In the play “The Swaggering Soldier” (lat. Miles Gloriosus) Plautus, a Roman comedian (254. – 184. B.C.), makes fun of human flaws such as vanity and prodigality.
The comedy was written between 3rd and 2nd century B.C. and it owes its name to Pyrgopolynices who is the swaggering soldier. He always makes a great deal of his wartime and love accomplishments and his vanity is always being supported by Artotrogus’s flattering.
Despite the fact that the play got its name because of Pyrgopolynices, the main protagonist is the clever slave Palaestrio who plots with other characters in order to outsmart Pyrgopolynices and free the girl that he held captive.
The comedy has a classical form, taken from the new antique comedy, which means it has 5 acts and the plot happens in one day, in the same place and there is only one plot.
From the previously mentioned form, we can say that Plautus followed the rule of the thrice unity – time, place and plot. The only difference is that the comedy doesn’t have a prolog that is significant for the Greek play. This one starts with two arguments from which we find out important information about the plot and the plot twist. It also does not have an epilog like others. Instead, it ends with a denouement in act 5.
The plot is settled one the Greek peninsula and the characters have names that have their own significance. For example, Pyrgopolynices means “The one that tears down towers”, the kidnapped girl’s name is Philocomasium means “The lover of noise and festivity” and the name of the harlot Acroteleutium means “Unbeatable”.
Plautus’s comedies were extremely appreciated during the late Roman republic but they were forgotten because of the archaic language. They were rediscovered in the renaissance.
His work had a lot of influence on the structure of renaissance novel by Shakespeare, Moliere and others.
He was successful with the Romans because he used rough jokes, a street language full of wittiness, short dialogue scenes in which the actors insulted each other and he also enhanced the musical parts between the acts.
The slaves were showed as unpolished and uncouth but there is always one slave who is wise and faithful to his master.
In those times, art was financed by rich slave owners and Plautus created the “wise slave” character to justify slavery. The plot wasn’t settled by accident on the Greek island – it was supposed to show all of the immoral, lack of culture and education of the Greek society because they thought of them as inferiors.
Plautus was actually criticizing his roman contemporaries and laughed out the human flaws by pinning them only on the Greeks. Plautus style, filled with folk talk and jokes, became a role model to many other writers. Because of many works were written in his tone he is considered to have written over 130 comedies, while some believe that he only wrote 21 works that are completely his.
The comedy made by the Greek original and settled in a Greek environment was named “fabula paliata” by the Romans because of the clothes the actors were wearing.
In the newer antique period, the actors were wearing togas so it was also called “fabula togata”. The actors were all man and they wore masks that represented their characters.
Plaut is considered to be one of the most skilled descriptors of human characteristics that are worthy of being laughed at and that kind of characters here are the swaggering soldier, the imposter, and the positive characters such as the clever slave, man in love and others. They will become the base for renaissance works and commedia dell’arte. The most famous character of the comedies is the scrooge.
Genre: comedy, mix between the comedy of character and the comedy of intrigue
Time: unspecified, after some roman conquest
Motives: love, freedom, fame thirst
The comedy is written with the most famous verse of those times – the hexameter. After the argument, we are introduced to Pyrgopolynices and Artotrogus that are leading a dialogue in which Artotrogus admires Pyrgopolynices alleged wartime successes such as beating an elephant with one arm and he praised his beauty because of which all of the women wanted him.
The first act is used to describe the characters and it sets our attention onto the foppery of the soldier that will cost him a lot later and also we have Artotrogus that was a classical suck-up and he symbolizes society that magnifies its heroes because of their own benefit.
In the second act, the soldiers slave Palaestrio unlike the parasite Artotrogus shows the real soldier’s character and during his talk with a neighbor named Periplecomenus he mentioned that his master is a liar. Palaestrio is a clever servant that manages to outsmart his master, protect the young lovers and rise to the top.
From the arguments at the beginning of the novel we find out that the soldier kidnapped a young girl and took her from Athens to Ephesus where the plot takes place. The faithful slave Periplecomenus went to say the sad news to his master and the kidnapped’s girl love – a young man named Pleusicles. He went by boat but he was kidnapped by pirates and taken to the same soldier that kidnapped the girl.
