Plautine Negotiations: the Poenulus Prologue Unpacked

Once of philosophers they told us stories,
Whom, as I think, they called---Py---Pythagories;---
I'm sure 'tis some such Latin name they give 'em,
And we, who know no better, must believe 'em.
Now to these men (say they) such souls were given,
That after death ne'er went to hell nor heaven,
But lived, I know not how, in beasts; and then,
When many years were passed, in men again.
Methinks, we players resemble such a soul;
That does from bodies, we from houses stroll.
Thus Aristotle's soul, of old that was,
May now be damned to animate an ass;
Or in this very house, for aught we know,
Is doing painful penance in some beau...
---epilogue to Love for Love,
spoken by Mrs. Bracegirdle
The vision of the soul of the author of the Poetics, trapped in the body of a Restoration beau and compelled to sit through a performance of Congreve, is doubtless one calculated to gladden the heart of any true lover of comedy. But how much greater, we imagine, would have been his sufferings at a performance of Roman comedy. The seventeenth century had at least heard of Aristotle and paid lip service to the French understanding of his dictates upon the drama. Plautus by contrast seems quite unburdened by any anxiety of the philosopher's influence.1
For in place of the tidy poetic narratives with a beginning, middle, and end which the philosopher recommends (Poetics 1450b), the plays of Plautus in particular present us with a bewildering variety of ways to begin (and end) a comedy. The conventionality of Roman comedy in character and plot types and its reliance on Greek models has tended to divert attention from the invention and playfulness which characterizes the beginnings of Plautus's comedies.
What we know of Greek prologues, based on Menander and a few other fragments, suggests a well-recognized, primarily narrative function with a certain sameness of execution.2 Plautus's practice is much more varied: he can begin with a prologue or not, just as he likes. Where the poets of Greek New Comedy were usually quite careful not merely to announce the happy end in advance but also to explain in detail how one got to it, Plautus can dispense with the plot details altogether. In fact, a rule of inverse proportion may apply: the more we hear of the plot in a Plautine prologue, the less we will see it acted in the course of the play.3
The prologues of Menander stand at the end of a long evolution in theatrical practice. His audience came to watch a New Comedy with strongly stamped generic expectations. After all, an audience had been showing up in the Theatre of Dionysos for comic performances at the festival for two centuries. Toward the end of the fourth century BC a certain style and a relatively homogeneous set of plot possibilities had come to dominate the stage. The audience's pleasure lay in watching the ingenious working out of a solution to the lover's dilemma within this established frame of generic expectations.4 The prologue in Greek New Comedy gave the audience essential information for the sorting out of the plot and thus allowed the spectators to watch the comedy secure in the expectation of a happy ending. The only puzzle was precisely how one would get there.
The Plautine audience came to a palliata performance with very different expectations. They were at best second-generation theatre-goers. Nor was the place of theatre performance within festival celebration anywhere near as secure as in Greece. Theatre might be an ad hoc addition to an aristocratic funeral as well as a feature of a regularly scheduled religious festival. More importantly, theatre had no fixed place in the landscape. Unlike the mighty Theatre of Dionysos, massively rebuilt in stone, in which Menander's comedies were framed and anchored, the Roman stage of Plautus' day was a temporary structure, put up for the occasion of the performance only. Cheek by jowl with other competing entertainments (such as the rope-dancers to whom Terence's Hecyra once lost its audience), a Roman comedy faced its first challenge simply in securing a hearing.5
The prologue to a comedy of Plautus, when he chose to employ one, thus carried a heavy responsibility. It negotiated the conditions of its own reception with its audience. It created the frame through which the audience would view the rest of the performance. It drew the invisible but magic circle surrounding itself and its audience which (if successful) closed them off from the competing sights and sounds of the festival and drew the audience into the world of the play. This inductive function might be carried on into scenes of the action as well or might be performed by an opening scene of dialogue (as in the Mostellaria), but it is in the prologue that we see the operations of induction most clearly.6
The prologue to the Poenulus offers one of the most interesting examples of Plautus's negotiations with his audience---and a reasonably representative one, given their rich variety.7 We can divide the text of this prologue into two sections, one which describes and structures the performance situation, and another which narrates the events leading up to the present fictional situation (though to imply any sharp separation between the two in the prologue speaker's performance is false). The narrative material is quite fully represented in the 128-line text of the prologue, which is one of the longer examples in Plautus. The degree of the narrative's elaboration will later raise questions about the structure of the play, since the Carthaginian of the title, whose activities the prologue is at such pains to clarify, does not arrive on the scene until two-thirds of the way through the play.8 This prologue therefore allows us to study both the process of induction and the power the prologue exerts over the subsequent performance.
