In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Plautus

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographical Surveys
  • Text
  • Translations
  • Relationship to Greek Models

Classics Plautus
Susanna Braund
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0083


Titus Maccius Plautus, from Sarsina in Umbria, wrote plays at the turn of the 3rd into the 2nd century BCE; only two can be dated (200 and 191 BCE). Gratwick 1973 (cited under Introductory Works) shows that his name is probably a pseudonym, indicating close connection with Italian performance culture. Although 130 plays were attributed to him, 21 were ultimately regarded as genuine in Antiquity, and these plays have been transmitted to us; other fragments exist. Most are adaptations from Greek New Comedy written by Menander, Diphilus, and Philemon, and hence we name them fabulae palliatae, although Amphitruo shows the influence of other forms of drama, such as the phlyakes, farces performed in southern Italy (see Bieber 1971, cited under Introductory Works). Plautus Romanized and Latinized a number of features in the plays and invented material of his own, inspired by native forms of drama, such as farce, and improvised forms of comic entertainment. See General Overviews and Relationship to Greek Models.

Introductory Works

Plautus was a very successful dramatist (Parker 1996). For brief introductions, see Chiarini 2004 and Wright 1982 as well as the general books on Roman comedy listed in the Oxford Bibliographies Online article Latin Drama. Beare 1977 and above all Duckworth 1994 remain indispensable. Conte 1994 is essential orientation for undergraduates.

  • Beare, William. 1977. The Roman stage: A short history of Latin drama in the time of the republic. 3d ed. London: Methuen.

    Still the standard account in English of the practicalities of the Roman stage under the republic. Covers origins, dramatists, genres, organization of staging, spectators, actors.

  • Bieber, Margarete. 1971. The history of the Greek and Roman theater. 2d ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    Still valuable illustrated study of Greek and Roman theater, especially the physical aspects of dramatic performances, using a wide variety of sources. First published in 1939.

  • Chiarini, Gioachino. 2004. Introduzione al teatro latino. Milan: A. Mondadori.

    Brief overview of Plautus on pages 69–85.

  • Conte, Gian Biagio. 1994. Latin literature: A history. Translated by Joseph B. Solodow. Revised by Don Fowler and Glenn W. Most. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    This essential literary history discusses Plautus on pages 49–64.

  • Duckworth, George E. 1994. The nature of Roman comedy: A study in popular entertainment. 2d ed. Foreword and bibliographical appendix by Richard Hunter. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.

    Still a standard work with full discussion of the origins, nature, staging, themes, characters, and language of Roman comedy.

  • Gratwick, A. S. 1973. Titus Maccius Plautus. Classical Quarterly 23:78–84.

    Discussion of the three elements in Plautus’s name, with the conclusion that the name is a pseudonym with the sense “Phallus son of Clown the Mime-actor.”

  • Parker, Holt. 1996. Plautus vs. Terence: Audience and popularity re-examined. American Journal of Philology 117:585–617.

    DOI: 10.1353/ajp.1996.0058

    Opposes the orthodoxy that Plautus was popular with the crowds while Terence was a failure, making the case for the ancient appreciation of Terence without diminishing Plautus’s achievement.

  • Wright, John. 1982. Plautus. In Ancient writers: Greece and Rome. Vol. 1, Homer to Caesar. Edited by T. James Luce, 501–532. New York: Scribner.

    Excellent introduction to Plautus and his world, with each play considered separately. Includes a selective bibliography.

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