As Juvenal remarked a century later, Horace had a full belly, thanks to his full moneybox (7.62); the satirist can afford to look down on Plautus, and sets him onstage, in the guise of a stock character from Atellan farce, among the parasiti, running like a slave, wearing the shoes of a comic actor, all for money.Footnote 2 In fact the plays themselves make it a point of pride: actors are professionals, onstage to make their living; highly skilled, but low in the social scale. They wear socci as a badge of honor. As seen in chapter 2, actors, like parasiti, sing for their supper, to an audience that knows what labor costs. As seen in chapter 1, they did so in a wartime economy. This chapter ties the song to the supper: poverty, debt, and hunger, and the fears of a populus in times of war, found expression in oral forms that actors in the palliata took to the bank.
Despite commonalities, then, between actors and some audience members, a constant theme in the plays, especially in prologues, works to separate the players from the audience: actors are “us,” the audience is “you.” As seen in chapter 1, this distance is a structural element of all theater and endows the actor with authority and glamor. In Roman theater generally, already by the time vernacular tragedy and the palliata become visible to us, this distance allowed those on the stage to speak of political issues in coded terms that audiences could pick up on, despite the danger; in later periods, we know they did.Footnote 3 In the palliata, this distance, augmented by the use of masks, allowed the players to speak of themselves and the circumstances entailed by their social position, and to set themselves apart from the official endeavors of the Roman state, or any state. As Timothy Moore has demonstrated (Reference Moore1998), the actors, by both pleading with and commanding the audience, fluctuate between a marked lower position and a marked usurpation of power. This is the quintessence of the comedian’s art.
Moreover, the plays are permeated by familiar popular forms that put the audience into the familiar position of onlookers at a shouting match. What is at stake, often: honor, credit, money, civil status. Just as the presence of prostitutes on the city stage overlaps with the everyday presence of prostitutes in the city streets and market spaces, so the insult matches and scenes of dunning in the plays superimpose the audience, essentially sitting in the street, over the same space where they might see the same kind of scenes enacted by amateurs on any given day. As best we can tell from later sources, these scenes occupied a well-demarcated space in the social hierarchy: low.Footnote 4 Cheers, dunning (flagitatio), and cries for help (quiritatio) are uniformly associated with crowds in the street, while occentatio (a sort of charivari) is performed by a crowd unruly if not always low-class. Yet these practices followed a set format, with rules of its own, and the actors are amazingly good at it – professionals – courting the audience’s admiration. These verse forms as preserved in the record of the palliata are, in the terms used by Giulio Colesanti (Reference Colesanti, Colesanti and Giordano2014) and Riccardo Palmisciano (Reference Palmisciano, Colesanti and Giordano2014), “emerged texts,” as opposed to the “submerged texts” that enjoyed scarce transmission. The actors and their comedy, then, mark themselves as low by means of formal elements as well as by explicit metatheatrical speeches to the audience, but also claim to be worth watching. Both as actors and as professional jokers, they repeatedly insist that this is how they feed themselves. Prostitute to parasitus: “You’re talking trash!” Parasitus: “I always do – trash is what I live on” (nugas garris. #soleo, nam propter eas vivo facilius, Cur. 604).The prologue speaker of Captivi, an actor, in explaining the plight of Tyndarus, pauses for some editorial comment (50–2):
Lindsay translates line 52, “fact on the boards, fiction for the benches” (Reference Lindsay1921: 74). Res here surely has a double meaning: “the matter of our play,” “the internal reality of the play,” and “reality for us actors,” with the consciousness of the presence of slaves and freedmen behind (some) masks. Moore puts it strongly, spelling out the prologue speaker’s meaning: “‘To you free spectators,’ he says, ‘this is only a fiction, but we (the slave actors and the previously-mentioned slave spectators) know the reality of slavery’” (Reference Terrenato, Forcey, Hawthorne and Witcher1998: 196). Lines 50–1 are the more emphatic in that they repeat an idea expressed earlier in the prologue, as the speaker points to one of the two men standing in chains on the stage: “He now, back home here, is a slave belonging to his father, nor does his father know; / it’s a fact that the gods use us human beings like balls” (hic nunc domi servit suo patri, nec scit pater; / enim vero di nos quasi pilas homines habent, 21–2; the reference is to a game of catch).Footnote 5 Indeed, the speaker, as he begins to speak, points first to the two men (line 1), then to those in the audience who are standing (line 2), and then to the house that forms the backdrop (4), and poses the question of “how this guy comes to be a slave belonging to his own father” (is quo pacto serviat suo sibi patri, 5) as the subject of the prologue (apud vos proloquar, 6).Footnote 6 The ambiguity of homunculi quanti sunt (51) is hard to convey in English: homunculi are persons for whom the speaker feels compassion, seeing them as small, weak, or obscure; quanti sunt means “are worth how much,” “what is the price of,” and here cues an exclamation. If line 51 continues the thought in line 50, it opens up an issue rarely discussed openly in Latin: not the play’s far-fetched situation whereby a father unknowingly purchases his own lost son, but the everyday situation in which owners impregnated their own slave-women, the resulting vernae then not being acknowledged as sons and daughters. Plautus’ audience would have been conscious of this as we are not, and from many angles. Likewise, the movements of the speaker’s masked face, his gestures, would enable him to include some audience members in homunculi quanti sunt and nobis, others in vobis. Explicitly, however, this play is about war captives who are sold as slaves, a description that applies roughly to at least some of the comic writers we hear about: Livius Andronicus, Caecilius Statius, Terence. This is the players’ story; this is what war means to them. And, as they took their show on the road, they moved through a war-torn landscape, belonging nowhere now themselves – an experience also shared by some in their various audiences.Footnote 7
The plays are set in the street. Accordingly, they are full of street noise. Italian oral forms belong to the time and place the actors moved through; the content of the form derives meaning from its historical location. The choice by actors and playwright to adopt these forms into the palliatamarks the plays as not-Greek; also, like the popular stories studied by Rebecca Langlands, the forms are a kind of “shared language.” In turning now to verbal dueling, flagitatio, occentatio, quiritatio, and what I here call “cheerleading,” I hope to show how the relationship between form and history takes shape, and what the forms have to do with the lives of actors and audience.
Among the fourteen extant prologues, six incorporate a sort of cheerleading, in which the prologue speaker praises the prowess of the audience and the state in war, and/or wishes them success in their current military endeavor. In all these wishes, the speaker uses the second person plural: this is your war. Of course all the prologues, which address the crowd directly, naturally use the second plural throughout, but there is still something about the way these wishes are framed that separates them from the actors, and makes the whole endeavor of war – or the audience’s wars – something from which the cast is separated.
There is some reason to think that that would in fact have been the case for Rome itself. (As will be seen, the cheerleading speeches are quite generic, and could have been played as well in Praeneste or any other town the troupe visited; both Praeneste and Tibur had their own cults to Victoria.Footnote 8) As noted in chapter 1, most of the actors in the palliata were not Roman citizens at all, so that the civil disabilities that later attended actors, keeping them out of the military, would have been irrelevant for them: too low, too outside, to be eligible for the Roman army in the first place. So were the poorest citizens, the proletarii, who held only an unenvied eligibility to row in the fleet. This is not to say that slaves, freedmen, and outsiders had no experience in the Roman armed forces, for all these categories had such experience, at times, throughout the 200s and to Polybius’ day, in various capacities; moreover, the army itself was divided into ranks according to census classes determined by property, so that property differentiated the military experience of male citizens and their families – especially so in the city (see chapter 2).Footnote 9 Onstage jokes using military language addressed this wide range of experience. But onstage victory cheers addressed the whole audience, many of whom could only be civilians, for whom defeat meant the sack of the city, ruin, and a strong chance of death or enslavement. As seen in chapter 1, audiences at the ludi Romani wore the laurel crowns of victors from 293 bce onwards, and Cato made a chilling joke about this practice: “That the populus might rather go hold a thanksgiving ceremony wearing wreaths, for a battle well fought by their own effort, than be sold wearing the wreath if the battle were badly fought” (ut populus sua opera potius ob rem bene gestam coronatus supplicatum eat, quam re male gesta coronatus veneat). The mass appeal of the goddess Victoria is suggested by an onstage joke in which the slave Truculentus jeers at Astaphium, a prostitute’s slave-woman, betting her that her “Victorias” are made of wood (Truc. 275) – cheap ornaments made to look like gold, indicating that rich women wore Victoria, too. Rich women had more to lose; slave-women had already lost. It cannot be too often emphasized that Gellius put Plautus’ floruit during the Second Punic War, when Hannibal was at the gates.Footnote 10
The actors are removed from the war effort, yet they, with the audience, are engaged in something that has to do with it: the ludi themselves. The lengthy Amphitruo prologue brings in the audience’s success, at home and “abroad” (peregri), in several places (1–14, 39–49, 73–80); as seen in chapter 2, the god Mercurius, the prologue speaker, takes credit for their success in trade, and gives credit to Jupiter for their success both generally and, specifically, in war. He then makes an elaborate series of metatheatrical arguments that locate Mercurius and Jupiter as actors inside the god costumes and suggest how familiar a sight were the gods of war on the wartime stage in the 200s bce.Footnote 11 We will look at this prologue in detail before turning to the more formulaic cheerleading speeches in other prologues.After Mercurius’ remarks on how Jupiter fears a beating “no less than any of you” (27), he says he comes in peace, bringing peace (32), makes some general remarks on justice, and then, as prologue speakers do, asks the audience to pay attention – still in character as an actor in a god costume (38–45):
On the surface, the joke is that the god Mercurius is standing there on the stage asking the audience to be grateful to him and Jupiter, and doing so (appropriately for this god) in the language of the market: meruimus, “we’ve earned it.” But, as seen in chapter 2, earned rewards are often laid claim to in the plays by those who hope to improve their lot, and what Mercurius asks for here is for the audience to pay attention to the play; the benefit is to the actors, not to the gods, unless spectatorship is worship. In a way, that is just what the ludi were, but Mercurius is also reminding the audience of the good that actors (as well as gods) do for “you and the state” – a move familiar from Aristophanes, except that this petition is on behalf of an outsider social group rather than a competitive playwright (contrast what Terence does in his prologues). The list of gods on the tragic stage who remind the audience how they have served “you” is a list of gods of war, a topic appropriate to tragedy rather than comedy, as the Captivi prologue speaker notes (58–62); war is present in the palliata everywhere, but obliquely, expressed in the form of jokes and the cast of characters. Yet Neptune and the rest are also actors in god costumes.Footnote 12 When Mercurius claims to have seen these gods onstage himself (vidi, 42), the joke involves triple speech: as the god Mercurius, as the actor who plays him, and, in both guises, as a slave (he comments self-consciously on his costume’s “servile appearance,” 116–17). So he joins the group of theater-going slave speakers: Chrysalus (Bac. 213–15), Gripus (Rud. 1249–53).
