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phases of human nature, as a couplet written a century after his death testifies :
'O life, and O Menander! speak and say
Which copied which? or nature, or the play.'
The mask, which all ancient performers wore, made any play of the features impossible, and thus the sphere of the author's invention was restricted to generally recognised impersonations. The limited capacity, also, of the scenic arrangements required that the characters should be few and broadly marked. The action of a piece often depended upon the parts assigned to slaves, who were represented as far superior to their masters, both in witty reply and practical wisdom, Menander maintaining a higher tone respecting slavery than his Roman imitators; for he says,
'Live as a free man, and it makes thee free.'
The entire absence of love-scenes was another peculiarity in these dramas; for although there was generally a love story, the audience were never allowed to see the lady. Nor was the author very complimentary respecting marriages, although he admits that
'A virtuous woman is a man's salvation;
He is also honest enough to lay the fault of ill-assorted matches at the door of those who have to choose, as much as of those who are chosen :
'What boots it to be curious as to lineage,
Who was her grandfather, and her mother's mother,
Her whom we have to live with, what She is,
In mind or temper, this we never ask.
They bring the dowry out, and count it down,
The gold which some few months shall see the end of;
While she who at our hearth must sit through life,
Before we take her, but trust all to chance.'
In most of his plays a soldier of fortune is introduced who indulges in long stories of his exploits, and is some
times accompanied by a parasite to act as his foil or toady; a character common enough in Athens and Rome, but which has not found its way into the modern drama, although not unknown in society as 'the diner out.' Then there was the female slave, corresponding with our pert waiting-maid, the old nurse, and, occasionally, the family cook.
It has been remarked that Menander was more adapted to instruct than to entertain; and some of his passages breathe a high tone of morality, for example,
'The gods have need
That man be good unto his fellow-men,
Nor thief, nor murderer from the lust of gain,
'He is well cleansed that hath his conscience clean ;'
'The workman still is greater than his work ;'
as well as the sentence adopted by St Paul,
'Evil communications corrupt good manners.'
In short, the number of quotations from the fragments of his plays, which have passed into household proverbs, show the estimation in which his works were held by those who had access to them in their integrity.
PLAUTUS is supposed to have been of humble origin, and to have worked originally as a stage carpenter; but he possessed the art of writing plays, almost without a rival in popularity, for a period of forty years. All, with one exception, were taken from Greek originals, but he gives us the Roman manners of his day, and his characters are citizens of the world. His diction, also, has been highly praised, and he was perhaps the first who raised conversational Latin to the dignity of a literary style. His plays generally commenced with a prologue, which gave an outline of the plot, and also contained familiar appeals to the audience as to their behaviour during the performance. His ten principal comedies were :—
1. The Three Silver Pieces,
Or, 'The Buried Treasure,' the story of which is simple enough. Charmides, a rich citizen, has been half-ruined by his son Lesbonicus. He goes abroad, leaving this son and a daughter in charge of his friend Callicles, telling him, as a secret, that he has buried three thousand gold coins under his house, as a marriage portion for his daughter in the event of his not returning. Lesbonicus continues his extravagance, and at last sells the house, which Callicles buys to preserve the precious deposit. Being reproached for doing so, he entrusts a friend with his motive. Lysiteles, a young man of wealth, appears as a suitor for the daughter, whom her brother offers to endow with a farm, which is all that remains to him of the family estate. His faithful slave, Stasimus, entreats the suitor's father, Philto, not to let his son set foot on the land, pretending to tell him, confidentially, of several absurd objections to it, and that something horrible has always happened to its owner, in order that his old master's son and he may continue to derive a living from the property. Lysiteles is as reluctant to accept the proffered dowry as Lesbonicus is determined to give it; and, on the latter intimating his intention of taking military service under some foreign potentate, the old slave's despair at the idea of wearing clumsy boots, and carrying a heavy buckler and pack, as his master's attendant, is highly comic.
