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

  • Introduction
  • General Studies and Reference Works
  • Editions
  • Manuscript Tradition
  • Commentaries
  • Greek Original
  • Italian Traditions; Plautine Adaptation and Innovation
  • Plot
  • Staging
  • Music, Meter, and Dance
  • Themes
  • Social and Historical Contexts
  • Performance History

Classics Plautus’s Curculio
T. H. M. Gellar-Goad
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0366


Plautus’s shortest play Curculio has not drawn the same attention from scholars, authors, and performers over the centuries as his Menaechmi, Amphitruo, Pseudolus, and Miles Gloriosus, yet the play offers a set of dramatis personae that encompasses all the main stock characters of Roman comedy (with the exception of mother and father figures), a plot that ties together three common Plautine storylines (erotic, deception, and recognition), and an unparalleled metatheatrical monologue from a truly unique character, the Choragus. The young citizen man Phaedromus desires Planesium, enslaved to the sex-trafficker Cappadox, who is asking for more money than Phaedromus has. Phaedromus’s parasite Curculio, sent on a journey to Caria in search of a loan, comes back instead with a ring stolen from the soldier Therapontigonus, who has contracted with Cappadox to purchase Planesium. Using the ring to forge documents and an eyepatch disguise, Curculio (under the pseudonym Summanus) tricks both Cappadox and Lyco the banker into handing Planesium over. Therapontigonus arrives, enraged at being tricked, but soon learns that Planesium, who has recognized Therapontigonus’s stolen ring on Curculio’s finger, is his long-lost sister. They are reunited, Planesium is acknowledged as a citizen, the two of them agree to a marriage between Planesium and Phaedromus, and Cappadox is physically abused and forced to repay Therapontigonus. The title character influences Terence’s Phormio and Catullus’s erotic persona, as well as the stock character Ligurio in Italian commedia dell’arte; meanwhile, the recognition and reunion of the soldier Therapontigonus with Planesium, his sister and erstwhile object of erotic desire, inspires similar plot twists in Molière, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and more. The play’s concision and nonstop action have made it a popular choice for student productions, particularly at North American colleges and universities. This article comprehensively catalogues scholarship on Curculio, beginning with overarching works (general studies, editions, the manuscript tradition, commentaries, translations) and then moving into the major topics of scholarly interest in the play: Greek original and Plautine adaptation; plot, staging, and music; themes and characters; social and historical contexts; humor and language; and reception and performance history. For other surveys of Plautine scholarship, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies articles Plautus, Plautus’s Amphitruo, and Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus. See also the separate Oxford Bibliographies articles on the main surviving playwright of Greek New Comedy, Menander of Athens, and Plautus’s Roman comedic contemporaries Terence and Caecilius Statius.

General Studies and Reference Works

Curculio has not featured among the plays of Plautus to receive more extensive study, and Roman comedy as a scholarly field more generally has tended to produce synthetic analyses rather than major works on individual plays. Monaco 1963 analyzes the play scene by scene; the only monograph on Curculio is Gellar-Goad 2021. Chapter-length studies of Curculio can be found in Paratore 2003 (a reprint of the introduction to Paratore 1958, under Translations), Moore 1998b (largely incorporating Moore 1991), and Menon 2020 (under Italian Traditions; Plautine Adaptation and Innovation). The concordance is Denooz 1998. Papaioannou 2011 offers an encyclopedia-entry survey.

  • Denooz, L., ed. 1998. Plautus, Curculio. Index verborum, lexiques inverses, relevés lexicaux et grammaticaux. Alpha-Omega. Reihe A, Lexika, Indizes, Konkordanzen zur klassischen Philologie 198. Hildesheim, Germany: Olms-Weidmann.

    A comprehensive concordance and lexicon of the play.

  • Gellar-Goad, T. H. M. 2021. Plautus: Curculio. Bloomsbury Ancient Comedy Companions. London: Bloomsbury.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781350079779

    The first extended study of the play, surveying literary and social contexts, plot, themes, staging, metatheater, and reception. First comprehensive musical analysis of the play. First performance history of the play.

  • Monaco, G. 1963. Teatro di Plauto I. Il Curculio. Rome: Istituto Editoriale Cultura Europea.

    Short “reading” of the play based on notes and observations from teaching. Includes prolegomena on the name, life, works, and manuscript tradition of Plautus; detailed analysis of scenes of Curculio; and annotations in the form of a brief commentary. Mostly revisited and extended in Monaco 1969 (under Editions).

  • Moore, T. J. 1991. Palliata togata: Plautus, Curculio 462–86. American Journal of Philology 112:343–362.

    DOI: 10.2307/294736

    Largely incorporated into chapter 7 of Moore 1998b.

  • Moore, T. J. 1998b. The theatre of Plautus: Playing to the audience. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

    Chapter 7 (pages 126–139) focus on Curculio, finding in the play much satire, allusions to Roman life and especially Roman topography, and metatheater. The theme of the play is a lack of fides in Epidaurus—and, by extension, Rome, made especially clear by the monologue of the Choragus (see under Characters).

  • Papaioannou, S. 2011. Curculio In The Literary Encyclopedia.

    Brief overview of and bibliography on the play, surveying date, Greek model, plot, structure, plot, themes, characters, music, and the Choragus.

  • Paratore, E. 2003. Anatomie Plautine. Amphitruo. Casina. Curculio. Miles Gloriosus. Edited by R. M. Danese and C. Questa. Ludus philologiae 12. Urbino, Italy: QuattroVenti.

    Pages 85–102 focus on Curculio. Posthumous reprint of Paratore 1958 (under Translations). Argues for a performance date of 193 BCE. Engages in Quellenforschung and identification of Plautine elements of the play. Defends the authenticity of the Choragus’s monologue and examines the problem of Curculio’s absence from the final scene in the headings of the manuscripts of Curculio.

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