In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus

  • Introduction
  • General Works on Plautus
  • Editions and Textual Criticism
  • Commentaries
  • Translations
  • Collections of Essays
  • Date and Topicality
  • Meter
  • Metatheater
  • Miles Gloriosus and Folktales
  • Imagery
  • Structure
  • Seeing and Not Seeing
  • Influence

Classics Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus
Timothy Moore, Amanda Kubic
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0313


When Miles Gloriosus begins, the soldier Pyrgopolynices has kidnapped Philocomasium, and he has also purchased Palaestrio, the slave of Philocomasium’s lover, Pleusicles. Pleusicles, upon learning where his lover and slave are, has become the guest of Periplectomenus, Pyrgopolynices’ next-door neighbor, and Philocomasium visits him through a hole in the wall between the two houses. Sceledrus, another of Pyrgopolynices’ slaves, has spied Philocomasium embracing Pleusicles in Periplectomenus’ house. Two deceptions, each devised by Palaestrio, make up the bulk of the play. First, Philocomasium, by running back and forth between houses using the hole in their common wall, convinces Sceledrus that Pleusicles embraced not herself, but her twin sister. The conspirators then add to their number the prostitute Acroteleutium, who, assisted by her female slave, Milphidippa, persuades Pyrgopolynices that she is Periplectomenus’s wife and loves the soldier madly. Pyrgopolynices sends Philocomasium and Palaestrio away and rushes into Periplectomenus’s house for a tryst with Acroteleutium, only to be beaten and threatened with castration. Although no major study has been dedicated to Miles Gloriosus alone as a theatrical entity, the play has a unique position in Plautus’s corpus and in the history of Plautine scholarship. It offers Plautus’s best example of the braggart soldier, a stock character who has since been featured in countless comedies. The play is Plautus’s longest, and it is notable for its large cast of characters, including not only the remarkably obtuse soldier, but also a most resourceful clever slave, three assertive and competent women, and the old man Periplectomenus, who delivers a long discourse on his unusual personality. It is widely thought to be one of Plautus’s earliest plays, if not his earliest, and to offer insights into Plautus’s early development as a dramatist and into popular attitudes to events in the Hannibalic War. Because of the double nature of its plot, in which a deception of Sceledrus is followed by an apparently unrelated deception of Pyrgopolynices, the play has been at the center of controversies surrounding how Plautus responded to his Greek originals and has been considered the strongest candidate for contaminatio, the combination of two or more Greek plays in one Roman adaptation. Its two elaborate deceptions, prepared for in long scenes of self-conscious planning, have drawn the interest of students of Plautine metatheater. The play is also unique in its metrical structure.

General Works on Plautus

For general works on Plautus, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article in Classics “Plautus.” In three of these works Miles Gloriosus plays an especially important role. Duckworth 1994 offers much good discussion of the play. Fontaine 2010 examines many of the play’s jokes. Marshall 2006 uses Miles Gloriosus as an example for various features of the staging of Plautus’s plays.

  • Duckworth, George E. 1994. The nature of Roman comedy: A study in popular entertainment. 2d ed. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.

    First published in 1952 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press). Remains a standard introduction to Roman comedy. Includes discussion of most aspects of Miles covered in this bibliography. Foreword and bibliographical appendix by Richard Hunter.

  • Fontaine, Michael. 2010. Funny words in Plautine comedy. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Includes discussion, often speculative but always intriguing, of puns found throughout Miles Gloriosus. Argues that Plautus’s plays are sophisticated attempts to please a largely aristocratic audience.

  • Marshall, C. W. 2006. The stagecraft and performance of Roman comedy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511486203

    Frequently draws upon Miles Gloriosus for examples of staging and other features of performance.

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