Mercurius moves smoothly from this point to a string of jokes – famous, see chapter 6 – about tragedy and comedy. From there he goes on to convey Jupiter’s requests to the audience on the subject of angling for theatrical prizes, which he treats as if it were ambitio, “crooked campaigning,” using grand legal diction: the presence of claques among the audience is to be policed by conquistores, here “investigators,” who are to go around the cavea, to all the spectators on the subsellia, and take the toga away from any claque members (favitores) they find, to be held as security (64–71).Footnote 13 This unique mention of the toga in Plautus constitutes a strong identification of noisily applauding members of the audience, or hecklers, with voters (male Roman citizens), erasing, for the moment, the others present; the toga, of course, made its wearer conspicuous. The joke works the same way as those that tease the audience by identifying those who clap with those who would like to have a scortum (above, chapter 2); in a similar move, without using the word “toga,” Euclio in Aulularia says to the audience, “Why are you laughing? I know you all, I know there are a lot of thieves here, / who hide themselves in their chalky outfits and sit there as if they were prudent” (quid est? quid ridetis? novi omnis, scio fures esse hic compluris, / qui vestitu et creta occultant sese atque sedent quasi sint frugi, Aul. 718–19; cf. Moore Reference Moore1998: 19, 45–7). The investigators are likewise to make sure that the aediles do not “give [the prize] to anyone” perfidiose (72); as will be seen, fides in the plays is a central preoccupation: “good faith,” “trustworthiness,” “fiscal integrity.” Here the aediles’ trustworthiness is also under scrutiny.Then Mercurius returns to his double address, in the role of god/actor, to the audience as victorious in war (73–80):
Mercurius goes on (81–5) to stipulate that actors, too, should be inspected to make sure they do not have supporters planted in the audience – if they do, they are to be beaten in costume, stripped, and beaten again (eius ornamenta et corium uti conciderent, 85), a marked differentiation from the audience member who is to lose his toga (and whose war it is – who is part of the vos victores). The whole thing, with its legalistic language, must be a send-up of ever-current efforts to control electoral corruption; virtute ambire (78) is an oxymoron picking up virtute … victores vivere (75).Footnote 14 Here what is at stake is some kind of prize for actors and playwrights (palmam, 69), satirically compared with elected office. Again, the contrast between players and what the Advocati in Poenulus called “a rich man from the topmost position” (dives de summo loco, 516) is explicitly marked by Mercurius’ double-edged rhetorical question: qui minus / eadem histrioni sit lex quae summo viro? (76–7). Histrio and summus vir are polar opposites here, just as the virtus of Sagaristio and Leonida sends up this kind of virtus. The argument is clownish, the sentiment serious, insisting on fides just as Sosia’s song, as seen in chapter 2, insists on what is aequom. The structure of the section strongly suggests that the troupe had at least one plant in the audience who was wearing a toga and had it ripped off his struggling body by other troupe members acting as conquistores, here clown policemen. Funny, like the jokes about the tresviri and the lictors and the carcer, a building also located in the Forum.This section of the prologue concludes, before moving into the by now long-awaited outline of the plot, with a last reminder of the actors inside the god costumes (86–95):
The fact that Jupiter and Mercurius will be acting in the play is stated twice in this section (88, 94–5), and will be repeated again in the prologue’s last lines (151–2). Mercurius again here jokes on a triple level: it should not be a surprise to see Jupiter onstage, because Jupiter often appears in tragic scenes when the characters invoke his aid; likewise (this?) actor playing Jupiter helped out the other actors in a performance the audience is called on to remember, when he was needed onstage; literally, the god Jupiter manifested himself onstage when the actors needed him. There is a hint, in auxilio, of the quiritatio formula that invoked help from the populus or from the gods (see below). Furthermore, a sense cued by Mercurius’ earlier lines about war gods onstage, the tragedies themselves display the world of victorious soldiers, aided by Jupiter. This joke relates to the Poenulus prologue, where the imperator histricus announces in his opening lines that he is here to rehearse the Achilles of Aristarchus, a play Ennius transposed to the Roman stage, evidently not long before Poenulus was staged. It was tragedy’s job to play kings and gods, comedy’s job to play the slave, as Mercurius says himself (60–3; see chapter 6).Footnote 15
The Amphitruo prologue, then, embeds victory wishes in a complex argument; other prologues are more direct. The Captivi prologue speaker, as seen above, also says war has no place on the comic stage – ironic, in a play that deals entirely with the aftermath of war – and takes himself offstage by differentiating himself from the warrior audience: “goodbye, most just judges / at home, and best of warriors in warfare” (valete, iudices iustissumi / domi, duellique duellatores optumi, 67–8).Footnote 16 Again here, as in the ambitio jokes in Amphitruo, the prize-voting audience owns the war. The actual audience is not entirely composed of duellatores any more than is the all-male cast of Captivi, which includes a parasitus who is starving in wartime; the prologue speaker indulges in flattery (we are used to this in the barker’s ubiquitous “Ladies and gentlemen,” once also flattery, and the great bebop comedian Lord Buckley did the same with “M’Lords, M’Ladies” – not so bellicose, equally fictive).Footnote 17 Likewise, the Casina prologue speaker, fresh from his jokes about what “Casina” might do after the show, incongruously wraps up with two lines of flattering cheerleading: “Goodbye, do well, and conquer by true manliness, as you’ve done so far” (valete, bene rem gerite, [et] vincite / virtute vera, quod fecistis antidhac, 87–8).The delayed Cistellaria prologue is spoken by the self-proclaimed god Auxilium, “Help,” whose serious name, as seen in chapter 2, is undercut not only by late arrival (line 149) but also by its resemblance to prostitute and puer names. Auxilium rattles off a story of rape and travel between Lemnos and Sicyon, with the occasional “take my wife” joke thrown in, and ends with an elaborate set of wishes for the audience to beat Carthage (197–202):
Along with the wish for victory, Auxilium self-referentially begs consideration for auxilia, and looks to the law. Does he mean the auxilia offered by the tribunes of the plebs? Could legibus be dative – do the laws themselves need help? Elsewhere the populus is strongly associated with the rule of law.Footnote 18 Probably, in this martial context, he means the non-Romans (socii), who provided the non-citizen troops (auxilia, 200) that fought alongside the Roman army. Both senses were available to the audience. The Rudens prologue ends with a one-line cheer: “Goodbye [= be strong], so that your enemies lose faith in themselves” (valete, ut hostes vostri diffidant sibi, 82). Considering that Arcturus’s whole complaint in the first part of this prologue has to do with his job of supervising the fides of mortals, this is an appropriately framed wish, resembling Auxilium’s appeal on behalf of auxilia. The Asinaria prologue speaker, after a short string of jokes about Plautus and the play, similarly exits on a two-line simple quid pro quo: “pay attention to me, benevolently, / so that Mars will help you equally now as he has done at other times” (date benigne operam mihi / ut vos, ut alias, pariter nunc Mars adiuvet, 14–15).
These appeals to the audience have several points in common, beyond the obvious echoes in the wording. Continued success is offered in return for paying attention to the play, and is said to depend on a set of virtues. These virtues involve fairness and justice, a constant concern throughout Plautus’ plays, always a concern of the less powerful, and often a concern of actors speaking as actors in the prologues. And war is always spoken of as your (pl.) concern, not ours: “the Poeni, conquered, should pay the price to you” (vobis victi Poeni poenas sufferant, Cist. 202), but “We will give you an old-time comedy of his” (nos … anticuam eiius edimus comoediam, Cas. 11–13): this revival prologue attests to the temporal as well as locational re-usability of cheerleading. The “you” addressed here are the populus, including the slaves and free women who, though not agents in the war, needed victory.
The obvious echoes in the wording, however, perhaps constitute more than the regular tendency of the palliata to quote itself and re-use jokes. Mercurius tells the audience that Jupiter says virtute … vos victores vivere (“you are victorious because of your manliness,” Am. 75); the Casina prologue speaker exits on vincite / virtute vera, quod fecistis antidhac (Cas. 87–8); Auxilium in Cistellaria winds up for the lead-out with the exhortation, vincite / virtute vera, quod fecistis antidhac (Cist. 197–8). Could this be a slogan? A crowd chant to the departing legions? If so, parite laudem et lauream (Cist. 201) sounds like part of another. Taken as a whole, with the stress on the last syllable of vincite at the end of the iambic line, vincite … antidhac imitates the trochaic septenarius, the beat common in known Roman street chants, here embedded in two lines of senarii.Footnote 19 Virtus and Victoria themselves appeared onstage (Am. 42): did they elicit cheers for the soldiers?Footnote 20 Did the audience pick the cheer up as the prologue speakers addressed them? This would make sense for audiences who were wearing the laurel crown of victors on their heads. Meanwhile, the repeated references to past success, and the purpose clauses, sound like prayers: ut vos, ut alias, pariter nunc Mars adiuvet (Asinaria); ut vobis victi Poeni poenas sufferant (Cistellaria, a terrible pun, with obvious currency until 201 bce); ut hostes vostri diffidant sibi (Rudens). The widespread use of orchestrated or spontaneous chants in the street, sometimes in the theater after permanent theaters were built, has been well established for later periods.Footnote 21
If he was echoing a popular chant, Mercurius would (ironically) have been taking on the role of a fautor himself. “Cheerleading” both does and does not translate what he is doing. Like cheerleaders, the prologue actors lead a crowd of spectators to yell for a contest which the actors themselves are ineligible to join. Like rabble-rousers, they are of the crowd and incite the crowd. This was a position integral to several better-attested Roman street practices. If public or mass speech formulae are indeed present in the cheerleading speeches, they tally with a far larger group of popular speech formulae present throughout the plays, in the more entertaining form of insults; here, too, the actors would be performing as experts in drawing a crowd.
In 36 or 35 bce, Horace published, in his first book of Satires, a poem about a road trip that may have taken place in 38 or 37, in which he and Vergil traveled from Rome to Brundisium in the entourage of Maecenas. Although festooned with vivid historical and geographical details, the poem, according to the commentator Porphyrio in the 200s ce, was based on an earlier satirical poem, the Iter Siculum by Lucilius (c. 180–102 bce), thus at the earliest about a generation after the death of Plautus. Lucilius in turn may have looked to the palliata for a scene in his poem, where Horace, despite his professed dislike of Plautus, may have followed him. Lucilius, a Campanian, came from an equestrian family; Horace, an Apulian, made both his home town and his class placement a central part of his poetic persona, repeatedly calling himself libertino patre natus. In this respect, his satirical oeuvre constitutes a gigantic expansion of the speeches of the touchy freed Advocati in Poenulus – with typically second-generation assimilation, for the dives de summo loco is now the speaker’s admired friend and patron, although the speaker manifests a painful self-consciousness about his origins, and shows off a concomitant envious consciousness of Lucilius’ higher status.Footnote 22 The class position of both Lucilius and Horace, then, should be kept in mind when considering a central vignette in Horace’s poem.At this point in the road trip still in Campania, entering Samnite country, Horace and his friends stop for the night at a villa belonging to one of the travelers, L. Cocceius Nerva, ancestor of the future emperor, and are entertained at dinner by a pair of comedians whose language evokes Plautus in certain ways (S. 1.5.50–70):
The main difference between verse satire and the palliata as literary forms is well illustrated here: the satirist writes for readers or declaims for listeners, a one-man show; the satire speaker stands outside the action, describing it from the point of view of a particular spectator; most of the lines of insult are in indirect discourse, preserving no formal elements from the fictive original. When Horace did a reading for friends, he was performing a scene of performance. At the same time, his text specifies the scene’s setting (dinner, Cocceius’s villa), along with audience reactions (ridemus, 57, prorsus iucunde … producimus, 70), and indicates action as well as words (caput et movet, 58). The performance transcripts of the palliata, in contrast, while they give the performers’ lines, offer us only clues about a setting that was immediate to the audience and also a public space – open; just as the performance left each audience member free to laugh as he or she saw something funny.
Verse satire is not so open; the speaker in Horace’s satire differentiates himself from the performers he reperforms by a series of sneering comic moves that amplify the performers’ insults of each other. He locates himself in a “lavish” (plenissima) villa, belonging to the aristocratic Cocceius, that is set “above the cheap inns” (super … cauponas, 51); then he belittles the performance and the performers by casting the event in mock-epic language (53). It is a pugna (fistfight, 52, 56) or lites (lawsuit, 54), no epic battle; Sarmentus is a scurra, Messius Cicirrus has a funny name, like a rooster crowing (52); their parentage is low (Oscan ethnicity is a joke, an outsider ethnicity, so clarum genus is a sneer, 54; Sarmentus has a female owner in place of a parent, 55); neither of them has maiores in the Roman sense, so that the attribution of maiores to them (55) is a dig. As is his wont, the speaker has it both ways, with the question quo patre natus (53) recalling the numerous times this question is asked about Horace himself in the Satires and Epistles.Footnote 23 Contrast Mercurius’ question to Sosia (Am. 346), quoius sis – “Whose are you?” – and Sosia’s dignified assertion that he is Davo prognatum patre, “born of my father Davus,” a classic comedic slave name (365; see chapter 4). In the palliata, a player gets to answer the question; Horace, caught between Lucilius and Maecenas, gives a top-down view. Sarmentus was a real person, an actual freed slave associated with Maecenas, well attested; if, as Emily Gowers argues, he is a surrogate for the satirist Horace, he is an abject one.Footnote 24
Certainly the speaker’s own body in S. 1.5 is grotesque itself, so that the grotesqueries of the insult match do not entirely set the performers apart from him. But grotesque the insults are, based on animal comparison, facial disfiguration, disease, the monstrous onstage, and slavery – chains, the Lares, being a runaway, being owned, thinness associated with controlled feeding (una / farris libra, 68–9). “Short commons,” as Gowers notes, citing the ration for chained debtors in the XII Tables (Reference Gowers2012: 203; cf. chapter 2). Adding a layer of invective, the speaker verifies some of these insults, labeling Messius as Oscan, giving Sarmentus a domina, describing Messius’ scar as disgusting (foeda), his forehead as saetosam, “bristly,” like a boar. Compare saetosi caput hoc apri, “this head of a bristly boar,” in Vergil’s seventh Eclogue (29) – a poetry-book closely akin to Horace Satires 1, and a poem that produces its own (Theocritean) song contest in alternating verses (alternis … versibus, 18), just as Sarmentus and Cicirrus here take turns (56–64, 65–9).