There is an inevitable problem in any performance-based reading of a text. Performance proceeds linearly through time. The audience in the theatre does not know when the prologue begins just how it will end. The scholarly reader does---and after the fashion of the Greek audience may well wish from me some statement in advance of how my interpretation of the prologue will turn out. Any detailed declaration of my conclusions here, however, risks erasing the process of discovery, the twists and turns by which Plautus prepares his audience for viewing the rest of his play. I must therefore beg my reader's patience and indulgence---my argument does have a conclusion, but it is one best reached without having been stated in advance.
Let us begin by examining the performance situation as the prologue invokes it. The relation of text to performance here is particularly problematic: does the text describe or create a performance situation? What begins in parody and easy-going play with the audience (the unnamed and uncharacterized prologue speaker's opening banter) moves to the assumption of authority over the audience (the command to a crier to silence the crowd, before asking the crier in turn to be silent).
The visual forms the first frame of the audience's experience, but how the prologue speaker looked is far from certain. At the conclusion of the prologue, he announces his intention to go costume himself: ego ibo, ornabor (123). The natural implication is that he has not been wearing a costume heretofore.9 Much more puzzling is the question of whether he was wearing a mask. After much debate we seem to have reached a general consensus that masks were already in use in Plautus' day.10 Given the general practice, it would then be very striking for the prologue speaker to appear without a mask. Lack of a mask would in particular allow the actor to be identified, but it would completely subvert the joke of the opening lines.11 The play begins.
Achillem Aristarchi mihi commentari lubet:
inde mihi principium capiam, ex ea tragoedia.
"sileteque et tacete atque animum advortite,
audire jubet vos imperator"---histricus,
bonoque ut animo sedeate in subselliis,
et qui esurientes et qui saturi venerint....
The prologue speaker begins by commenting on beginnings. By referring to another play and playwright, he seems to position himself at a moment before performance begins. He is here almost certainly playing off Ennius's adaptation of Aristarchus, and probably a recent performance.12 The key here is the verb commentari in the first line, meaning not Paul Nixon's "imitate" but rather "perform" or "recite."13 This moment is rather more than simple parody. The prologue is toying with the audience's generic expectations, much as Mercury in the prologue to the Amphitruo juggles the notions of tragedy and comedy.14 The dynamic of movement within just four lines is fascinating. After seemingly casual commentary on performance, he throws himself into the strongly marked performance mode of tragedy, and then slips out of it again. Indeed, until we hear the key word histricus at the end of line 4, he seems in danger of hijacking the play and giving a tragic performance.
One must admit to ignorance about the basic production context of this play. We know neither upon what occasion the Poenulus was performed nor how such productions were advertised and announced. There is no evidence that there were designated days for tragic performances as opposed to comic ones. The prologue speaker then apparently teases the audience with the notion that they might be about to hear a performance of Aristarchus' Achilles and does not dispel the notion until he states that we are under the command of the imperator histricus.15 The actor is presumably masked and ready to perform in either tragedy or comedy.
The dynamic of these opening lines, an alternation of casual conversation with assumed authority, will soon be repeated. The prologue speaker seizes power by making himself an imperator but seems to yield it again. After all, he is only a stage imperator---but he has not in fact discarded the rôle. Having established the good will of the audience (5-6), the prologue speaker begins to act like a commander. He orders the praeco into action:
exsurge, praeco, fac populo audientiam.
jam dudum exspecto, si tuom officium scias:
exerce vocem, quam per vivisque  et colis. 
nam nisi clamabis, tacitum te obrepet fames.
age nunc reside, duplicem ut mercedem feras.
This passage has the ring of plausibility to it---as well as pomposity, once again immediately undercut.16 A Roman holiday crowd was doubtless boisterous, and securing a hearing for a play was no easy task, as Terence learned to his cost. Where Terence makes a straightforward appeal for a hearing, Plautus stages a playlet. The imperator exercises his authority, urges the crier on with a crude joke about starvation, and then cuts him off in a way that will once more draw the audience's sympathies.17 Authority is exerted and almost immediately subverted; the prologue gets the silence he needs but directs any hostility the audience may feel at this imposition on their holiday mood against the figure of the praeco.
