The Dates of Platus' Curculio and Trinummus Reconsidered

A. S. Gratwick has recently proposed reading Curculio for the present gurgulio at Trinummus 1016, thereby restoring a reference to the title character of what we now see to be Plautus' previous play.1 Gratwick's arguments are persuasive: Stasimus, whose entry as a servus currens provokes the remark from the eavesdropping senex Charmides that (1015-16) huic, quisquis est/Curculiost exercitor, has no convincing motivation for his haste. Stasimus is returning from the forum where he failed in his attempt to collect a debt owed to hum; thus, unlike the typical servus currens, he is bringing his young master neither money nor any news that would advance the plot. Moreover, Stasimus has left behind his ring (1014 condalium) in a tavern but despairs of recovering it because his drinking companions were such well-known thieves (1018-23). Gratwick suggests that the model for this dramatically unmotivated scene, rather than another Greek comedy as Fraenkel suggested,2 is the running entrance of the parasite Curculio in Plautus' play of that title, the only other surviving example of New Comedy in which the motif of a stolen ring figures. Gratwick accepts a date of c. 188/87 for the Trinummus and does not specify how much earlier he believes the Curculio to be.
Now that a connection has been established between the two plays, however, I believe that there are strong reasons for dating both plays earlier. Once such an earlier date is established, we can also consider both the thematic relation of Stasimus' tirade against the decay of mores in his scene to Curculio's entrance speech and the sociopolitical context of the two plays.
The evidence for the dates of Plautus' plays has been conveniently collected by K. H. E. Schutter and may now be re-examined in light of the close connection between the two plays.3 That the Curculio should not long precede the Trinummus is clear: when Charmides says Curcu- 264|265 lio is Stasimus' trainer, the point of the joke will be lost unless the figure of Curculio is relatively fresh in the audience's mind. When Aristophanes refers to one of his own previous plays, he rarely goes back more than a year.4 It would seem likely, then, that Curculio was produced not more than a year before the Trinummus, perhaps at the festival just preceding it.
With this in mind we may turn to the evidence for the date of the Trinummus. The only firm terminus post quem is provided by line 990, which refers to the new aediles. Ritschl suggested that the aediles would only seem "new" at the Megalensian Games in April, which featured dramatic performances only from 194 B.C. onward (Livy 34.54.3), a view which has been generally adopted.5 No other indicator of date is as clear. Efforts to use references to Syrian and Campanian slaves (lines 542-46) to date the play have foundered: the reference to Syrian slaves might well come from the Greek original of the play and that to Campanian slaves is appropriate any time after 211 B.C.6 The attempts of Tenney Frank, followed by C. H. Buck, to tie the Trinummus specifically to the controversies surrounding the Scipios have not won general support.7 The mere mention of Arabia (933-34) or Macedonia (845) is scarcely a firm indicator of date without a specifically Roman context, nor can we argue that jokes about ambitio (1034) and the high cost of living (484) would not be funny save in the years when Livy mentions problems with ambitus and the cost of grain.8
Of more interest is the allusion the Sycophant makes in line 872 to the census. Such a specifically Roman reference is likely to be topical. Given our terminus post quem of 194 B.C. for the play, Schutter suggests 265|266 we have here a reference to either the censorship of Sex. Aelius Paetus and C. Cornelius Cethegus of 194/93 or that of M. Claudius Marcellus and T. Quinctius Flamininus of 189/88.9 To choose between the two, we need now look at the independent evidence for the date of the Curculio.
Such evidence is scant but seems to point to the late 190s B.C. In lines 508-10 Curculio, speaking to the moneylender Lyco, denounces usurers against whom the people pass laws---which the usurers then break anyway:
vos faenore homines, hi male suadendo et lustris lacerant.
rogitationis plurimas propter vos populus scivit,
quas vos rogatas rumpitis; aliquam reperitis rimam.
Teuffel took these line to be a reference to the lex Sempronia of 193 B.C. (Livy 35.7.2).10 The play offers only one other plausible indicator of date. Curculio, the parasite of the title, disguises himself with an eyepatch. He first claims to have lost his eye to a catapult shot at the siege of Sicyon (393-94). Is this a reference from the Greek original to the siege of Sicyon in 303 B.C., as Wilamowitz thought, or Plautus' own allusion to events of the recent war against Nabis of Sparta (196-94 B.C.), as Naudet thought? Buck thought to reconcile both views by suggesting Plautus may have found the reference in his original but included it in his Latin version because the name would be familiar to his audience through the campaigns of the middle 190s B.C.11 This view at least has the advantage of assuming that Plautus worked with his own (rather than the original Greek) audience in mind.