These literary duels, layered with intertexts like puff pastry, aim at a reading audience that can pause to savor the aftertastes. Yet Horace’s poems also bear simple witness to insult matches as a part of the culture he lived in and to the staging of insult matches as a popular form of entertainment, sometimes associated with eating dinner, often associated with laborers, nor is he the only witness. On the passenger barge on the way to Brundisium, the pueri and the sailors insult each other (S. 1.5.11–13), chiastically: tum pueri nautis, pueris convicia nautae / ingerere (“then the boys upon the sailors, upon the boys insults the sailors / heap,” 11–12). A sailor and a traveler (viator) take turns praising their girlfriends, certatim (17). In S. 1.7, duels within a duel: a proscribed man named Rex and a “half-breed” (hybrida) named Persius, arguing their case before Brutus in Asia in 43 bce, are sneeringly contrasted with pairs of epic warriors (10–18) or gladiators (19–20); again, everybody laughs at them (ridetur ab omni / conventu, 22–3), and animals are invoked, if only figuratively, as Persius compares Rex to “that Dog, the star hated by farmers” (25–6). Rex, identified as from Praeneste (28), retorts with “Italian vinegar” (Italo … aceto, 32), like “a hard / grape-harvester undefeated, to whom often the traveler / would have yielded, as he reviled him as a ‘cuckoo’ in a loud voice” (durus / vindemiator et invictus, cui saepe viator / cessisset, magna compellans voce cuculum, 1.7.29–31).Footnote 25
Almost two hundred years later, the young Marcus Aurelius, after a long day at the vintage, dined with his mother and his adoptive father the emperor in the wine-press room, and “We all enjoyed listening to the yokels insulting each other” (rusticos cavillantes audivimus libenter, M. Caes. 4.6.2). Or so he writes to his beloved teacher Fronto, in a letter full of the consciousness that he is acting like a person in (what is to him) a book: he gargles like someone in an Atellan farce by Novius, and he picks grapes with a quotation that is taken to be from Novius, perhaps from his play Vindemiatores, “Grape-harvesters” (4.6.1). He probably was well aware, then, that cavillationes are among Gelasimus’ goods for sale (St. 228), and were associated onstage with shtick (Aul. 638) and jesting (Mil. 642, Truc. 684–5). Two hundred years later still, Ausonius, in a highly self-conscious portrait of the river Moselle, shows the vineyard-workers “competing with crude yells” (certantes stolidis clamoribus), while the traveler on the riverbank and the bargeman on the river “sing insults to the belated farm-workers” (probra canunt seris cultoribus), raising the echoes (Mosella 165–7). The agricultural writer Columella, a contemporary of the younger Seneca, opines in his section on the best slaves for vineyard work that they must have a “quick mind” (velocior animus) and a “strong intelligence” (acuminis strenui), but that it is just the dishonest ones (improborum) who are likely to be so endowed – “which is why vineyards are usually cultivated by men in chains” (ideoque vineta plurimum per alligatos excoluntur, Rust. 1.9.4). To what extent this idea is present to Horace, Marcus, or Ausonius cannot be known, but the status of the vindemiator for them must be low, probably servile, and the same goes for the bargemen and the farm-workers, while the viator is no grandee.
The palliata is full of insult matches like these and the one reported in S. 1.5, but much more elaborate, carefully structured – and produced onstage before a mixed audience, not at dinner to entertain the summi viri. Rather than think of literary parallels, then, the spectators could be caught up in the swing of it, as they might be on the street, only without danger. In doing so, they were participating in a folk form that exists in cultures around the world, known to anthropologists and folklorists as “verbal dueling.” The slave Libanus, a champion practitioner, calls it “word-skirmishing” (verbivelitatio, As. 307), an image from light-armed troop combat, with its stinging jabs; Pompeius Festus sums up the main structural element as “the throwing back and forth of insults” (ultro citroque prob<r>orum obiectatio, 507L). (Libanus’ term might also have evoked for his audience the class placement of the velites in the lowest census bracket.) Two specialized Roman forms, flagitatio and occentatio, were analyzed long ago by Usener (Reference Usener1901) and will be discussed further below. The elements of the form common to many cultures are as follows: men, usually in pairs, take turns insulting each other; there is a conventional verbal format, and the opponents score points by good use of the format; conversely, it is possible to lose by being unable to reply in kind; this takes place before an audience in a public place, with locally recognized temporary boundaries; and in conventional circumstances (at dinner, after dinner, while drinking, at a bar or other party venue). The most widespread form today is the rap battle. The content is often obscene and, as in most forms of humor, often involves play with recognized social norms.Footnote 26 Thus Horace stages his written duel as after-dinner entertainment featuring local semi-pro talent, like the one mentioned by Marcus at which actual “yokels” performed, while the poetic vignettes of grape-harvesters are set in a particular outdoor workplace; the duels in Plautus, like almost all the action in the palliata, take place in the street outside the house doors. That this location was associated with verbal dueling in real life is suggested by passing remarks within the plays.
It should be emphasized, in light of some commonly made arguments about the palliata as Kunstsprache rather than “colloquial” speech, that verbal dueling, like many other folk forms, is often metrical and subject to elaborate formal conventions, while still being considered by native speakers to be low in register – even contemptible, as in “truly frivolous talk” among the Chamula (see Gossen Reference Gossen and Kirshenblatt-Gimblett1976). Low forms are not ipso facto artless. As scholars have noted, the shtick that recurs in Roman comedy is highly formulaic, in characteristic ways quite different from what appears in related jokes in Greek comedy. Since Parry and Lord, any Homerist would be startled to hear that orality is inconsistent with sophisticated formal structure.Footnote 27A duel in Persa between the slave Toxilus and the pimp Dordalus incorporates two telling cues that underscore the level of skill needed to perform these duels onstage (405–27). Dordalus greets Toxilus as he emerges from his house, and at once Toxilus launches his attack:
The echoing “oh”s that initiate the duel suggest the drawing of breath, and that is just what Dordalus says he needs to do in order to launch into his reply to Toxilus, in a metatheatrical pause (417) that courts the audience’s anticipatory laughter. When he is done, Toxilus remarks on the strength of the pimp’s voice (427), and we might guess that the actor playing Dordalus performed his speech on a single breath (I cannot myself get beyond line 424).Footnote 28 In response to Toxilus’ admiring exclamation, the pimp says, “Salt costs me as much as it costs you”; his tongue must defend him or never taste salt (428–30). Like the slaves in chapter 2, the tongue has to earn its keep; or, as an actor, the man under the pimp mask has to display this skill to eat.
The two actors not only put on a bravura display of breath control; not only do they employ a full set of the insults commonly aimed at slaves and pimps; first and foremost, they take turns showing off, as the first speaker sets up an intricate pattern, and the second speaker matches and outdoes it (tibi respondeam) – a style familiar in modern tap-dancing and in improvised vocal and musical forms. (Indeed, the final scenes of both Persa and Stichus feature brief competitive dance-offs.Footnote 29) So Olympio says to Chalinus at the end of their verbal duel, topping off a barrage of threats, “Now, so you don’t ask that you should respond to me, / I’m going inside; I’m bored with your conversation” (nunc ne tu te mihi respondere postules, / abeo intro. taedet tui sermonis, Cas. 141–2) – a laugh line, because Chalinus has said nothing but “What will you do to me?” and “What will you do?” for the last twenty-odd lines (quid tu mihi facies? 117, quid facies? 132): straight lines. But Toxilus and Dordalus give a full performance. The verb respondeo, then, has a technical sense in a verbal duel like this; it also works as a cue in runs of shtick, as straight man and funny man feed each other lines, and responde mihi appears already in one of the few fragments of Livius Andronicus’ comedies. As in “double acts” in modern Anglophone popular theater, two comedians work together, developing a fast-paced rhythm grounded in recycled material.Footnote 30
In the Persa duel, each of the duelers does four lines of insults, followed by five lines of patterned, thrusting questions; as will be seen below, these follow a format peculiar to the dunning performance called flagitatio and widely attested elsewhere. Toxilus’ four lines start with a half-line (406), then three full lines, then another half-line (410), followed by a metatheatrical comment that takes up a half-line plus a line (410–11), saying how many lines he would need to cover all the pimp’s impuritias, his uncleanness; dirt has been a main component in Toxilus’ insults against the pimp. Dordalus begins with his metatheatrical breath-taking line (417), which he follows with four continuous lines of insults. Both speakers make much use of alliteration – a feature of contemporary poetic diction here put to forceful use. Each also has a group of three adjectives ending in -ax (410, 421), Toxilus at the start of his line, Dordalus at line end, each time capping the run of insults before the speaker moves on, Toxilus to metatheater, Dordalus to his flagitatio. Each insults the other in relation to the people: Toxilus’ disgusted sterculinum publicum (407) and labes popli (408) are opposed to the pimp’s sneering vir summe populi (418). The figure of the “man at the top” – as we have seen, a problem figure in the palliata – here, as elsewhere, has the respect of pimps, which gives this insult a boomerang quality like the “exploding cigars” in chapter 6, for Toxilus makes no claim to be a vir summus. Toxilus’ insults recall the cook-to-cook insult prostibulum popli in Aulularia (chapter 2), and, in keeping with his theme, associate Dordalus with dirt. Dordalus here and in all his insults attacks Toxilus for his civil status, focusing, as in slaves’ verbal duels, on Toxilus’s history of punishment (suduculum flagri, 419; compedium tritor, pistrinorum civitas, 420), the unlikelihood of his manumission (perenniserve, 421; solida servitus, 425), his hunger (lurcho, edax, 421), and the likelihood that he will try to escape (fugax, 421). Toxilus pulls off almost a whole line of insults beginning with the negating in-, emphasizing all the righteous things Dordalus is not (408), along with an animal metaphor incorporating a play on avide/invide (409). On the other hand, he falls back on a repeat of lutum (406, 414) and forms of impur- (408, 411). Dordalus repeats an idea in perenniserve (421) and solida servitus (425), and again in inpudens (422, borrowed from Toxilus, and in the same position – line end, first line of flagitatio, cf. 412) and pudet (424); but his four lines of insults dance and weave, the first line picking up Toxilus’ sterculinum publicum with stabulum servitricium (418), the next two lines alternating pairs of nouns in the vocative and genitive in an elaborate chiasmus: ABBA, ABAB. He ends with five vocatives in one line. The chiasmus of his insults meshes with the chiastic patterns in both characters’ flagitatio, and, if this contest were being judged, Dordalus would win on points.
Insult matches like these fill the plays in order to fill the seats: made to order. The grex at the end of Bacchides claims to have made the plot from firsthand knowledge (neque … haec faceremus, ni … vidissemus, 1209), and the actors commonly describe the play as something they are doing or making (the basic meaning of ago). As seen in chapter 1, the plays show signs of improvisation by the players. Improvise what? Beatrix Wallochny sums up: Plautine characters have Streitlust – they love to argue (Reference Wallochny1992: 189). Evidently this was fun to watch. And fun to hear: Dordalus’ mighty lungs, the content of these duels, and the marked term clamor (below) suggest delivery at full volume, useful to overcome what must have been considerable ambient noise in an open-air theater. Form follows function; location and demand shape form. (Think of the instructions to Nicholas Nickleby on the elements to include in his translation of a French play, all determined by the props, skills, and egos of Mr. Crummles’s troupe.Footnote 31) A major structural element in the plays is evidently there to facilitate the players’ display of verbal dueling skills like the ones on show for the characters Toxilus and Dordalus.