The prologue speaker then proclaims his "edict," using the formula a praetor entering upon office might,18 but produces a thorough-going parody instead. His edict prescribes the proper behavior in the theatre: no walking around during the performance, no slaves pushing their way in in front of free men, no crying children, and no women talking. Within the tensions of authority and submission so pervasive in this prologue, it is well worth noting that essentially all of these objects of the histrionic edict are society's powerless: slaves, children, and women. While the prologue speaker does object early on to the lictor and his rods making noise (18), he soon switches to safer objects for his severity. The message of order is made palatable by being directed ostensibly at everyone except the majority of the audience.
The edict seems to culminate with an appeal for the audience to deal fairly with the performers, a direct comment on the performance conditions:
quodque ad ludorum curatores attinet,
ne palma detur quoiquam artifici injuria
neve ambitionis causa extrudantur foras,
quo deteriores anteponantur bonis.
Such moral seriousness is not the province of comedy, however. This appeal and its potential commentary on the deteriores and boni in the society at large is immediately undercut by the Plautine spirit of subversion:
et hoc quoque etiam, quod paene oblitus fui:
dum ludi fiunt, in popinam, pedisequi,
inruptionem facite; nunc dum occasio est,
nunc dum scriblitae aestuant, occurrite.
The final two lines of this first part close the ring with an allusion to the imperator histricus of line 4; these, says the prologue speaker in summary, are the orders which apply pro imperio histrico (44), and each participant (both performers and spectators) must internalize them. The magic circle around the performance is now completed, and the play can begin.19
Next, within the performance space the boundaries of the play must be laid out, and the prologue speaker is the properly appointed surveyor (48-49). He jokes that he will tell the spectators the name of the play, whether they wish it or not (50-51), because he has been authorized by the festival management. We may feel that the play proper---that is, preliminary matter specific to this and no other comedy---is about to begin, when once again the balance of power reverses:
nunc rationes ceteras
accipite; nam argumentum hoc hic censebitur:
locus argumentost suom sibi proscaenium,
vos juratores estis.
The praetor is now a simple citizen, giving account of his property to the juratores, the censors' assistants charged with making property assessments.20 The audience, whom he earlier presumed to order about, now sits as an IRS auditor in authority over him. This simple reversal is a prolepsis for the whole performance of the play: the players exercise their hour's authority upon the stage but must submit themselves to the audience's judgement at the end.
Theatrical and political spheres here mirror and re-inforce each other. The completeness of the power reversal on stage (the praetor reduced to an average citizen, the audience he ordered about elevated to juratores) undergirds the notion of popular control over the magistrates of the Republic---even as practice historically moved ever further from that ideal.21
The prologue finally turns to the argumentum proper at line 59. This narrative is extensive, so detailed that it needs to be enlivened with a few jokes,22 and---what the audience cannot know at this point---almost wholly irrelevant to the play that follows. Irrelevant, that is, in the sense that it tells us a great deal we will not see enacted and would not strictly need to know: this complicated tale of three abducted children, their family relationships, and the property inheritances which will eventually come to them is prologue to a thoroughly conventional play of lovers, clever slave, boastful soldier, and a scheme to deprive the pimp of both money and girl. Only in the last third of the play does the Carthaginian of the title appear to recognize his daughters and his cousin's son and therefore to provide money and status to make the resulting marriage possible.
The structure of the play which follows this prologue does present certain problems at first glance, and not just to the analyst critic.23 The two halves of the Poenulus are virtually complete in and of themselves. In the first part Agorastocles' slave Milphio concocts a scheme whereby the pimp Lycus is tricked into denying possession of Agorastocles' slave or money, when in fact he unknowingly has both at his house. Lycus thereby makes himself liable to a court action, the profit from which would finance Agorastocles' purchase of the girl he loves. In the second part of the play Hanno, the Carthaginian of the title, arrives, meets Milphio and Agorastocles, recognizes the latter as his cousin's long-lost son, and further, when enlisted to play a father in another (and unnecessary) scheme to cheat Lycus, recognizes and claims the girls as his own lost daughters. The second part of the action, then, is merely a series of revelations with little or no development or complication. Once the second part of the play has begun, the audience doubtless accepts it and follows it with interest, but what prevents the sense of an ending after the first part? The text as we have it further presents two alternative endings to the play. Both yield the same result: Hanno's recognition of his daughters and betrothal of Agorastocles to the elder, Adelphasium. The two endings do, however, portray the final discomfiture of the pimp by his opponents (including the miles Antamonides, in love with the other of the two girls) with differing degrees of emphasis.
