, respectively, erupted in Sicily, where small bands of rebels found tens of thousands of willing followers wishing to escape the oppressive life of a Roman slave. While these were considered serious civil disturbances by the Roman Senate, taking years and direct military intervention to quell, they were never considered a serious threat to the Republic. The Roman heartland of Italia had never seen a slave uprising, nor had slaves ever been seen as a potential threat to the city of Rome. This would all change with the Third Servile War.


The rebellion begins (73 BC) – The Capuan revolt:

In the Roman Republic of the first century BC, gladiatorial games were one of the more popular forms of entertainment. In order to supply gladiators for the contests, several training schools, or ludi, were established throughout Italia.[5] In these schools, prisoners of war and condemned criminals — who were considered slaves — were taught the skills required to fight to the death in gladiatorial games.[6] In 73 BC, a group of some 200 gladiators in the Capuan school owned by Lentulus Batiatus plotted an escape. When their plot was betrayed, a force of about 70 men seized implements from the kitchen ("choppers and spits"), fought their way free from the school, and seized several wagons of gladiatorial weapons and armor.[7]


Once free, the escaped gladiators chose leaders from their number, selecting two Gallic slaves — Crixus and Oenomaus — and Spartacus, who was said either to be a Thracian auxiliary from the Roman legions later condemned to slavery, or a captive taken by the legions.[8] There is some question as to Spartacus's nationality, however, as "Thraces" were a type of gladiator in Rome.[9]


These escaped slaves were able to defeat a small force of troops sent after them from Capua, and