Moreover, the plays are full of scenes that involve two slaves, or a slave and an adversary. As seen in chapter 2, many of the prologue speakers are slaves, actors, or workers. What is the effect, what is the motive for this procession of humble figures? The prologues are all in senarii, spoken; perhaps, then, more intimate with the audience than sung lines accompanied by music (see Moore Reference Moore1998: 31). Though some prologues are funny, a prologue constitutes a sort of talking program (for productions unlikely to have had written ones), performs a service for the audience and the play, and serves as a transition between pre-play and play, like a verbal curtain (for productions that never mention curtains). The prologue sets the tone; the tone is low.
In a smooth transition, then, once the prologue is over, and in cases when there is no prologue, the opening scenes of the plays very commonly involve slave or other low characters engaged in low joking. Of the nineteen plays that have extant opening scenes, only Trinummus and Truculentus open with free male characters, and even the boring old men in Trinummus do a run of old-wife jokes (51–66). Five plays feature opening dialogues between two slaves: Amphitruo 153–462 – with Mercurius’ prologue, over a third of the play; Casina 89–143; Epidicus 1–103; Mostellaria 1–83; Persa 1–52. Rudens opens with a brief monologue by the slave laborer Sceparnio (83–8). Six more opening scenes feature dialogues between owner and slave, all lively and more or less antagonistic (Asinaria 16–126, Aulularia 40–119, Curculio 1–95, Mercator 111–224, Poenulus 129–209, Pseudolus 1–132), as well as (probably) the lost opening scene of Bacchides, while Sceparnio’s monologue in Rudens continues into a scene in which Sceparnio insults not only his owner but an arriving visitor (89–147).Footnote 32 Two plays open with monologues by parasiti (Captivi 69–109, Menaechmi 77–109), one with a dialogue between a parasitus and his soldier patron (Miles 1–78). The two that open with female characters together (three prostitutes, Cistellaria 1–119, followed by a monologue by the lena, 120–48; two young wives, Stichus 1–57) are, then, anomalous, possibly a novelty, unexpected. It seems safe to guess that low joking was what the audience preferred to see, because the opening scene needs to grab the audience’s attention.
Accordingly, several spectacular and memorable examples of duels occur in opening scenes: Mercurius and Sosia in Amphitruo, Olympio and Chalinus in Casina, and Tranio and Grumio (who disappears thereafter) in Mostellaria (cf. also the scene between Palaestrio and Sceledrus at Mil. 272–344, which at times follows dueling format, e.g. 315–18). Verbal duels take place almost exclusively between slave characters, not all of them male, although the maleness of the actors complicates gender in scenes involving female characters.Footnote 33 There is a lot of this in the plays – more than 229 of 947 lines in Asinaria include dueling between the slaves Leonida and Libanus (267–380, 407–90, 545–78, and passim); Persa includes duels between Sophoclidisca and Paegnium (200–50) and, as seen in chapter 2, Sagaristio and Paegnium (272–301), as well as the one between Toxilus and the pimp (405–26); and there are minor duels between Phaniscus and Pinacium in Mostellaria (885–98) and Astaphium and Truculentus in Truculentus (256–314, 669–98). There are some brief duels involving free characters, like the flurry of insults between the neighbor senes Alcesimus and Lysidamus (Cas. 591–612) and the tirade of the soldier towards the end of Poenulus, with replies from Agorastocles and the visiting Carthaginian, Hanno (1296–1320). All instances of formal flagitatio onstage involve mixed slave/free groups, while sections of the duel between Toxilus and Dordalus follow this specialized format, as will be seen further below. Agonistic elements like the tug of war in Rudens or the lot-casting scene in Casina, which itself incorporates some verbal dueling and a proxy fistfight between the slaves of husband and wife, should remind us that paired combat is the most famous Roman spectator sport, the combatants in both tending to be servile or free poor. As is the case today, specularized physical combat for pay was not an upper-class occupation; as seen in chapter 2, Tranio gives a shout-out to men who get hurt for three nummi, perhaps performers (Mos. 357–8), and Gelasimus, taxed with a willingness to go summam in crucem for a meal, says, “I’ll fight it out with anyone much more easily than with Starvation” (St. 627) – a probable reference to paid combat.Footnote 34
A word about meter. Although the duel between Toxilus and Dordalus is set in senarii, and duels can be found in a range of meters including polymetric songs, a great many of the examples in this chapter are in trochaic septenarii (tr7), traces of which are seen above in cheers and which are attested later for the soldiers’ songs at triumphs, familiar from Suetonius. Those songs taunted the triumphant general the soldiers had followed; as a marching beat, they invite comparison with jodies, the call-and-response “cadence calls” used in the US military. Jodies, in turn, go back to African-American work songs, and the best known of them, “Sound Off,” is also called the Duckworth Chant, after an African-American soldier, Pvt. Willie Duckworth, in the Second World War.Footnote 35 The tune of “Sound Off,” however, resembles the tune of familiar children’s taunts, also in trochaic septenarii, like “John and Mary sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G,” or (from my own childhood in the mean streets of New Jersey in the 1950s), “Car, car, C-A-R, stick your head in a jelly jar,” “You can’t catch a nanny goat” (from playing tag), or just the basic “Nah, nah, na-nah, nah” – or, for that matter, “Ring Around the Rosie,” or sports taunts like “We want a pitcher, not a glass of water.” The oral circulation of such taunts is a major area of study in the subfield of children’s folklore, most famously by Iona and Peter Opie; whether there is something cross-culturally and transhistorically irritating about trochaic septenarii is a matter for sociolinguists.Timothy Moore argues that trochaic septenarii are so common in Roman comedy that they should be viewed as “unmarked” – “the default meter of Roman comedy” – the very stuff, then, of which the palliata is made. They are among the stichic meters that were, like polymetric songs, accompanied by the tibia; Moore suggests that these lines may have been delivered between speech and song, with rhythm as the most important element. (Although accompanied stichic meters are often compared with operatic recitative, perhaps an analogy with rap would be closer, as in “My Shot” in Hamilton – agonistic, polyvocal, full of resolution, more rhythmic than melodic, popular, and, like much rap, set in trochaic septenarii.) Certainly taunts onstage in the palliata are often set in this meter, and it seems at least possible that the cadence would trigger a deep recognition in the audience, also that the “tune” often associated with taunting by Roman commentators (below) was recognizably present onstage. As will be seen, the jingling segmentation characteristic of the versus quadratus – a variety of trochaic septenarius associated with nonliterary forms – also structures both taunts and flagitatio. Nonliterary examples range from children’s rhymes to soldiers’ songs to crowd chants at the theater, several of which, like this one, single out the Sarmentus we met in Horace, Satires 1.5:
As these are reported, they were directed at Sarmentus “by the people,” a populo, attesting to the possibilities for spontaneous composition and rapid circulation in public spaces: not just actors in the audience but comedians.Footnote 36 Again, this capacity for jingling among members of the audience, if it was present in the 200s as it was in the 30s, suggests opportunities for interaction between insult-slinging actors and echoing audience. Several of the forms to be considered here – flagitatio, occentatio, and quiritatio – depend on group participation; as with the cheerleading discussed above, the audience might well have gotten into the act.
Lost to us are conventional taunting gestures, of which Roman sources name very few other than the extended middle finger that has enjoyed such a long history. They are robustly attested in Italian culture from the 1700s onward, so perhaps they were also present onstage in the palliata. For their effectiveness, I need only turn to the taunting scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where John Cleese as the French soldier, having exhausted a fund of parodic yet irresistibly funny insults, beats a sort of tattoo on his own head: a climactic point.Footnote 37
line-for-line exchanges, as at As. 274–7 (tr7). Here, of the two combatants, Leonida has entered without seeing Libanus, who has already struck up a relationship with the audience in a monologue (249–66), so that Leonida’s lines are straight, Libanus’ are jokes:LE. aetatem velim servire, Libanum ut conveniam modo.LI. mea quidem hercle liber opera numquam fies ocius. 275LE. etiam de tergo ducentas plagas praegnatis dabo.LI. largitur peculium, omnem in tergo thensaurum gerit.LE. I’d be willing to slave all my life, if I could just meet up with Libanus.LI. With my help, surely by God you’ll never be free sooner. 275LE. I’ll even give two hundred fat whip-strikes off my back.LI. He’s giving away his peculium, he carries his whole fortune on his back.
Here the audience is pulled one way by Leonida, the other by Libanus, who has the advantage of being able to riff on Leonida’s lines while Leonida remains oblivious.Footnote 38
name-calling, as at As. 297–8 (still tr7; here the combatants meet):Footnote 39LE. gymnasium flagri, salveto. LI. quid agis, custos carceris?LE. o catenarum colone. LI. o virgarum lascivia.LE. Workout gym for the whip, greetings. LI. What’s up, guardian of the jail?LE. You chain farmer. LI. You rod romp.
In line 297, the second player matches the syntax of the first, again with chiasmus: vocative-genitive-verb, verb-vocative-genitive; then again in 298, o genitive-vocative, o genitive-vocative. As seen above, much of the duel between Toxilus and the pimp in Persa consists of name-calling, sometimes, as here, in vocative-genitive pairs, sometimes just a barrage of two-syllable adjectives (edax, furax, fugax), although, again, symmetrically placed. This is seen also in the flagitatio of the pimp Ballio below; compare a fragment of Naevius, unfortunately without context: pessimorum pessime, audax, ganeo lustro aleo (“Worst of the worst, bold, glutton, barfly, gambler,” Com. inc. 118).
capping insults within lines, as at Per. 287–90 (continuing on from the exchange discussed in chapter 2):SAG. potin ut molestus ne sies? PA. quod dicis facere non quis.SAG. abi in malam rem. PA. at tu domum: nam ibi tibi parata praestost.SAG. vadatur hic me. PA. utinam vades desint, in carcere ut sis.SAG. quid hoc? PA. quid est? … 290SA: Could you possibly not be annoying. PA. You’re talking about what you can’t do.SA: You go to hell. PA. No, you go home – hell’s there already and waiting for you.SA. What’s this? PA. Yeah, what? … 290
The speed of the exchange here is augmented by elisions at the change of speaker (288, 289), forcing the audience to shift along, willy-nilly. The pace also tests the players’ (or the characters’) ingenuity; when at a loss, they fall back on echoic insults, as Paegnium essentially says “No, you are” to Sagaristio (287); Sagaristio himself then falls back on a formula (288). Paegnium scores a point by picking up vadatur with vades and making the “go” in “go to hell” literal, then turning it into a cut at what awaits Sagaristio at home; Sagaristio responds with a figurative threat to punch Paegnium (289). Paegnium again scores by developing Sagaristio’s metaphor (and fist) into a threat of the carcer; then both of them take a rest with place-holding lines (290).Footnote 40 Compare Sophoclidisca and Paegnium, briefly at a loss: PA. heia! SO. beia! (Per. 212).
- OL. taceo. deos quaeso – CH. ut quidem tu hodie canem et furcam feras.OL. mihi ut sortito eveniat – CH. ut quidem hercle pedibus pendeas.OL. I am silent. I pray to the gods – CH. That indeed you might bear the dog and yoke today.Footnote 41OL. That it may fall to my lot – CH. That indeed, by God, you might be strung up by your feet.
The same technique shows up as Sagaristio and Paegnium continue their duel (Per. 292–3). Sagaristio begins an oath: “May all the gods and goddesses destroy me – ” (di deaeque me omnes perdant); Paegnium cuts him off before he gets to “if”: “I’m your friend, I want all your prayers to come true” (amicus sum, eveniant volo tibi quae optas). The oath in shtick, then, is a setup for this kind of joke. As performed in verbal dueling, this is a variation on the “technique of the pregnant pause” (bedeutungsvolle Pause, Lefèvre Reference Le Guen and Auhagen2001: 116), also often used in oaths, as in Paegnium’s “God bless … me” (Per. 205): suitable for a single speaker or a double act.
back-and-forth insults, four to a line (Am. 344, tr7):ME. ain vero? SO. aio enim vero. ME. verbero. SO. mentire nunc.ME. So you say? SO. So I do say. ME. Flogbait. SO. Now you’re lying.