We cannot expect the prologue to sort out all these problems of structure for us, but we can ask how well it prepares us for the play as it unfolds. It is perhaps only in retrospect that the critical viewer will see Plautus's strategy behind the apparently useless plot information provided in the prologue. The argumentum has a difficult job. It must hold the two disparate halves of the action together. It must catch the interest of that portion of the audience more interested in the conventional complications of Roman comedy while holding onto (or generating) the interest of those who prefer the sentimental recognition plot which only the second half will deliver. It does so by focusing on the pivotal figure from each plot: Lycus and Hanno respectively. The first narrative builds to the introduction of the pimp as villain and the revelation of his name, Lycus (92). The second relates the curious method Hanno uses to search for his daughters: he hires meretrices in each new town he visits to enquire after them.24 The narrative also touches on his remarkable language abilities, which he nonetheless knows how to conceal to his own advantage (dissimulat sciens / se scire, 112-113). The prologue speaker is not content merely to hint that the old man will find daughters and nephew (115),25 but spells it out quite explicitly (121-122; 124-125).26
We must return to the first half of the prologue to examine two themes which, though at first apparently unrelated, also succeed in tying the two parts of the play together. The first is Plautus's metatheatrical fascination with the process of play-making, the second the nature and interrelations of law, power, and justice. As we examine the workings of these two themes in the body of the play, the skill with which Plautus has constructed his prologue should become more apparent.
From the opening tragic parody to the parting reference to getting into costume (123), the prologue calls attention to its own status as dramatic performance. Its careful negotiations with the audience, laying out the boundaries of the stage and introducing the players, do not, as a Greek prologue would, close an illusionistic frame around the subsequent action. This is a play whose fundamental plot mechanism is rôle-playing, and whose characters, just like the prologue speaker, are well aware of their status as players, not only within their own schemes but within Plautus's play as well. A few examples should suffice. The bailiff Collybiscus, slave of Agorastocles, is costumed as a foreigner in order to induce Lycus to take him in. When quizzed by Milphio, Collybiscus insists he knows his part in thoroughly theatrical terms: quin edepol condoctior sum quam tragoedi aut comoedi (581). Only a few lines later the counsellors assure the audience directly that the "gold" they are using is only stage money:27
aurum est profecto hic, spectatores, comicum:
macerato hoc pingues fiunt auro in barbaria boves;
verum ad hanc rem agundam Philippum est: ita nos
Such theatrical self-consciousness is quite frequent in Plautus, but we should not be too eager to dismiss it as stock comedy. The use of r™le-playing in the play's two different schemes helps to tie the two halves together. The conventional Roman comedy plot against Lycus turns on Collybiscus' deception: Lycus believes him to be a genuine foreigner (a mercenary on the dodge, in fact) and takes him in, hoping for a considerable profit, but instead is duped into perjuring himself and becomes therefore liable at law to Agorastocles. In the recognition plot in the second part of the play, Milphio proposes to enlist Hanno in another r™le-playing scheme to cheat Lycus by having Hanno play the father of the two girls and claim them as his long-lost daughters.
Rôle-playing by its very nature, however, is endlessly multiplicable. Two plots are required for this play because the first yields only the answer that satisfies, not the answer that is true. The first will provide money and/or power over the pimp to force him to yield up the meretrix Agorastocles loves. A conventional Roman comedy could end right here. It requires the second plot, however, to produce the real recognition which supersedes rôle-playing. I suggest then that the prologue foregrounds metatheatrical issues, not simply because the audience is unused to theatre and requires explicit negotiations of the conditions of watching a play,28 but in order to make more satisfying the later occurrences of the sort of reversal we repeatedly experience in the prologue. As the prologue speaker assumes and discards rôles, the audience is drawn deeper into the realm of playing: the succession of rôles somehow succeeds in suggesting a "reality" behind multiplicity. Paralleling this in the body of the play, our heightened self-consciousness of theatrical form will there ultimately be suppressed by a conventional romance ending, the recognition of the lost children and the inauguration of a new, legitimate marriage. The discovery that Hanno, the master of many rôles, is in reality what he proposes to play, yields a powerful sense of an ending. Theatre turns out to have been miming a deeper reality.