Attempts to date the Curculio on stylistic grounds have been largely inconclusive, in part because the play as we have it may be a shortened form. Sedgwick places the play in the early 190s based on the proportion of lyric elements, Hough somewhat later based on the use of Greek.12 Later studies tend to assign it to Plautus' "middle" period.13 266|267 None of this contradicts the internal evidence on the date of the play, and we may now take up the connection to the Trinummus and the question of which census is meant at Trinummus 872. Given the presumption that, for the joke about Curculio to have any point, the plays must have been very close in date, the censorship of 194/193 seems likelier. If we accept Curculio 508-10 as a reference to the lex Sempronia on usury of 193 B.C., the Curculio will have been produced in 19314 and the Trinummus at the ludi Megalenses in the spring of 192.15
With these dates established on independent grounds, we may now consider the thematic connections between Stasimus' denunciation of contemporary mores in the Trinummus and Curculio's entrance monologue in his play against the background of 193-192 B.C. Atypically for Plautus, the Trinummus is a rather dull play, in large part, as Segal notes in a perceptive article, because of the pervasive theme of mos.16
The most surprising element of this theme of mos is precisely the speech which the slave Stasimus makes after his running entrance---the entrance which the eavesdropping Charmides compares to that of Curculio. After he despairs of recovering his ring, Stasimus to the delight of Charmides launches into a wide-ranging denunciation of contemporary morals in which forms of mos occur no less than fourteen times in twenty-seven lines (1028-54).17 Given the prominence of this theme of 267|268 mos (and fides, with which it is interwoven) throughout the play, we can hardly take this speech as ironic or parodistic, odd though it may sound in the mouth of a slave. The audience has moreover the enthusiastic asides of the eavesdropping Charmides to guide it in its response---Plautus clearly expects the audience to approve of what is said.
Why, though, does Plautus wish to remind us of Curculio in this context? The threat to mores in the Trinummus is at bottom luxuria, as the allegorical prologue figures Luxuria and Inopia (1-22) make clear.18 This threat of luxuria comes from the wealth pouring in from the conquests in the Greek east, starting in the 190s b.c., but the wealth did not come alone. Along with it came Greeks themselves. Curculio's denunciation of Graeci palliatti is one of the more famous passages in Plautus and comes from the entrance speech that Trinummus 1016 recalls:19
tum isti Graeci palliati, capite operto qui ambulant,
qui incedunt suffarcinati cum libris, cum sportulis,
constant, conferunt sermones inter sese drapetae,
opstant, opsistunt, incedunt cum suis sententiis,
quos semper videas bibentes esse in thermipolio,
ubi quid surrupuere: operto capitulo calidum bibunt,
tristes atque ebrioli incedunt: eos ego si offendero,
ex unoquoque eorum exciam crepitum polentiarium. (288-95)
Many have hesitated (and with good reason, given the tight state control of comedy at Rome) to follow Frank and Buck in seeing in the Trinummus references to the political rivalry of Cato and the Scipios.20 And yet, when Plautus himself chooses to connect Stasimus' sermon on mores with Curculio's denunciation of Graeci palliati, one wonders if the influence of the sometime consul and future censor, opponent of luxury and Greeks alike, is not somewhere in the background, even though we should not see as yet any hint of an attack upon the Scipios.21 268|269
Cato was not alone in these attitudes, as the controversy over the repeal of the Oppian Law during his consulship in 1915 B.C. shows (Livy 34.1-8).22 Initially the two Bruti, tribunes of the plebs, shared his opposition to repeal, and the extent of public agitation shows that there was considerable support on both sides of the question of sumptuary legislation. Nor can we say that Cato's suspicions of Greeks and their influence were an isolated reaction.
Indeed Plautus included these elements in his plays precisely because they would play to a broad segment of his audience. Segal is undoubtedly right to call the Trinummus, with its extensive moralizing on mos and fides, "a Plautine venture in Roman mythopoesis."23 The connection to the Curculio makes it clear that this moralizing element in the Trinummus is not an isolated aberration in the Plautine corpus, the result of transitory political pressures on the playwright, but a case of giving the audience more of what they enjoyed at the previous festival.24


1A. S. Gratwick, "Curculio's Last Bow: Plautus, Trinummus IV. 3," Mnemosyne 34 (1981) 331-50

2Gratwick (n. 1 above) 335; E. Fraenkel, Elementi Plautini in Plauto (Florence 1960) 146-48, 414-16.