Pleusicles was desperate and he rented an apartment near the soldier and his faithful servant recognized him. He punched a hole through the wall so that the lovers could meet.
Everything gets tangled up when Pyrgopolynices servant Sceledrus sees Philcomasium and Pleusicles hugging and tells his master all about it. When the clever slave realized the secret was revealed he decided to stop the soldier’s servant from telling the truth by any means possible. He decided to convince Sceledrus that he didn’t see Philcomasium but her twin sister.
He believed it won’t be a hard job for Philocomasium to convince Sceledrus that it was indeed her twin sister that came to visit with her fiancée.
The plot evolves in the next act after Palaestrio decides to completely fool the swaggering soldier by spreading rumors about a young married woman that wants him. He though it will be easier to cover up for the big secret that almost got revealed. He came to a pact with Acroteleution and she promises to seduce the soldier and get him to bed.
Acroteleution says that when a woman has to do something vicious and bad, her memory gets clear to which the servants replies that her bad deed is for his good deed.
In the fourth act, Acroteleutiom’s servant Milphidippa carries a ring to the soldier. It was actually borrowed from Periplectomenus and it was supposed to symbolize the vow of love. She tells him a story how Acroteleutiom allegedly divorced an old man because of his love for another, younger man and that she wants to meet him in the house her husband left her after the divorce.
The soldier was so enthusiastic about her that he sent Philcomasium to visit her mother in Athens where her “twin sister” is. He also sends his servant to accompany her on the journey.
The soldier comes to the house where he was supposed to meet Acroteleutiom but instead he encounters Peripletomenus who pretends to be the alleged husband. The soldier defended himself by saying that he was convinced she was divorced and that he didn’t know he was hurting anyone’s honor by his deeds. In the end, the “angry husband” and his chef Cario beat him up and took a bag of gold in exchange for his life.
The comedy ends with Sceledrus coming back from his trip with Philcomasium and he reveals the real truth and the whole fraud. The end of the comedy is catharsis because it proves that wisdom and love will beat anything. Sceledrus came to the conclusion that all like the soldier should have the same ending like him.
Characters: Pyrgopolynices, Artotrogus, Palaestrio, Sceledrus, Periplectomenus, Philocomasium, Pleusicles, Acroteleutium ,Milphidippa, Cario
Pyrgopolynices – the swaggering soldier who has a tendency to blow his wartime successes out of proportion. He is blinded by himself and his beauty and because of that, he gets fooled.
Philocomasium – the girl that gets kidnapped from her family home and becomes the soldier’s servant. She was sincerely in love with her fiancée but she also had an affinity for the flattering, frauds, and plots which are believed to be a woman’s characteristic.
Palaestrio – the clever servant that is kidnapped by pirates and given to the soldier. He is loyal to his real master Pleusicles, Philocomasium’s fiancée. He defends the interest of the young lovers and he defends them from the soldier. He is the one that controls the plot.
Sceledrus – servant, whose significance is the fact that he told his master wrong messages that helped the plot to succeed.
Artotrogus – parasite and his name came from the same word. He only sucks up and flatters to earn his bread.
Periplectomenus – older neighbor, Palaestrio’s ally and Pleusicles family friend.
Cario – Periplectomenus’s chef
Pleusicles – Philocomasium’s fiancee who moved to Ephesus to be closer to her after she was kidnapped.
Acroteletium – a harlot that knows her was around men.
Milphidippa – Acroteletium’s servant that takes part in defrauding the soldier.
Titus Maccius Plautus is the biggest Roman comedy writer. He lived between 254 and 184 BC. He worked as a stage worker, actor in Rome and then he got himself into some debts and became a slave.
Plautus style, filled with folk talk and jokes, became a role model to many other writers. Because of many works were written in his tone he is considered to have written over 130 comedies while some believe that he only wrote 21 works that are completely his. The most popular ones are “Aulularia” or “The Pot of Gold”, “Maneachmi”.
In his works, he showed everyday city life scenes but he introduced rough comedy, music parts and elements of burlesque into the Greek comedy.
The Plautus comedy is recognizable by the clever servant who has the most important role and twists the plot.