Plautus, The Little Carthaginian

LCL 260: 2-3

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Poenulus

Introductory Note

It was not uncommon in antiquity for plays to have more than one name. Among the fragmentary comedies attributed to Plautus, one is called both Caecus, “The Blind Man,” and Praedones, “The Bandits.” Similarly, the Casina may have had Sortientes, “Men Casting Lots,” as an alternative title. Our play was called Poenulus, “The Little Carthaginian,” already in antiquity (see Varro ling. 7.69), but some scholars have claimed that it had Patruus, “The Uncle,” as an alternative title. Both titles would refer to Hanno, a Carthaginian traveling around the world in search of his long-lost daughters. The second name would have been given to the play because Hanno is the “uncle”1 of Agorastocles, a young man madly in love with one of Hanno’s daughters.

However, the grounds for assuming Patruus as an alternative title are inconclusive at best. In l. 53 we are told that the Greek name of the play is Karkhedonios, “The Carthaginian,” and in l. 54 the words “Plautus,” “porridge-eater” (pultiphagonides), and “uncle” (patruus) occur. Pace Copley, “porridge-eater” must jokingly refer to Plautus rather than Hanno, as Plautus makes fun of

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Poenulus

Romans having this dietary staple elsewhere (Most. 828). There are two major objections to taking patruus as the title of the play: first, its position in between the name “Plautus” and his epithet “porridge-eater” is awkward, and second, patruus stands in the nominative like the other two nouns, not in the accusative, as one would expect. For these reasons it makes more sense to take patruus as jocularly referring to Plautus as well and to assume, with Geppert, that a line was lost between what are now ll. 53 and 54.

Therefore, it is best to reckon with a single Latin title, Poenulus, as translation of the name of the original, Karkhedonios. Plautus does not say who wrote the original, but we know that both Menander and Alexis wrote plays with this title. Menander’s Karkhedonios has nothing in common with the Plautine Poenulus; in Menander’s comedy, a Carthaginian man pursues a girl and claims to be an Athenian citizen, being registered in an Attic township. The play by Alexis, on the other hand, is highly likely to be the original of the Poenulus. Thus fr. 105 Kassel-Austin corresponds to l. 1318 of the Poenulus; in both cases someone is accused of being unmanly. While this correspondence is not sufficient proof because the fragment consists of only two words, further evidence comes from the correspondence between Poen. 522–23 and 525 with an unattributed but long fragment of Alexis (265 Kassel-Austin), which can therefore be assigned to his Karkhedonios. In both passages it is stated that fast walking is suitable for slaves, while free men ought to walk at a leisurely pace.

Since the Poenulus has played a major role in the discussion of contaminatio, the content of the play needs to be outlined in some detail. It combines elements of the

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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.plautus-little_carthaginian.2012