The pace here is even faster, again with elision at the change of speakers, this time in combination with a pun – another quick-shifting move that demands quick response from the audience to get the joke. Picking up Sosia’s vero, Mercurius morphs it into the insulting term verbero, and Sosia re-interprets it as the verb verbero, “I’m flogging you,” which is not true at the moment, although Mercurius does beat Sosia at some points during this duel, hence Sosia’s stress on “now.” See next.
- SO. pacem feci, foedus feci. vera dico. ME. vapula.SO. I made peace, I swore a truce. I’m telling the truth. ME. You take a beating!
This single line manifests repetition, parallel structure, alliteration, and a clean segmentation into four units, the fourth being emphasized by a blow.
Here the elements of verbal dueling are refashioned to fit the spoken lines of senarii (ia6), as in the duel between Toxilus and Dordalus. Notice particularly the repetition of exi (1, 5), along with forms of ex and e-, and the balanced ABC, ACB structures of lines 1 and 3: imperative – adverbial phrase – name-calling; imperative – name-calling – adverbial phrase.Footnote 42 Compare the repetition of abi and apscede in 7–10 and the triple imperative in 8; and compare the opening duel between Olympio and Chalinus, another rural/urban pair, in Casina: “Get back to the country, get back to your military zone to be hanged” (abi rus, abi dierectus tuam in provinciam, 103). The setting before the house door is significant; as will be seen, the house door is the main location for occentatio, and one location for flagitatio. The same goes for the word clamitatio (6): clamor is yelling with a purpose, yelling intended to shame the addressee (compare Dordalus, ut omnes audiant, Per. 426; Chrysalus paying off the soldier, ne clamorem hic facias neu convicium, Bac. 874). Grumio wants to get Tranio out of the house; it works, with quid lates cuing a magnificent eruption out the door. Grumio will lose the duel. “Why are you hitting me?” asks Grumio (9–10); quia vivis, “Because you’re alive,” retorts Tranio, and Grumio answers patiar, “I’ll let that go” (11), like Messius Cicirrus saying accipio in Horace’s satire: a missed point. The use of patior here, with its use in double entendres elsewhere (Capt. 867, see chapter 4), reveals the implicit sexual stakes in these duels: the winner is top, the loser is bottom, which would become a marked characteristic of later Roman humor.
The content in verbal duels, as already illustrated, takes a familiar shape: slaves accuse other slaves of having been frequently punished, or threaten that punishment lies ahead; slaves argue about who is more likely to gain manumission; slaves accuse each other of having been used for sex; a “good slave” like Grumio accuses another of harming the owner. Slaves are not supposed to insult free people, although onstage they frequently do (chapters 4, 6). The Mercator in Asinaria is stunned when Leonida and Libanus insult him: “You, a slave, insult a free person?” (tun libero homini / male servos loquere?, As. 477–8). Menaechmus I, trying to placate his wife, guesses that she is angry because their slaves have broken this rule, and promises to punish them: “The slave-women or the male slaves haven’t talked back to you, / have they? Tell me. They won’t get away with it” (num ancillae aut servei tibi / responsant? eloquere. inpune non erit, Men. 620–1). The power to insult, on the other hand, is freely available between slaves: “You crime, are you still insulting me?” says Sagaristio to Paegnium; “Since you’re a slave, it should at least be okay for a slave to insult you,” Paegnium replies (SAG. etiam, scelus, male loquere? PA. tandem uti liceat, / quom servos sis, servom tibi male dicere, Per. 290–1).Insult matches between free characters are less common. The back-and-forth between the neighbors Alcesimus and Lysidamus plays mostly on a series of questions, especially a barrage introduced by quin (Cas. 604–9, ia6), which elsewhere commonly introduces insulting or sarcastic questions (see chapter 8). The teasing exchange between Agorastocles and the Advocati in Poenulus (721–40, ia6) perhaps mocks forensic cross-examination; the tense introductory scene between Agorastocles and this anomalous chorus ends in a brief exchange of body-part curses (570–1, tr7):
The items on his list are exotic, in a cheap way, but also produce a magnificent outpouring of brick-like syllables: the glop of deglupta, the hiss of sarrapis sementium, the eruptive manstruca, halagora, sampsa. The triple epithet recalls the cadence of the duel between Toxilus and Dordalus.Footnote 45 The list evokes, like the puer cauponius and the baiiolus, the detritus of the marketplace, what Virginia Woolf called “bargaining and cheapening”; the malam crucem and the remiges evoke the direst precincts of slavery and poverty. The soldier is not a sympathetic character, while Hanno has been established as good; the soldier’s top-down insults backfire. After this tirade, following up on his feminization of Hanno, the soldier accuses the young owner Agorastocles of being a cinaedus rather than a vir (1317–18), which leads to physical threats from Agorastocles (1319–20). Both the soldier and Agorastocles threaten punishments usually reserved for slaves (excruciandum … carnufici dabo, 1302; fustis, 1320), a move characteristic of many exchanges of insults, even between free characters. As with the instruments of torture and punishment, invective itself, as a tool, belongs at the bottom.
Flagitatio, Occentatio, QuiritatioThe Roman folk form flagitatio appears throughout the plays, not only acted out but also referred to as a feared form of communal policing through shame.Footnote 46 That it was a kind of street theater is evident, and implied by Diniarchus’ bitter threat against the prostitute Phronesium outside her house, which begins, “I’ll put on a show by shouting in the street” (ludos faciam clamore in via, Truc. 759–63); compare Tranio’s ante aedis clamitatio (above). The street-scene setting of most Roman comedy places the spectators exactly where they would normally be for optimum real-life rubbernecking – a fact brought out at the end of Mercator, after a scene of flagitatio, as one of the shouters says, “Let’s go inside, this place isn’t serviceable for your deeds / (while we’re discussing them), that passersby should be their arbiters” (eamus intro, non utibilest hic locus, factis tuis, / dum memoramus, arbitri ut sint qui praetereant per vias, 1005–6). [All look at audience.] The pimp Ballio in Pseudolus connects the dots between real-life flagitatio and stage comedy (1081–3, ia6), referring to an extended flagitatio scene earlier in the play as
His lines not only make a metatheatrical joke but suggest, again, the presence of children among the palliata audience, or at least the childhood socialization of people living in the cities where the palliata played – socialization into both the language of the palliata and the language forms the palliata re-enacted.Footnote 47 As with the late Republican audience’s taunts of Sarmentus (above), the exchange of insults potentially incorporated the audience, not just as bystanders but as participants. The process itself, moreover, had specific associations.Flagitatio was a way of dunning a debtor or a dispossessor; a century and a half after Plautus, the equestrian poet Catullus uses this form, whereby an owner demands his property back, to make one of the invectives among his lyric poems (c. 42). First he summons friends to help him – here, metapoetically, the friends are the verses themselves (1–2):
Then he says what he has lost (his notebook), and calls the woman who has taken it a “foul adulteress” (moecha turpis, 3). Then he asks his friends to act with him in dunning her: reflagitemus (6). Then, after some more nasty descriptions of the woman, comparing her with a dog, he gives his friends the direct command, and they all chant together (10–12):
The hendecasyllabic meter was sometimes used for Greek skolia, convivial verses that featured back-and-forth verse-capping, and was a favorite of Catullus in his polymetric collection; moreover, theft is a general theme in Catullus’ poetry book (cf. esp. c. 12 on the napkin thief, where the alternatives are return of the object (remitte, 12.11), or “three hundred hendecasyllables” (10; cf. Per. 410–11)).Footnote 48 But in this one poem, Catullus uses elements already familiar from verbal duels in Plautus, both in content (the comparison to a dog; the words putidus and lutum) and in form: the chanted refrain here takes the chiastic form seen above in verbal duels, which is characteristic of flagitatio: “a stylistic device of popular eloquence,” as Fraenkel says (Reference Fraenkel1961: 48). In Plautine flagitatio, verbs like redde, “return,” often appear, and the performance is said to take place either in the forum (Epid. 118–19, Ps. 1145) or in the street outside the debtor’s front door: “like a flagitator he’s always standing in front of my house,” quasi flagitator astat usque ad ostium (a lame joke about the sun, Mos. 768); cook to Euclio, “If you don’t order my pots to be returned right this second, / I’m going to tear you apart by squawking here in front of your house” (te <iam> iam, nisi reddi / mihi vasa iubes, pipulo hic differam ante aedis, Aul. 445–6).Footnote 49 When flagitatio takes place onstage, it is, then, in the right place: outside the front door. If the creditor has supporters, they surround the debtor (like Catullus and his hendecasyllables), with the verb circumsisto or forms of the adverb altrinsecus, and occasionally clamor or flagitium, appello or compello, used as a cue. In Plautus’ plays, slave characters sometimes serve as the little hendecasyllables do in Catullus’ poem.
So Libanus and Leonida surround their young owner, in a clinch with his beloved: “Let’s stand on either side of them, and, one of us from this side, from the other side, the other, let’s call them out” (circumsistamus, alter hinc, hinc alter appellemus, As. 618, ia7), a double chiasmus – here you can see how the sentence structure echoes the physical act of surrounding. The neighbor senex and the young man’s friend in Mercator surround the young man’s lecherous father, who has bought the young man’s amica: “I’ll stand next to him from here, on the other side. / Let’s both keep loading him with the words he deserves” (ego adsistam hinc alterinsecus. / quibus est dictis dignus usque oneremus ambo, Mer. 977–8, tr7). Then the two of them take turns with the refrain “Are you still talking, you ghost?” (etiam loquere, larva? Mer. 981, 983); like the wife’s refrain at the end of Asinaria – “get up, lover, and go home” (surge, amator, i domum, 921, 923, 924, 925), also in tr7 – this one seems suitable for being picked up by the audience. Finally the friend says, “Give her back to him” (redde illi), and the father says, twice, “He can have her for himself” (sibi habeat; sibi habeat licet, 989) – relinquishing ownership.Footnote 50 When the slave Pseudolus and his young owner Calidorus move to attack Ballio, Calidorus orders Pseudolus, “Stand next to him on the other side and load him with insults” (Ps. 357, tr7, adsiste altrim secus atque onera hunc maledictis). The probably Plautine Cornicula seems to have had a scene in which characters surrounded a soldier to insult him, as Varro quotes from it: quid cessamus ludos facere? circus noster ecce adest (“Why hesitate to hold our games? Look, our Circus is here,” tr7, fr. 62); the soldier is the circus, Varro explains, because, when he enters, “those mocking him surround him” (circumeunt ludentes, L. 5.153). Again, here, flagitatio is a form of theater. Entertainingly, as the senex Periphanes in Epidicus realizes that the fidicina he has been trying to palm off on the soldier is freed and not saleable, and refuses to hand back to her the fides he has been holding, she threatens to dun him for it: “You’re not returning my fides? / … I’ll leave. / But with a louder outcry you will return it later” (fides non reddis? … / … abiero. / flagitio cum maiore post reddes tamen, ia6, Epid. 514–16). Presumably she plans to come back with helpers.The spectacular attack on Ballio takes the simple form of a rapid fire of epithets in the vocative case, spoken alternately by Calidorus and Pseudolus, each insult being smugly accepted by the pimp. The scene is prompted by the discovery that Ballio has sold something Calidorus wants – his amica (Ps. 347) – much as Charinus in Mercator wants his amica back, and Toxilus wants his amica to be freed. Money, however, is the basic problem; Ballio cues the barrage by pointing out that he, the wicked pimp, has money, while the self-righteous, well-born Calidorus has none (ego scelestus nunc argentum promere po<ti>s sum domo; / tu qui pius, istoc es genere gnatus, nummum non habes, 355–6). Calidorus and Pseudolus take up their positions and set upon Ballio (359–68, tr7):
The pounding beat of trochaic septenarii fosters the litany of single-word insults while the long line makes room for changes of speaker; compare the long scene between Mercurius and Sosia at the beginning of Amphitruo (263–462, tr7, demarcated by change of meter), or between Libanus and Leonida at Asinaria 267–380 (tr7), or between Paegnium and Sophoclidisca at Persa 200–50 (tr7). The terms of abuse are familiar from the verbal duels seen above, and add a calendar of the worst crimes in Roman culture: tomb-robbing, temple-robbing, breaking an oath, fraud, killing parents. In addition, Ballio is called by names usually reserved for slaves (verbero, furcifer, fugitive), and accused of doing what pimps do for a living – ruin young men (364); indeed, “pimp” itself is used here, self-reflexively, as an insult (366) – the ultimate insult, for Pseudolus. Ballio’s winning technique takes the novel form of acceding to each insult, usually the mark of a lost point in a duel, as seen above with accipiam and patiar. That Ballio feels no shame is part of his onstage identity as a pimp, as he says himself (1081–3, above); as Toxilus says to Sagaristio when Dordalus charges him extra for a moneybag: “He’s a pimp, he’s not doing anything surprising” (quando lenost, nihil mirum facit, Per. 688).