Is that suppression of metatheatrical consciousness quite complete, however? And how does it relate to the second of the prologue's themes, the nature and workings of law and justice? It may seem a modern, anachronistically sentimental worry, but what are we to make of a play which not only regards the pimp Lycus as subhuman (si leno est homo, 89) but also finds the law (the leges populi, as Agorastocles pointedly terms them at 725) a splendid instrument for cheating him? After all, the first plot is simply an elaborate fraud, requiring the knowing and malevolent participation of Collybiscus, Milphio, Agorastocles, and the counsellors to induce Lycus to perjure himself---and then make capital out of this technical perjury. The second plot starts out to be a fraud every bit as cold-blooded: find an old foreigner to play the girls' father and perjure them away from Lycus. Lycus may be an enemy to gods and men,29 but it is a bit unnerving for the law to appear to be nothing more than a comic plot device. Perhaps it is not too far-fetched to suggest that the two alternative endings to the play (1355-1371 and 1372-1422) suggest an unease in the Roman audience as well---or at least two different responses to the problem.
Lines 1355-1371 present the simpler and shorter of the two endings.30 It focuses on the pimp's complete overthrow and humiliation and even prefaces an apology for the play's long-windedness to its appeal for applause:
multa verba fecimus;
malum postremo omne ad lenonem reccidit.
nunc, quod postremum est condimentum fabulae,
si placuit, plausum postulat comoedia.
By placing line 1369 where it does, this ending grounds that appeal completely on the story of Lycus' fall. Lycus will not only suffer financially but must be confined in stocks (lignea in custodia, 1365) at Agorastocles' house. The moral universe of this ending is simple: the pimp is a villain who gets his just deserts. In such a play, as Lycus says himself, "what need for the judge?" (quid praetore opust?, 1361).
That question carries us back to the prologue and the mock praetorian edict. There we saw the mirroring of theatrical and political orders as mutually re-inforcing, the justice of the praetor a pledge for the good qualities of the play. After a play in which law has been so thoroughly subverted, the question quid praetore opust? begins to sound dangerously ironic.31
It is perhaps not surprising that the other ending to the Poenulus is more to modern taste (and that of a perhaps significant segment of the Roman audience as well). In it Hanno, having regained his daughters, forgives Lycus, as do Antamonides and, apparently, Agorastocles. He considers the possibility of pursuing vengeance in the courts but knows he is at a disadvantage as a foreigner:
si volo hunc ulcisci, litis sequar in alieno oppido,
quantum audivi ingenium et mores ejus quo pacto sient.
There is a sense that this ending is fragile and ought not to be tested too far. Though Lycus may not be invited to the feast (as is the pimp Labrax in Plautus's Rudens), neither is he thrown into the stocks. The play ends in a spirit of reconciliation, appropriate to the recognition and marriage theme of the play's second part.
This movement was anticipated. The Poenulus prologue begins boisterously, with mock authoritarianism and comic incitement to riot (urging the pedisequi to storm the bakeshops, 41-43), but gradually calms the holiday audience and focuses their attentions and energies on the narrative of recognition and romance. The emotional tenor of the play itself follows the same development, from the inverted, Saturnalian world of the first plot against Lycus to the recognition and the restoration of just, "normal" order. The prologue speaker's exaggerated enactment of putting on and discarding various rôles (tragedian, praetor, humble tax-payer) is no random series of comic bits or lazzi; it is a negotiation, devoted to determining the proper rôles for both actors and audience, and an induction, drawing both into the world of the play and setting its action in motion. On a deeper level, the double structure of the prologue anticipates the double structure in the body of the play: a conventional rôle-playing plot (corresponding to the rôle-playing games of the prologue's first part) is followed by a recognition (prepared for by the prologue's narrative) and the revelation of "reality."
All of Plautus' prologues, from the two-line warning prefixed to the Pseudolus up to the lengthy plot expositions of plays such as the Rudens or the Amphitruo, bid for the audience's sympathy for, and participation in, the project of creating the play. While the means may vary (compare Mercury's "contract" with the audience in the Amphitruo with the praetorian edict here), the basic process of induction is the same. The audience must be separated from its workaday concerns and drawn into the temporary holiday world (dum ludi fiunt, 41). The Poenulus prologue faces the additional challenge of knitting together almost independent plots, aimed perhaps at two quite different audiences or tastes. The prologue does not, and cannot, carry that burden by itself, but it creates a frame and introduces themes which make the task much easier. As for the details of that process:
quod restat, restant alii qui faciant palam.
valete atque adjuvate ut vos servet Salus.

