Scholia Reviews ns 16 (2007) 43.

Eduard Fraenkel (trr. Tomas Drevikovsky and Frances Muecke), Plautine Elements in Plautus (Plautinisches im Plautus). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. xxiv + 459. ISBN 0-19-924910-5. UK£75.00.

Lisa Maurice,
Department of Classical Studies, Bar Ilan University

Ever since its publication in 1922, Eduard Fraenkel’s Plautinisches im Plautus has been central to any study of Plautus. The Italian translation of the book, published in 1960, widened its accessibility and allowed Fraenkel to qualify his earlier work by means of addenda to the original. In this age of globalisation, it is becoming a sad fact that English-speaking students and scholars are becoming less and less fluent in tongues other than their own, and Fraenkel’s ground-breaking readings were in danger of being lost. Thanks to this new translation by Tomas Drevikovsky and Frances Muecke, the audience who will be able to benefit from Fraenkel’s deep and insightful knowledge will broaden much further.

Before an overview of the work itself, a word about the translation. Fraenkel’s compact and academic German, typical of the time, is not an easy read. Muecke and Drevikovsky have done an admirable job of turning Fraenkel’s prose into clear English, while keeping as close as possible to the original text. While the result is a style often perhaps more formal than a more modern work, it is never over-clumsy or laborious to read. In keeping with modern trends, all Latin and Greek is translated, further extending the accessibility of the work to a less-specialised audience. The new translation opens with a preface by the translators that summarises Fraenkel’s approach and trends in Plautine scholarship from Fraenkel to the present day, setting the work of Fraenkel in context.

As to the work itself, Fraenkel’s main concern was to focus attention on Plautus himself, rather than using the Plautine texts as a means to learn about Greek new comedy. His intention was to illustrate what was uniquely Plautine about Plautus’ plays, and he showed this by through an analysis of aspects such as the verbal fireworks, slapstick, military metaphors of the crafty slave and cantica that he claimed were Plautus’ own innovations. Thus the book is divided into ten chapters, each showing a different element in which, according to Fraenkel, Plautus diverged from his original. These chapters are entitled 'Comparative Openings of Speeches' (pp. 5-16), 'Transformation and identification motifs' (pp. 17-44), 'Mythological Material' (pp. 45-71), 'Animating the Inanimate' (pp. 72-77), 'Expansion of the Dialogue' (pp. 78-95), 'Expansion of Monologues' (pp. 96- 144), 'Implausibility in Conversations' (pp. 145-58), 'The Predominance of the Slave's Role' (pp. 159-72), '"Contaminated" Plays' (pp. 173-218) and 'The Nature and Origins of the Cantica' (pp. 219-51). A final chapter, 'Plautus as a Poet' (pp. 252-86) completes Fraenkel’s original work. Fraenkel’s own introductions to both the German version and the Italian translation, and the addenda that appeared in the latter, along with his notes, bibliography, and index are also included.

Since Fraenkel’s work is such a standard text (it was described by Eric Csapo in 1989, as being still, 'sixty- five years after its publication, . . . the most authoritative scholarly work in the field of Roman comedy'[[1]]), I will here outline the content of the book only briefly.[[2]] In the first chapter, Fraenkel takes the opening of a group of speeches which he argues are similar in structure, since in each, a character or situation is extravagantly praised, by means of a comparison with an event from mythology or a famous legendary figure. Fraenkel shows that this use of absurd comparisons follows a specific formula and involves material introduced by Plautus himself, emphasising that 'Nowhere in the remains of Attic comedy, neither in the fragments nor in the longer passages, now considerable, and nowhere in Terence, do we find a single comparable passage,' (p. 8). Thus, he concludes, this element must be Plautine.

The second chapter continues this trend, dealing with Plautus’ habit of playing with transformation, whereby characters make comments such as: formido male, / ne ego hic nomen meum commutem et Quintus fiam e Sosia; / quattuor nudos sopori se dedisse hic autumat: / metuo ne numerum augeam illum (Amph. 304-307: ‘I’m horribly afraid that I may change my name and be made Quintus out of Sosia; this fellow claims he put to sleep four naked men: I fear I may increase that number’, p. 17). Fraenkel demonstrates that motifs such as this are widespread in Plautus and also found far more frequently in Old Attic Comedy than in New Comedy, again indicating deviation from his New comedic models and personal innovation.