That being shouted at in public was normally shameful is implied by jokes. When young Stratippocles in Epidicus asks his friend Chaeribulus for a loan, Chaeribulus first says, “God, if I had it, I’d <promise you>” (si hercle haberem <pollicerer>, 116); pressed further, he replies, “But I myself, by God, am torn apart by shouting, I am dunned” (quin edepol egomet clamore differor, difflagitor, 118; for differor, compare Aul. 446, Ps. 359, above). Stratippocles’ reply shows how bad this is: “I’d rather my friends like you were burned up in the oven than flamed in the forum” (malim istiusmodi mi amicos forno occensos quam foro, 119.Footnote 52 He has the bakehouse on his mind; two lines later, he threatens the eavesdropping Epidicus with the pistor). Chaeribulus is like a slave here in that a slave has no money, but also in that he is shouted at; Epidicus, at the end of the play, complains, “I’m being shouted at like a slave” (inclamitor quasi servos, 711; a joke, since he is still a slave). For a free person, this is degrading, and not only metaphorically so, for an audience familiar with debt bondage (below). The prologue speaker in Menaechmi says he can remember Menaechmus’ grandfather’s name the more easily “because I saw him dunned by shouting” (quia illum clamore vidi flagitarier, Men. 46) – a laugh line. When the soldier’s slave Harpax first sees the senex Simo and the pimp Ballio, he asks Simo if he is the pimp, pointing at him; Simo gets angry, threatens him with a beating, and clears things up: “He’s the pimp [points at Ballio], but this guy [points at self] is an honest man” (hic leno est, at hic est vir probus, Ps. 1144). Ballio picks him up on this: “But you, Mr. Good Man, are often dunned by shouting in the forum, / when there’s never a nickel, except what this pimp assists you with” (sed tu, bone vir, flagitare saepe clamore in foro, / quom libella nusquamst, nisi quid leno hic subvenit tibi, Ps. 1145–6) – the same point he scores off Simo’s son Calidorus in the flagitatio scene. Charinus in Mercator complains that his own father “sets up a shout all over the city” to announce that no one should trust him if he asked for a loan (51–2; conclamitare tota urbe). As seen in chapter 2, the Advocati in Poenulus say proudly, “We don’t dun anybody and nobody duns us” (neque nos quemquam flagitamus neque nos quisquam flagitat, 539).
The basic problem is credit, and a public reputation for trustworthiness. In an extended scene in Mostellaria, the moneylender Misargyrides (“Son of Cash-hater”) sets out to dun Philolaches for the interest on the money he has loaned him (all in senarii). He makes it clear that he wants the interest first, and then the principal (592, 598–600), and Tranio, to his face, calls this free man “beast” (belua, 569, 607–8, 619); both in Misargyrides’ presence and after he exits, Tranio expresses loathing for moneylenders as a class: “a man who’s a danista, the class that’s most dishonest” (danista qui sit, genu’ quod inprobissumum est, 626); “By God, no class of persons is more disgusting today / nor less legitimate than the moneylending class” (nullum edepol hodie genus est hominum taetrius / nec minu’ bono cum iure quam danisticum, 657–8). Misargyrides is identified throughout the scene as a danista, and this Greek occupation-type enters the forum along with the cash-flow problems endemic in the Hellenistic world, as seen in chapter 1.Onstage, Misargyrides is standing in front of Philolaches’ house, and he begins to shout for his money: “I know you have a good voice, don’t shout so much,” says Tranio (scio te bona esse voce, ne clama nimis, 576); “By God, but I’m really going to shout,” replies the moneylender (ego hercle vero clamo, 577); “Whoa, vigorous! / You’re enjoying good fortune now that you’re shouting,” says Tranio, cutting him off in mid-yell (eugae strenue! / beatus vero es nunc quom clamas, 587–8); the moneylender threatens to shout for Philolaches by name (iam hercle ego illunc nominabo, 587), and to stay in front of the house until midday (582). Tranio brings up and dismisses the idea that Philolaches might go into exile on account of the debt (596–7); that the dunning is a cause of shame is explicitly stated by Tranio’s owner: “Why is this man calling out (compellat) my son Philolaches so / and why is he making an insulting outcry (convicium) in your presence?” (616–17). Misargyrides, although without any helpers, is warming up for a full-fledged flagitatio, and tells Tranio that, if he will only pay up, this will put an end to all his responsiones (591) – a reminder of respondeo in the insult match between Toxilus and Dordalus. Sure enough, when no money is forthcoming, the moneylender begins to chant (Mos. 603–5):
“Interest there, interest here!” says Tranio, reduced to mimicry (faenus illic, faenus hic!, 605).The moneylender’s chant picks up on the earlier exchange between him (“Will the interest then be returned to me,” reddetur igitur faenus?) and Tranio (“It will return: now go away,” reddet: nunc abi, Mos. 580), which is continued by Tranio’s line, “No, go home, by God, I’m telling the truth, just go away” (immo abi domum, verum hercle dico, abi modo, 583). The injunction to go away repeats the duel between Tranio and Grumio and the duel between Olympio and Chalinus; as for the format, it can now be seen that, in the duel between Toxilus and Dordalus, each of their speeches ends with a classically chiastic flagitatio refrain. Each uses the flagitatio format to cap his stream of insults; returning to the duel in Persa, we can now see how Toxilus ironically reverses the usual demand by dunning the pimp to take the money to free his amica (Per. 412–14):
The flagitium he fears here is related to the flagitium the fidicina threatens to use to get her fides back: something simultaneously disgraceful and loud. According to Cicero, the XII Tables included strictures against anyone “who had performed occentatio or made up a song whereby he caused disrepute or flagitium to another” (si quis occentavisset sive carmen condidisset, quo infamiam faceret flagitiumve alteri, De rep. 4.2 = XII Tables 8.1), and Festus says, retailing the opinion of Verrius Flaccus in the late Republic (190L),
Occentassint antiqui dicebant quod nunc convicium fecerint dicimus, quod id clare et cum quodam canore fit, ut procul exaudiri possit. Quod turpe habetur, quia non sine causa fieri putatur. Inde cantilenam dici †querellam, non cantus† iucunditatem, puto.Footnote 54
The ancients used to say occentassint [“they sang against”] to describe what we now would call convicium fecerint [“they made an insulting outcry”], because this is done loudly and with a certain melodic quality, so that it can be heard from far off. It is considered shameful, because it is thought to be done not without cause. Hence I think the [grievance?] is so called [because it takes the form of?] a refrain, [not for the] pleasingness [of the song?].
The elements of loudness and the refrain format, in these definitions, link together occentatio and flagitatio with the abstract terms flagitium and convicium, seen above in Bacchides and Mostellaria.Footnote 55 Again here in Mercator, capping the mostly non-verbal street harassment, there is some kind of chant in front of the house door, and the house is treated as a brothel, the family as brothel-keepers like Ballio. A married lady should have an ugly maid, the old man argues, one because of whom “no flagitium would come to our front door” (neque … quicquam eveniet nostris foribus flagiti, 417).
The carbones at the climax of the attack on the house are sticks of charcoal to write with, scrawling the elegea (a unique use of this term in Plautus) onto the door like a slave tattoo, a visual version of the chanting in occentent (cf. Catull. 37.10). Yet their fiery origin is strongly suggested by the description of occentatio that Toxilus uses while persuading Dordalus to buy the Virgo (all in tr7). He paints a picture of how rich she will make him, and how many of the “best men” (optumis viris) will come to him for a party (Per. 564–8); Dordalus, slow on the uptake, says he will keep them outside; Toxilus then cannot resist a swerve aside into threatening the pimp: “But then they’ll chant in front of your door at night, they’ll burn down your front door” (at enim illi noctu occentabunt ostium, exurent fores, 569): an elite mob. The extreme act of arson is connected in Greek performance texts with the climax of komastic revelry (implicitly upper-class), and parasitoi in Middle Comedy boast of their ability to help their patrons attack a house: climbing ladders, fighting, prying doors open, rushing in. The pimp in Herodas Mim. 2 complains about such behavior, again with a class inflection (33–9, cf. 52). In the palliata, parties are not so violent.Footnote 56 But fire and the charivari underlie Usener’s suggested emendation of occensos seen above, in a context that combines an oven with flagitatio. A connection with burning, although not based in etymology, hangs around both terms: flagito with flagro, occento with incendo. The infatuated young man at the pimp’s door in Curculio is at the right address when he cues himself, “Suppose I go up to the front door and set up a chant?” (quid si adeam ad fores atque occentem, 145); the polite and silly serenade that follows, then, is something of a surprise.The practices of flagitatio and occentatio have points in common with quiritatio, the public cry for help whereby a person in trouble could appeal to all others in earshot to defend him against hostile force. By the time of Varro, it had this name, with its basis in citizenship: quiritare dicitur is qui Quiritium fidem clamans implorat (“That man is said to ‘quiritate’ who shouts to invoke the fides of the Quirites [Roman citizens],” L. 6.68). This is certainly the sense it bears in sources from the later Republic; in the palliata, however, the practice is not so restrictive, although the conjoined terms fidem, clamo, and imploro have a well-established technical sense onstage. Possible interactive staging is suggested by several direct appeals to the audience for help (auxilium) in cases of theft, all of which invite the audience to point and shout out directions: the slave-woman Halisca calls on “my dear people, my dear spectators” (mei homines, mei spectatores, Cist. 678); the soldier in Curculio offers a reward (590); the miser Euclio beseeches the audience, “I beg you, … / I plead, I call you to witness” (opsecro ego vos … / oro, optestor, Aul. 715–16). Fear of violence, however, rates full quiritatio, perhaps inviting a barrage of fabuli from the audience. The parasitus Curculio, who has been treated as a slave by the soldier, first starts a fistfight and then calls on the citizens for help: o cives, cives! (Cur. 626). Menaechmus I, attacked by the slaves of the senex, appeals to the citizens of Epidamnus for help: “I beg your loyal help, / Epidamnians, rescue me, citizens!” (opsecro vostram fidem, / Epidamnienses, subvenite, cives! Men. 999–1000). In a way, he performs a counter-flagitatio, as he asks of the crowd attacking him, “Why are you surrounding me?” (quid me circumsistitis? 998). In the event, it is the loyal slave Messenio who comes to the rescue. As seen in chapter 2, Sosia slips in a bit of quiritatio when he calls out to the audience (or to the gods), obsecro vostram fidem (Am. 455); the formal cry was pro fidem, Quirites! Indeed Sosia has made use of the formula earlier, as Mercurius beats him: pro fidem, Thebani cives! (376), at which Mercurius jeers, “Are you still shouting, you executioner?” (etiam clamas, carnufex?) – an ironic insult to choose, in the circumstances. Sosia, of course, is no citizen, but he is certainly being forcibly abused, and needs rescuing; he is not the only slave in the palliata to make such an appeal, either. The slave Trachalio in Rudens appeals to the citizens of Cyrene to come to the aid of the two slave prostitutes who have taken refuge in the shrine of Venus, in an elaborate quiritatio (615–26, erupting into tr7 in an entrance cued by quid hic … clamoris oritur, 613–14):
Indeed he makes quite a ruckus (clamorem 623 picking up 614), and Daemones, as he interrupts and Trachalio flings himself at his knees, expresses annoyance, ordering him, “Explain to me why you are starting a riot” (quid sit mi expedi / quod tumultues, 628–9). This cues a loop of shtick, punctuated by the repeated cue ut mi istuc dicas negoti quid sit quod tumultues (638); tumultus was civil unrest necessitating an emergency call to arms: the owner’s view, just as Daemones’ clamoris differs from Trachalio’s clamorem.Footnote 57 All Trachalio’s language, however, resonates with themes seen above: he appeals to his populares, fellow members of the populus; he asks for help for the helpless (lit. “those without resources”), expressed in terms of opes and inopia (contrast the opulento homini of Sosia’s song), while the wicked are to be punished as a correct exemplum; power should not threaten the innocent; the two girls are credited with caput, as if they were free (see chapter 2); notoriety for victimhood is feared; merit should be rewarded; and vi victo vivere is here rejected for the rule of law and custom – the reverse of the cheerleading virtute victores vivere. Law and mos belong to the populus (cf. Cur. 509–11, below; Trin. 1028–58, which also reclaims mos); iniuria, damage to honor, threatens all, low as well as high (see chapter 2). In a typically Plautine personification, Trachalio calls on the people to “wring the neck” of iniuria, implying a powerful gesture; he employs the powerful verb vindicare, which, as will be seen in chapter 8, is the word for what a person does who reclaims a person wrongfully enslaved; and indeed Trachalio is calling for help for two slave-women clinging to an altar and beset by a pimp (cf. 643–5). Here clamor serves as a defense, and fides stands guard; in quiritatio, fides is more than faith, trust, or a good credit rating, and appeals to a network of persons, of legal subjects.Footnote 58 It is important that slave characters onstage can appeal to the populus; these speeches blur the line between slaves and the free poor.