Callicles, however, will not allow his absent friend's daughter to go dowerless when there is money stored away for the purpose; but how is he to produce it without compromising himself? He hires a man, for three silver pieces, to pretend that her father has sent him with the treasure from some far-off country. He knocks at the door of the house, and it is opened by Charmides, who happens to have just returned from his voyage, and a very amusing dialogue takes place between him and the impostor, who at last retires to tell his employer the result of his mission. The next scene is between Charmides and the old steward Stasimus, who has been drinking, but is sobered with the joy of seeing his old master again, and narrates to him all
that has occurred during his absence. Misunderstandings are now soon cleared up; Charmides hears with pleasure of his daughter's betrothal, insists upon Lysiteles accepting the marriage portion he had provided, and not only forgives the continued extravagance of his son, but proposes a wife for him, whom Lesbonicus eagerly accepts, and offers to marry anyone else besides, to please his father.
Charmides replies :
'Nay, one's enough; though I am angry with ye
That were too hard.
Callicles.-Nay, scarcely, for his sins
A hundred wives at once would serve him right.'
II. The Braggadocio.
THE hero in this play is Pyrgopolinices, the 'Tower of Victory,' a soldier of fortune. He has served, by his own account,
'On the far-famed Gorgonidonian plains,
Where the great Bombomachides commanded,
His attendant and toady is Artotrogus, the 'Bread Devourer,' who swears to the truth of his master's stories, and so 'maintains his teeth at the expense of his ears.' The captain is inordinately vain of his prowess, and affects to believe that all the women are charmed with him, saying,—
"Tis a great nuisance being so very handsome.'
He has recently carried off a young lady from her lover, whose slave, Palestrio, has also fallen into his hands. The slave sends information to his master, Pleusides, that he has discovered his lost treasure, and, on arriving in pursuit of her, he finds a bachelor friend of the family occupies the adjoining house to the captain's, where she is incarcerated. A doorway is made through the wall, and Pleusides is enabled to communicate with the object of his affections. But one of the captain's servants, while chasing a monkey on the roof, witnesses one of these stolen interviews, and confides his secret to Palestrio. The faithful slave persuades
him that he has seen a twin-sister, who has a lover, and not the captain's lady, and she keeps up the deception by playing the two characters in turn. At last the captain is cajoled by Palestrio that a lady of great charms has fallen in love with him, and, having a jealous husband, wishes for an interview in his own house, from which the other lady, with her mother and twin-sister, the latter being Pleusides in disguise, are temporarily escorted by Palestrio. The real lovers, of course, make off together; and as soon as the love-stricken dame, who is only a lady's-maid employed for the occasion, has been introduced, the bachelor neighbour arrives, as the jealous husband, with a band of slaves, who beat the captain to a jelly.
III. The Haunted House.
THEUROPIDES, an Athenian merchant, has been on a trading voyage for three years, during which his son, Philolaches, has spent the greatest part of his father's money in dissolute company, aided and abetted by his valet, Tranio. The youth has just sat down to supper with some friends, when the valet announces that his father has returned. The house is cleared as quickly as possible, but one of the guests is very drunk, and will not go. The father arrives, vowing he will never go to sea again, and looking for a hearty welcome home; but he is met at the door by Tranio, with a tale that the house is haunted by the ghost of a man who was murdered in it by the last owner, and that his son has been obliged to go into the country. Suddenly a noise is heard within, which the father is made to believe is the ghost threatening them, and he runs off with his cloak over his head. As Tranio follows his master down the street, they meet a money-lender, to whom the son is indebted, and who demands his interest. The valet persuades the father that the money has been borrowed to pay for another house, which the old gentleman at once desires to see. Tranio, in despair, asks permission of their next door neighbour, Simo, to show his house, pretending to him that his master wishes for one like it, and whispering to the latter not to allude to the purchase, as poor Simo has