Plautus’ use of mythology is the subject of the next chapter, and here Fraenkel openly challenges the assumptions current in his era, providing an enlightening glimpse for the modern reader of the situation of Plautine scholarship in his day: 'We cannot just set up a priori an axiom such as the following: the mythology is Greek, Greek culture in Rome at the time of Plautus was very slight, so everything which is part of historia fabularis (‘legendary tale’) has its origin in the Attic originals (leaving aside small deviations and alterations)' (p. 45). Instead, Fraenkel argues that knowledge of Greek mythology must have been widespread in Rome, and that therefore mythological references could also have been, and indeed often were, introduced by Plautus himself. A rather shorter chapter follows, highlighting Plautine fondness for graphic description of inanimate objects as animate.

Building on these four introductory chapters, Fraenkel moves on to draw larger conclusions about Plautus’ originality, in two chapters dealing with Plautus’ expansion of dialogue (Chapter 5) and monologues (Chapter 6). Further chapters deal with his insertion of third person commentary in many scenes (Chapter 7), the expanded role of the crafty slave (Chapter 8) and Plautus’ creativity in the cantica (Chapter 9). A final chapter, setting out how he views Plautus and his background, and what he regarded as the Plautine elements in Plautus, completes the original volume. The evidence of all these elements leads Fraenkel to draw the conclusion that Plautus was an innovative creator in his own right, a conclusion that revolutionised Plautine scholarship when the work first published.

Since Fraenkel wrote his Plautinisches im Plautus, some of his theories have been rejected -- indeed not all were even still held by Fraenkel himself in 1960 when the Italian translation was published (Fraenkel’s qualifications to his earlier ideas are outlined in the addenda to the Italian version, found on pp. 390-426 of the English translation). Scholarship on Roman comedy has developed to include appreciation of Plautus as a gifted artist in his own right, with later readings, pioneered by Erich Segal,[[3]] using the works of Plautus to examine social dynamics in republican Rome.[[4]] Other scholars have placed an emphasis on stagecraft, examining self- consciousness and metatheatricality in particular.[[5]] Yet the 1922 book was undoubtedly the catalyst for modern Plautine scholarship, and should still be the starting point for any serious work on Plautus. For that reason, this new translation is a welcome addition; it is to be hoped that the enthusiasm with which it will be greeted will provide the inspiration for Drevikovsky and Muecke to produce a translation of the earlier work of Fraenkel’s own teacher and mentor, Friedrich Leo.[[6]] As it is, thanks to their efforts so far, the modern generation of Plautine scholars is much better served to continue working seriously on this most enticing of classical authors.


[[1]] Eric Csapo, 'Plautine Elements in the Running-Slave Entrance Monologues?', CQ ns 39.1 (1989) 148-63.

[[2]] For a contemporary review of the original work see, for example, H. W. Prescott, CPh 19 (1924) 90-93.

[[3]] Erich Segal, Roman Laughter: The Comedy of Plautus (London 1987[2]).

[[4]] See also, for example, Kathleen McCarthy, Slaves, Masters, and the Art of Authority in Plautine Comedy (Princeton 2000); Erich S. Gruen, 'Plautus and the Public Stage', Studies in Greek Culture and Roman Policy (Leiden 1990) 124-57; Matthew Leigh, Comedy and the Rise of Rome (Oxford 2004).

[[5]] This was pioneered by M. Barchiesi, 'Plauto e il ‘metateatro’ antico', Il verri (31 1970) 113-30, but fully developed by in particular Niall W. Slater, Plautus in Performance: The Theater of the Mind (Princeton 1985). See also, for example, Richard Beacham, The Roman Theatre and its Audience (London 1991); Thomas Moore, The Theater of Plautus (Austin 1998).

[[6]] F. Leo, Plautinische Forschungen zur Kritik und Geschichte der Komödie (Berlin 1895).