Niall W. Slater
University of Southern California

1Nor, in the case of prologues, was there any noticeable influence to begin with. Aristotle's only discussion of the term occurs in Poetics 12 (1452b), where a prologue is defined structurally as everything in a tragedy up to the entrance of the chorus. Presumably he applied the same definition to comedy in the lost portions of the work (if indeed Poetics 12 is genuine); on these points, see Richard Janko, Aristotle on Comedy (London 1984) 233-234, 239-241.

2The time-honored sport of the hunt for the lost Greek original of a Roman comedy usually includes a careful discussion of its prologue and how Plautus used or misused the narrative material contained in it. Under the term "narrative" I subsume both "exposition" (discussion of events preceding the dramatic time of the play) and "plot" (events within the play). An extensive but not particularly fruitful discussion of these two functions begins with Friedrich Leo, Plautinische Forschungen2 (Berlin 1912) 188-247 and is well-reviewed by Niklas Holzberg, Menander: Untersuchungen zur dramatischen Technik (Nuremberg 1974) [= Erlanger BeitrŠge 50] 6-100, who is very useful on Menander. Enough material from actual prologues of Greek New Comedy has accumulated that a general review of the topic is now overdue. R. L. Hunter (to whom I owe the reference to Holzberg) offers a very good short survey of the prologue in his The New Comedy of Greece and Rome (Cambridge 1985) 24-35.

3The prime example is the Casina prologue, which describes in detail the happy ending of the romance plot, when in fact neither the hero nor heroine of the romance will appear in the play.

4It is not too much to suggest a certain resemblance between this form of New Comedy and the more formulaic genres of modern popular literature, such as the romance (a lineal descendant) or the detective novel. Strong formal innovation within the genre (on the order of that displayed in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) is not characteristic of the Greek examples we have; the surprise endings which are not resolved by marriage occur only in Roman examples, a fact which deserves more thought than it has heretofore received.

5For the conditions of theatrical performance in Plautus' day, see G. Duckworth, The Nature of Roman Comedy (Princeton 1952) 73-101; W. Beare, The Roman Stage3 (New York 1964) 159-195; and A. S. Gratwick, "The Origins of Roman Drama," The Cambridge History of Classical Literature vol. II, ed. E.J. Kenney and W. Clausen (Cambridge 1982) 77-84. Especially valuable on the element of competition (alluded to in Poenulus 36ff.) is E. J. Jory, "Publilius Syrus and the Element of Competition in the Theatre of the Republic," BICS Supplement 51 (1988) 73-81.

6In an earlier discussion of this topic in Plautus in Performance (Princeton 1985) 149-154 and passim, I implied that there were non-inductive prologues in Plautus. It would be more accurate to say that there are some prologues which complete the process of induction into the world of the play and others which only begin this process. Even the Lar of the Aulularia prologue shows some subtle but significant differences from a Menandrean prologue. This thoroughly Roman figure (for there is no Greek equivalent to the Lares) is necessary to set up the theme of community of men and laws versus the untamed state of nature which David Konstan has explored so well in his Roman Comedy (Ithaca 1983) 33-46 [first published in Arethusa 10 (1977)]. Moreover, the Lar's very first line implies an awareness of audience expectation and the need to shape that expectation which we never see in Greek New Comedy: ne quis miretur qui sim, paucis eloquar (Aul. 1).

7The standard general study remains K. Abel, Die Plautusprologe (Mülheim-Ruhr, 1955), on Poenulus 89-96. Two recent studies particularly concerned with questions of narrative are R. Raffaelli, "Narratore e narrazione nei prologhi di Plauto" and idem, "Animum advortite: Aspetti della communicazione nei prologhi di Plauto (e di Terenzio)" in C. Questa and R. Raffaelli, Maschere prologhi naufragi nella commedia plautina (Bari 1984) pp. 69-83 and 101-120.