Yet fides poses a major problem for a slave. A slave’s promise, or oath, has nothing to back it, for a slave officially has no honor to lose, a slave has no fides. In return, a slave cannot expect fides from an owner; as seen in chapter 1, Paegnium makes a significant complaint about this. His owner Toxilus, exasperated, says to him, peculiabo – “I’ll peculiate you” (Per. 192). This is a probable sexual threat framed as a promise of money, and Paegnium’s joking response takes off from the promise and returns the threat, with a wink to the audience (see chapter 6 on face-out lines): “God, I know how owners’ fides is always accused of sluttishness / but they can’t ever be forced to bend – to judgment on that fides” (scio fide hercle erili ut soleat inpudicitia opprobrari / nec subigi queantur umquam ut pro ea fide habeant iudicem, Per. 193–4, tr7; see chapter 1 on erilis). The wording inpudicitia opprobrari is startling, and suggests a common (soleat) offstage resentment. An owner’s meaningless promises form a running gag in Mostellaria (174–5, 184–5, 252–3) and in Poenulus (133–7, 428–44). The chief promise arousing anxiety in slaves onstage is the promise to manumit (chapter 8), which is why Chrysalus (an expert on the legal process of promising) predicts that his owner will endow him with freedom, “to the extent that I’ll never get it” (ego adeo numquam accipiam, Bac. 828–9).Footnote 59 This anxiety, in turn, is directly related to the poor man’s anxiety over debt.
Debt and Shame, Fides and CreditThe prologue speaker of Casina defines the ludi as a time and place where the audience can forget their worries and their debts, and the bankers have been eluded (23–8):
These lines address the audience in general, and assume that bankers are the common enemy, dishonest dealers who deserve to be tricked, and that debt is a common problem. Certainly it was a problem for some people. The prologue speaker in Captivi jokes that he must pay the audience the “balance” of his story because he does not want to be in debt (accipite reliquom: alieno uti nil moror, 16). As seen above, he has focused from the start of his speech on vertical differences in the audience, saying that the two chained men are standing (onstage) “because those guys are standing there” (illi quia astant, 2), as he points to audience members without seats. Then he singles one out at the back (illic ultumus) who says he didn’t “get it” and calls him to the front (accedito): “if you don’t have a place to sit, there’s a place you can take a walk, / since you’re forcing an actor to be a beggar” (si non ubi sedeas locus est, est ubi ambules, / quando histrionem cogis mendicarier, 12–13) – surely a plant, as in the Amphitruo prologue discussed above. The speaker specifically addresses the “balance” of his explanation to “you who can be assessed for your wealth” (vos qui potestis ope vostra censerier, 15), as if the seated audience were his potential creditors, or as if the rest of the audience could not hear: another joke, and not a friendly joke. An entire segment of the city population, the proletarii, were defined – as opposed to assidui – precisely by their lack of wealth to assess.Footnote 60 A related joke is made by Auxilium in Cistellaria, speaking his (late) prologue: “Now I want to pay off the balance remaining, / so that my name will be taken off the ledgers, and I won’t be in debt” (nunc quod relicuom restat volo persolvere / ut expungatur nomen, ne quid debeam, 188–9). Toxilus in Persa caps his reverse flagitatio with financial language: “You didn’t think I could get my hands on that much cash, / so you wouldn’t risk giving me credit unless I swore to it?” (non mihi censebas copiam argenti fore / qui nisi iurato mihi nil ausu’s credere? 415–16). These lines are full of significant terminology: censebas, “assess” (like a censor); copiam argenti, “plenty of ready cash”; iurato, “sworn on oath” (with legal implications – not something a slave could usually do); credere, “give credit.” His words here, and a major theme in Persa as a whole, address a situation that plagued most ancient cities and became particularly pressing during the wars of the 200s bce: poor people were mired in debt.Footnote 61
Legally, moreover, slaves could not own property at all; everything they acquired was for their owner (this is Gripus’ problem with the suitcase, as later with his finder’s fee, in Rudens). This is what makes it such a radical claim when the Advocati in Poenulus say they paid their own money for their caput. Slaves onstage, as also later attested in law, were allowed to accumulate money in a peculium, which they were expected to apply towards purchasing their freedom from their owner; hence that particularly Roman virtue, frugi, means, for a slave, simultaneously “thrifty” and “good” (cf. Capt. 956–7).Footnote 62 So Syncerastus describes slave customers in his owner’s brothel as losing their peculium “for their owners” (Poen. 843); the owner is expecting to get this money in the end, to make up for the money he spent on the slave’s purchase price, if any, and on his keep over the years. (He would get it one way or another, for the money was his if the slave died before manumission; three hundred years later, the younger Pliny indulgently let his slaves make wills, as long as they kept the money in the household: no loss to him [Ep. 8.16].) Lack of a peculium, in the plays, is thus counted as a moral failing on a slave’s part: so Lysidamus says that Chalinus has none, as opposed to the frugi Olympio (Cas. 254–8), and Stalagmus bitterly accepts chains as the correct pay for a slave without one (Capt. 1028). The cost of desired goods had to come out of the peculium; Stichus’ owner means it when he says Stichus’ amica must be paid for “out of your pocket” (de tuo, St. 426), and, as seen in chapter 2, Stichus and Sangarinus, when Stephanium tells them she will lie with both of them, know what that means to their savings towards freedom (751). The owner here incentivizes abstinence. Evidently Stephanium’s “love” for the rivals will be adding to her own peculium; Sangarinus is her conservos (433), but she is making money on the side (cf. Paegnium, Per. 192, 285). While in patria potestate, sons also had peculia, of which slaves might form a part, as Tyndarus was given to Philocrates (Capt. 988); slaves (called vicarii) might also be part of a slave’s peculium, as Sophoclidisca belongs to Lemniselenis (Per. 201, 248) and Paegnium belongs to Toxilus (247) – just as slaves might form part of a woman’s dowry, like the unseen atriensis in Asinaria (85). Indeed, Leonida, pretending to be that atriensis, is credited with a vicarius by his henchman, as part of the effort to make him appear fiscally sound (As. 433–4).
Therefore, for a slave, cash was the best good thing of all, convertible into food, love, and freedom, the key to getting goods for oneself; this is perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the ending of Pseudolus – that Simo feels forced to give the slave twenty minas, rather than torture him “as in other comedies,” and he hands over the money onstage (1238–45, 1313–17). Big money very rarely comes into slaves’ possession in the plays; a plot point, as the golden Chrysalus himself observes (Bac. 676). Gripus’ hopes of hanging on to the money in the suitcase, or even to his finder’s fee, are repeatedly denied by his owner, in the end with cold finality: “By God, there’s nothing here for you, don’t get your hopes up” (nihil hercle hic tibi est, ne tu speres, Rud. 1414). From the start, Gripus knows he will have to make a deal with his owner for his freedom before he lets on about his find (928–9). Likewise, the Slave of Lyconides hopes vainly to convince his owner to let him use the pot of gold to buy his freedom (Aul. 816–17, cf. 823). In the normal course of events, rarely do slaves even obtain temporary control of large sums (shaving a bit off small sums is a joke, as at Truc. 562). Sagaristio’s owner entrusts the cattle money to him (Per. 260–1), but Leonida and Libanus, despite elaborate efforts (As. 407–503), cannot get the Mercator to entrust the donkey money to Leonida, who is pretending to be the atriensis Saurea. Leonida makes a show of asking about money owed to the household (432–45); they both claim the owner trusts Leonida (456–62); Leonida calls the money “My twenty minas” (viginti minas meas, 468); they boast of Leonida’s reputation for fiscal probity at Athens and in high-value trade (492–3, 499–501). Standing on his dignity, Leonida/Saurea finally accuses the Mercator of iniuria, a public assault on his honor, and says, “Although I wear a working man’s clothes, / I am prudent (frugi) nonetheless, and my peculium is immeasurable” (quamquam ego sum sordidatus, / frugi tamen sum, nec potest peculium enumerari, 497–8; see chapter 2). None of it works; to get the money, they need their owner to vouch for Leonida (579–84). When they finally have the crumina full of money in their possession, they dangle it before their young owner to make him crawl for it (see chapter 4).
Even Pseudolus, pretending to be Ballio’s slave Syrus, cannot get the soldier’s slave Harpax to give him the money owed the pimp. He claims to be, not the atriensis, but the one who gives orders to the atriensis (609); he says he handles the pimp’s accounts, receiving and paying out money (accepto, dato, 626–7); he claims that six hundred times as much is habitually entrusted to him (soleant credier, 632). “You had to come stick a fork in my credit!” he laments (inventu’s … meam qui furcilles fidem, 631). “I’ll never trust you,” says Harpax (numquam credam, 629); “I wouldn’t trust you” (ut ne credam tibi, 633); “I’ll never trust a dollar to anyone but Ballio himself” (nummum credam nemini, 644). (He, at least, has been trusted with money, and is last seen on the way to pick up much more; he thinks, however, that he can trust the pimp, a self-professed perjurer, and has trusted Pseudolus with something more valuable than money, providing an object lesson in the superiority of brains to obedience.) Chrysalus, the embodiment of cash flow (copiam, Bac. 639a), only handles money directly once, among all his schemes (1066). The vilicus Collybiscus in Poenulus is given the “three hundred golden Philips” only in order to trick the pimp, and happily lets the Advocati inspect his bankroll (Poen. 597); they let the audience know it is only stage money, “comic” money (598–9). All he gets from the deal is an unexpected meal (802–4). Money is scarce.The problem of debt and the need for credit pervade the palliata. Previous discussions of fides have treated it as, by definition, a virtue of the powerful (the summi viri, the Roman state) in relation to the weak (dependents, conquered states): asymmetrical.Footnote 63 But within the world of the palliata, fides is commonly treated as something everybody needs: a reciprocal value, inherently even (aequom) rather than uneven. For people at the bottom, survival is at stake, before politics. Their world is hazardous. The Choragus in Curculio, before he begins his tour of the Forum, worries about having trusted the rented costumes to Phaedromus (464, 466 credidi); the Forum as he sees it is full of untrustworthy characters – perjurers (470), liars (471), false accusers (478–9), moneylenders (qui dant quique accipiunt faenore, 480), and just “those you should not trust” (quibu’ credas male, 481). Soon after this scene, Curculio, disguised as the freedman “Thunder God,” exclaims that associating with pimps causes people to lose their credit rating (502–4, ia7):
The honest man here is frugi – a virtue elsewhere consistently associated with good slaves who save up their peculium to pay for their manumission – and two things are at stake: res and fides. The Virgo in Persa, pleading with her father not to sell her to the pimp, even falsely, points out to him that poor people need a good reputation: “for, if infamiae move in with poverty, / poverty gets heavier, and your fides gets weaker” (nam ad paupertatem si admigrant infamiae, / gravior paupertas fit, fides sublestior, Per. 347–8). The vulnerability of monetary, personal fides is a constant sore point in the plays; its loss is effected, Curculio says, through public shaming, just as the too-pretty slave-woman is harassed in the street.Likewise, in a face-to-face society, bankruptcy was performed in public, so that a man who had lost everything was subjected to the scrutiny of rubberneckers. Gelasimus, setting out his goods to the audience for auction, complains of his disgrace (St. 198–204, 207–8):
The curiosus was a figure of particular dislike in later Roman culture, often tied, as here, with the evil eye; the social critique in Gelasimus’ speech has Greek ancestors as well, in the traditional dislike of polypragmosunê. It is clear that the experience of having your goods auctioned had a punitive aspect in itself, of public shaming.Footnote 64 What Gelasimus is doing onstage once again overlays the performance of a common street scene onto the common street, with editorial comment. That debt was aes alienum – literally, “somebody else’s bronze” – shows how grounded this problem was in the location of money. The auction turns the house inside out; Gelasimus says, “I have to sell out of the house whatever I have” (foras necessumst quidquid habeo vendere, 219). Despite the presence of curiosi “here,” he starts to hawk his possessions to the audience: “I’m selling funny stories. Go on, set the price. … [to one audience member] Hey, did you nod?” (logos ridiculos vendo. age licemini. / … ehem, adnuistin? 221, 224).
