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DIED B.C. 184.
HE Roman drama, more than any other branch of
their literature, was an inheritance from Greece.
The plays, however, which, during a period of five hundred years, amused a Roman audience, possessed neither the brilliant burlesque, the keen satire, the wealth of allusion, nor the extravagant wit of Aristophanes. The oligarchy at Rome would not permit the freedom of speech on the stage which delighted the democracy at Athens. The dramatists of those days were disciples of Menander, and drew their characters from such general types of human nature as would offend no one with the idea that his own private weaknesses were being ridiculed or attacked ; and of such comedies those of Plautus and Terence are all that have come down to us.
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, giving 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 :
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
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
Callicles.-Nay scarcely, for his sins
• On the far-famed Gorgonidonian plains,
Clytomestoridysarchides' son.' 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.
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 been obliged to part with it, owing to reduced circum
stances. Unluckily, however, the father encounters at the door of his own house the slave of his son's drunken visitor, waiting to escort him safely home, and he discloses the real state of affairs, which Simo confirms. Theuropides begs of him the loan of two stout slaves, with whips, and goes in quest of the culprit, Tranio, who takes refuge at the family altar, and gravely advises the old gentleman not to let it be known that he has been duped, or he will be made fun of in the next new comedy. The now sobered guest begs that all may be forgiven and forgotten, and the valet assures his master that the whipping he is longing to give him need only be deferred, as he will be sure to do something to deserve one to-morrow.
A SLAVE describes to his master, Dæmones, who has a cottage on the sea-shore, the approach of a boat, from which two girls have landed among the rocks. One of these is Palæstra, stolen in her infancy, whom a young Athenian, Pleusidippus, would have ransomed; but the slave-merchant, thinking to make a better bargain in Sicily, had shipped thither with his captives, when they were all wrecked in going out of harbour. The girls take refuge in an adjacent temple of Venus, with a very ritualistic priestess. Labrax, the slave-dealer, also gets ashore, but has lost all his money, as well as Palæstra's family trinkets. He endeavours to drag his victims from the temple, but a servant of Pleusidippus is at hand, and, with the help of the old cottager and his slaves, rescues them and secures Labrax. The lover himself soon appears, and hands the dealer over to a magistrate, for breach of contract and sacrilege. After a lapse of time, Gripus, one of Dæmones' slaves, brings up in his fishing net a heavy wallet, which he feels certain contains gold enough to purchase his freedom, and to make him a rich man for the rest of his life. Before he can hide his booty, Trachalio, another slave, claims half. Gripus argues that it belongs to him, declaring that all's fish that comes to the net,' only this species is very seldom caught. The other protests that, as a matter