8In fact only in Act V, according to the modern act structure imposed on the text.

9So G. Maurach in his admirable and thorough commentary, Der Poenulus des Plautus2 (Heidelberg 1988) 44-45. [I quote the text of the Poenulus, however, from the OCT of Lindsay.] Cf. Abel (above, n. 7) 91. Maurach nonetheless denies (against K. Dowden, Classical Quarterly 32 [1982] 428) that the prologue was "uncharacterized." Maurach's view rests on his interpretation of alius in line 126 of the prologue (q.v.) but seems to me unpersuasive. We simply do not know how much everyday street costume and theatrical costume were separated in Plautus' day.

10See Gratwick (above, n. 5) 83-84.

11It would make possible the joke envisioned by H. Mattingly, Latomus 19 (1960) 250 n. 1, who believes that the dominus gregis who played in Aristarchus' Achilles played the prologue in the Poenulus as well. One could, of course, imagine a convention in which prologue speakers were unmasked, though players wore them; after all, to anticipate, the prologue speaker here will leave to put on his costume at the end of the prologue. Yet this will not do as a general rule. Mercury in the Amphitruo prologue (see further n. 14, below) must be identifiable as the god for his opening joke (his contract with the audience) to work, and that identification must have included mask as well as costume. One could then argue that uncharacterized prologue speakers were unmasked, others masked, but nothing else supports this conclusion. One could also imagine a special mask, just for the prologue (cf. the costume for a prologue speaker suggested for a later period; see n. 26, below), but it is doubtful that masking conventions were as developed or rigid in the Roman performance tradition of this period as in the Greek. The play with genre in both Amphitruo and Poenulus prologues also suggests that comic and tragic masks were not sharply differentiated from each other in Rome (as those in Greece would be by the presence or absence of the onkos).

12Maurach (above, n. 9) 44-45; cf. Abel (above, n. 7) 95. It will soon become clear that my approach to the Poenulus prologue is the antithesis of that of H. D. Jocelyn, "Imperator histricus," YCS 21 (1969) 97-123. Jocelyn attempts to divide its lines among at least three different poets. He awards lines 1-2 and 50-54 to a poet with "more scholarly knowledge than dramatic sense" (123). I believe that the Poenulus prologue is playable as it stands; my argument against the analyst view is the interpretation of the prologue's dynamics which follows and will consequently not attempt to answer Jocelyn point by point.

13See Maurach (above, n. 9) ad 1. Nixon's translation appears in the Loeb edition of Plautus.

14Mercury first announces a tragedy, then pretends to change the nature of the play to a comedy (later labelled a tragicomedy) in the face of a negative reaction from the crowd (lines 51-63). For a detailed discussion of this passage and the play with genre in the Amphitruo, see my "Amphitruo, Bacchae, and Metatheatre" (Lexis, forthcoming, and also to appear in a collection called City and Stage). This is the first of many parallels between the prologues of the two plays.

15The prologue to the Captivi says (61-62) that it is unfair to the audience to give them tragedy when they expect comedy. This joke would be impossible at Athens; time and place of comic and tragic performances were fixed, and the notion that a comedy could appear in the place of a tragedy at the City Dionysia or the Lenaia would be unimaginable. That the joke can be made at all in Rome, though, implies that performance there was not so regulated and systematized as to preclude the possibility that an audience would come expecting one genre and find the other instead. See also n. 11, above.

16See Jocelyn (above, n. 12) 114 on exerce vocem, 13.

17What, if anything, happens between lines 14 and 15? The joke works best if the praeco cries for silence only a few times before being cut off. The notion that the crier also announced didascalic details here (see Maurach, above. n. 9, ad 15) seems dubious in the extreme.

18See Maurach (above, n. 9) ad 16, who cites TLL 2, 2094, 17ff., and Suetonius, Div. Julius 80.2.

19This ring composition might also suggest the boundaries of a Plautine expansion, but in fact clearly Plautine material continues in the next section.

20See Maurach (above, n. 9) ad 55-58.