Where would a slave keep his peculium? In a cash-box, as Horace says of Plautus’ money? Bankers in the palliata hold money on deposit, but not for slaves. Another idiom associated with money, then, perhaps has a more literal significance than might at first appear: domi means “in my pocket,” but domi is where the cash is. Sagaristio, asked for money, says, “If I had it at home (domi), I’d promise it now” (Per. 45). In the same play, the parasitus Saturio says that a parasitus who has any money at home (si quid domist, 122) just wants to spend it on a meal. In a variant on the common joke in which a character says he can pay for something “out of his back” (that is, by being flogged), Chrysalus boasts that he has plenty of “back at home” (mihi tergum domi est, Bac. 365) – here also a joke on his owner’s threat of “rods in the country” (virgae ruri). Milphio envies Syncerastus because he has food and women at home (domi, Poen. 867). The Advocati are proud that they have food to eat at home (domi, Poen. 537). Leonida/Saurea boasts that he made a debtor bring a banker to the house (domum) to pay up – although, in keeping with Leonida’s grandiose airs, the banker will make a written transfer (scribit nummos, As. 440). Tellingly, Ballio is also proud that he has plenty of money in the house (domo, Ps. 355). The house then is not only identified with the self (“at my house”), even with the body, but with availability; this is ready money, money a person actually has, and does not have to go to the forum to get – to borrow; or to withdraw from a credit account, as wealthy persons are able to do onstage.Footnote 65 The Slave of Lyconides takes the pot of gold home to secure it (condam domum, Aul. 712), and later confesses that the gold is “in a moneybox at my house” (in arca apud me, 823). The house is “my house” even for slave characters.Bankers, in contrast, belong in the forum. Indeed, in the extant palliata, they never live behind the door in the scenery, but enter from the forum; less domestic, even, than pimps, although, as seen above, Diniarchus puts the tables of money-men (argentariae) right next to the pimps (Truc. 66–7), and draws an analogy between prostitutes and the ledgers recording “interest-bearing money” – “deposits, not loans” (70–2, aera … usuraria; accepta dico, expensa ne qui censeat).Footnote 66 The moneylender in Mostellaria enters with a comic speech about how poor business is these days (a laugh line – the audience is not expected to sympathize), and pictures himself toiling away, “from morning til night, I spend all day in the forum” (a mani ad noctem usque in foro dego diem, 534), trying to lend money at interest. Leonida, playing the atriensis, makes a similar complaint (As. 428–9). The banker in Curculio, with his wolfish name, makes no bones about his crookedness (371–83):
Even the pimp can hound his debtor in public; even when the money-man tries his favorite move of dragging things into court, the pimp’s amici can force the issue, and the money-man has to pay with real money, domo.For a slave, the problem was much worse, acting, as slaves must, without real fides. This is the joke when the old man in Epidicus refuses to give back the fides (lyre) to the freedwoman fidicina, and she threatens to dun him for it – to make him give her back her fides – for she is entitled to it, in both senses. Hence, as seen in chapter 2, confidenter is used as a reproach to slaves who act free (see further in chapter 6). Toxilus and Sagaristio have little prospect of getting a loan (Per. 5–6, 43–5); Sagaristio, when Toxilus asks him for money, replies just as Chaeribulus (possibly) does in Epidicus: “if I had it at home, I’d promise it to you right now” (si id domi esset mihi, iam pollicerer, Per. 45); but, unlike Chaeribulus, who is free, he does not say he is being dunned.Footnote 68 Instead, he says it is a ridiculous amount of money to ask him for, more than he would get if he sold himself (40) – not that he owns himself; pressed to look for a loan somewhere, he replies, “I’ll look for one myself – if anyone would give me credit” (si quis credat, 44). Slaves thus can dun, but are not dunned themselves, because you have to have credit to get into debt. The pimp Dordalus has made Toxilus swear an oath that he will pay in cash for Lemniselenis (400–3), and, at the end of the play, concludes that Toxilus has swindled him because he would not give Toxilus credit, would not trust a slave (quia ei fidem non habui argenti, eo mihi eas machinas molitust, 785): revenge. Indeed, Toxilus makes a point of this mistrust in their duel (416), and again afterwards, as he and Dordalus exchange ideas on credit and banking (431–6). He leads by expressing his anger (tibi suscensui, 431) as a low credit rating (tibi sus-censui):
He sounds like Cappadox; another pimp insulting bankers. Toxilus then hands Dordalus the money; although Toxilus says it is “honest, counted out” (probi, numerati, 438), the pimp wonders aloud how he can get it checked to be sure it is not counterfeit (440). Toxilus wants Lemniselenis (441): “Maybe you’re afraid to trust her into my hand?” (fortasse metuis in manum concredere?). The pimp remains focused on the tendency of bankers to disappear (442–3). But when he returns from the forum, in a good mood, he exults about how many people he has trusted today (ut ego multis credidi, 476), and he repeats forms of the verb credo nine more times in the next thirteen lines (477, 478, 482 twice, 484 twice, 485–6, 487, 490). Toxilus, pretending to be grateful, calls down blessings upon him and promises never to wish harm to the pimp from now on (a big lie); the pimp replies, magnanimously, “Go on, don’t swear an oath, I trust you enough” (abi, ne iura, sati’ credo, 490). He will soon find out his mistake. Chrysalus in Bacchides leverages his own untrustworthiness to make his owner hand over the money: nolo ego mi credi, he protests (Bac. 1062, cf. 1064–5). It is part of the grandiosity of Leonida’s claims as atriensis that he complains that a merchant was slow to pay back “what I gave him on credit, before” (priu’ quae credidi, As. 439). Like Toxilus, he wants to be thought credit-worthy.
Again, the audience would have been fully conscious that, for a free person, the enforcement of a debt could end in a form of slavery or house arrest, after a trip to the praetor’s court, as seen in the threats against the pimp Cappadox at the end of Curculio (689–93, 718, 721–3) and against the pimp Lycus at the end of Poenulus (1341–2, 1361–5, 1409).Footnote 69 Debt led to the last secession of the plebs, in 287. When the pimp says he will become Agorastocles’ addictus (Poen. 1361) and hold an auction tomorrow (1364), Agorastocles threatens him explicitly with imprisonment in his house: “so you’ll be with me meanwhile in wooden custody” (ut sis apud me lignea in custodia, 1365).Footnote 70 Any free person can turn into a slave. At the same time, this fantasy of torturing the pimp in your own back yard belongs less to any senators in the audience – what Philip Kay calls “Rome’s aristocratic plutocracy” – than to those who actually might have been in trouble for debt at this level.Footnote 71
Actors and Audience in the Wartime EconomyIn an early scene in Asinaria, the lena Cleareta gives a young man a lesson in what John Henderson calls “marketplace economics in the sexwork industry”Footnote 72 (As. 198–201, tr7):
The lena sees this as fair exchange: “equal recompense given for equal, work in exchange for money” (par pari datum hostimentumst, opera pro pecunia, As. 172). Her economics describe, as well, the format of verbal dueling, where contestants return like for like (par pari respondent); her economics also describe, on a larger scale, the bargain between actors and audience, where performance earns applause, and applause earns military success, in the quid-pro-quo terms of cheerleading. That “cash on the barrel” evidently went by the oxymoronic Graeca fides makes perfect sense for the Graeci palliati onstage and in the street. They all had to eat; they all had credit problems.
The actors cheering on the audience and putting on magnificent displays of invective were singing for their supper. Usener and Fraenkel looked at their chanted forms as interesting survivals of Volk rituals, part of the “self-help” nature of Roman law; Andrew Lintott looked back on these scenes from the perspective of the late Republic, where there are eyewitness accounts of orchestrated shouting, with well-attested political goals (see Richlin Reference Richlin1992b: 86–7). We do not have contemporary witnesses to tell us how a performance of Persa at a given date and venue was interpreted by the audience. But we have some idea of the offstage world. In the 200s bce and the early 100s, the palliata addressed an audience for whom debt was not quaint, shame was a real threat, and slavery was directly tied with the fortunes of war as well as with debt; indeed, the palliata itself took form in a Mediterranean world racked by war and debt. The circulation of jokes and actors to central Italy came about, at least in part, through war and debt. The importance of the idea of credit in Pseudolus (datable to 191) has been tied with an effort to regulate banking in 193–192, and that certainly would have been an association present to spectators of the 191 performance, but the onstage search for credit would have had a political edge throughout the 200s. A joke about loans appears in the Triphallus of Naevius, who was born in the 260s and probably died before the end of the Second Punic War. Plautus’ plays in general are full of moneylenders, while Terence’s, all produced after Pydna, have none. The plays’ concern, seen in chapter 2, with beating, sexual abuse, and hunger is related to the question of money and credit in a century when the first mass enslavements hit the market, the populus had some voice, and central Italy was in flux. The populus, says Curculio, has passed laws to control the flow of credit, and this is in keeping with the development of legislative power by the tribal assembly after 287, in a crisis itself triggered by debt; even if the wealthy Cato also disapproves of moneylenders, the attacks on them in the plays most directly address people with money problems.Footnote 73 If Plautus was “astretch to put coin in his cash-box,” as Horace chided, so were a lot of people onstage and in the audience.
The actors operated in a fiscal climate in which pimps and moneylenders were a threat to people with limited cash, people already traumatized by war. Comic actors are there to cheer people up, hence the cheerleading: your city will not be sacked. The prologue speaker of Casina opens with a formal greeting: “Hail, best of spectators, / you who hold Fides in the highest esteem, as Fides holds you” (Salvere iubeo spectatores optumos, / Fidem qui facitis maxumi, et vos Fides, 1–2); soon he will bring up their debt problems. The whole last third of Aulularia centers on the Temple of Fides, and it is here that the Slave of Lyconides finds the pot of gold he hopes he can use to buy his freedom.Footnote 74 The star Arcturus begins the Rudens prologue by explaining how he and other stars walk the earth by day, spying out who acts with pietas and fides, who gets a boost from opulentia, and who reneges on loans and acts falsely in court: Jupiter will punish wrongdoers, he promises (1–30).Footnote 75 Slaves, for whom access to cash meant so much, had no credit; fides and credo are highly charged terms for them in the plays. Meanwhile, sex trafficking, as these plays and their Greek cousins show, was a major part of the slave trade; hence pimps do business with bankers, and hence the central role of pimps onstage. The pimp says to the weeping Planesium, as he sells her to the man she thinks is the soldier’s agent, “Just be a good prudent girl” (fac sis bonae frugi sies, Cur. 521). Save up your tips. The process of occentatio and the street scene described by the old man in Mercator show what the public life of a young prostitute or ancilla was like. At the same time, the process of quiritatio onstage allows the powerless to try to get redress; the audience participates, as slave and free together are appealed to as the populus.
Behind flagitatio lies a threat of enslavement between free people; verbal dueling between slaves onstage uses some of the forms of flagitatio in a performance by people who had already lost everything but their skill, for an audience at risk. In onstage duels, as in their occasional appeals to “fellow citizens,” slave characters act free, they push towards freedom, often at the expense of a rival; they compete to be upwardly mobile, to be treated with respect. This is the driving force behind the desires to which we will now turn.