21The degree to which (or indeed whether) Plautus' plays take cognizance of contemporary politics has been hotly debated. The best discussion now (with full bibliography) is Erich Gruen's chapter on "Plautus and the Public Stage" in Studies in Greek Culture and Roman Policy (Cincinnati Classical Studies n.s. VII, Leiden, 1990) 124-157; see especially his discussion (pp. 134-137) of trials over accounting for campaign booty, which might provide a partial parallel to the census inquiry here.

22E.g., jokes about knowing the undertaker who buried the dead father (61-63) and metatheatrical banter with the audience, offering to carry out commissions for them in Carthage (79-82). These jokes are one of several similarities between the Poenulus and Menaechmi prologues. On these and the Poenulus prologue in general, see E. StŠrk, Die Menaechmi des Plautus und kein griechisches Original (TŸbingen 1989) 60-64.

23Certainly enough to have aroused suspicions of contamination, though recent scholarship has tended to favor a single Greek original. Even such a defender of the play's unity as W. H. Friedrich, Euripides und Diphilos (Zetemata 5: Munich, 1953) 233-254 [= Die Ršmische Komšdie: Plautus und Terenz, ed. E. Lefvre (Darmstadt 1973) 146-172; I cite the pages from this latter version as the more accessible], admits that it is "mithin gefŠhrlich, von 'zwei gegen den Kuppler gerichteten Intrigen' zu sprechen, denn damit wird eine Konkurrenz der beiden Teile behauptet...." (155). Any consideration of this question detailed enough to be useful would lead us too far afield. Particularly helpful on the subject, though, is the up-to-date discussion in J.C.B. Lowe, "Plautus Poenulus I 2," BICS 35 (1988) 101-110 (with thorough bibliography). Gratwick (above, n. 5) 96-103, makes a most interesting case for Plautus' use of a scene from Menander's Sikyonios in his adaptation of the original Karchedonios. Our concern is with the play as performed for the Roman audience, not any possible antecedents. I argue that the prologue anticipates and does much to forestall any feeling on the part of the audience that the play does fall into separate halves.

24We see none of this action in the play itself. On what this reflects of the Greek original, see Maurach (above, n. 9) 60-61.

25Given Roman objections to first cousin marriages (cf. Gratwick [above, n. 5] 113, it seems almost certain that Plautus altered the story to make Hanno and Agorastocles' father cousins (fratres patrueles, 59; cf. 70) rather than brothers, but here at the end he slips.

26Lindsay in his OCT edition assigns 121-123 to a retractator, though I can see no reason for deleting 123. Both Jocelyn (above, n. 12) and Maurach (above, n. 9) ad loc. take one couplet to be the doublet of the other, and this may well be the case. Plautus can, however, be surprisingly repetitive: even this could have been playable in the prologue as it stands. Abel (above, n. 7) 91 would assign all of 124ff. to a production in a later period, when the Prologus wore a special costume, and thus must change costumes, not merely put on his costume.

27Leo would like to add another metatheatrical reference. When Hanno expresses surprise at 1167 that his daughters have grown so tall, Leo emends Agorastocles' reply to say tragicae sunt; in calones sustolli solent (1168).

28On the capabilities and the degree of sophistication of Plautus's audience see E. W. Handley, "Plautus and His Public: Some Thoughts on New Comedy in Latin," Dioniso 46 (1975) 117-132.

29The sacrifice at the temple of Venus shows this clearly. Lycus tells us that, unable to get favorable omens at the sacrifice, he went off in a rage without giving Venus her share (449-469). He hubristically mocks the haruspex for foretelling disaster for him (463-467; 746-750) but later acknowledges that the latter foretold sooth (791-793). On this theme, see my forthcoming "The Market in Sooth: Divine Discourse in Plautus," in City and Stage.

30A full review of the problems of the two endings is beyond our scope here. See Maurach (above, n. 9) for discussion.

31There is certainly much more here than the general theme of the uselessness of legislative activity discussed by Gruen (above, n. 21, pp. 141ff.), a corollary of the opposition between the worlds of forum and festival so brilliantly explicated by Erich Segal, Roman Laughter, 2nd ed. (Oxford 1988). The boundaries of the community which law governs are here at issue (cf. on Aulularia, above, n. 6).

32 I am deeply grateful to the editors of this volume and my colleagues Carolyn Dewald and Amy Richlin for their most helpful comments on this essay. The errors and infelicities that remain fall to my own account.