3K. H. E. Schutter, Quibus annis comoediae Plautinae primae actae sint quaeritur (Groningen 1952) 61-68 (on Curculio); 141-48 (on Trinummus).

4Acharnians 377-78 refers to the Babylonians of the previous year, Wasps 1045 to the defeat of the first version of the Clouds the year before. The exception is Clouds 528-29, where the revised parabasis refer to Aristophanes' first play, the Banqueters.

5Schutter (n. 3 above) 143, quoting Ritschl, Parerga zu Plautus und Terenz (Leipzig 1845) 348. I give references to Schutter as the most accessible source.

6Schutter (n. 3 above) 143: "rei summam in mentione Syrorum Campanorumque verti ratus Ritschl firmis argumentis docuit nullo pacto demonstratum esse vel Trinummum brevi post Capuae cladem tempore edi non potuisse, vel neccesario post Syriacum bellum scriptam esse." Cf. Livy 26.16.7.

7Tenney Frank, "Some Political Allusions in Plautus' Trinummus," AJP 53 (1932) 152-56; C.H. Buck, A Chronology of the Plays of Plautus (Baltimore 1940) 98-102. Schutter (n. 3 above) convincingly disposes of these arguments.

8The suggestion of Frank (n. 7 above) 154, n. 4, that the theft of Jove's crown jokingly imagined at 83-85 is an allusion to some counterchange of the Sciopos against their accusers, the Petillii (based on Horace, Sat. 1.4.94, which mentions Capitolini furtum Petilli), seems to me most improbable. See Schutter (n. 3 above) 77-79.

9Schutter (n. 3 above) 147-48.

10Schutter (n. 3 above) 63-64; Teuffel, Studien und Characteristiken zur griechischen und romischen Literaturgeschichte, 2nd ed. (Leipzig 1889) 325 (this page reference is misprinted in Schutter). An extensive debate, summarized in Schutter 64-66, over the reference to tabernae veteres in line 480 and the implied existence of the tabernae novae eventually yielded no result, despite the attempt of Ulrichs to date the tabernae novae to 193 B.C. also.

11Buck (n. 7 above) 65 with references; Schutter (n. 3 above) 62-62.

12W. B. Sedgwick, The Cantica of Plautus," CR 39 (1925) 55-58 and "The Dating of Plautus' Plays," CQ 24 (1930) 102-10. See also Sedgwick's final word on chronology, published in response to Buck (n. 7 above): "Plautine Chronology," AJP 70 (1949) 376-83. On lyric criteria alone, the Curculio belongs to the Stichus of 200 B.C., but Sedgwick notes abridgement (which he suspected) would have invalidated the lyric test. The latest work on the play suggests the compression consists in Plautus abridging the Greek original, not in subsequent losses of his text; see Elaine Fantham, "The Curculio of Plautus; An Illustration of Plautine Methods in Adaptation," CQ 15 (1965) 84-100. Hough's chronology, though bolstered by examination of many other aspects of Plautine style, is ultimately based on the frequency and skill of Plautus' use of Greek: J. N. Hough, "The Use of Greek Words by Plautus," AJP 55 (934).46-64. As we revise upward our estimate of the sophistication of Plautus' audience and their knowledge of Greek, this has seemed a less secure foundation: see G. P. Shipp, "Greek in Plautus," WS 66 (1953) 105-12, and E. W. Handley, "Plautus and his Public," Dioniso 46 (1975) 117-32.

13Buck(n. 7 above) 66; Schutter (n. 3 above) 68. For a review of various attempts at complete chronologies up to 1952, see Shutter, xii-xxx.

14Perhaps at the Plebeian Games in November. This would be the last dramatic festival before the Ludi Megalenses the next spring and possibly the most appropriate time to refer to plebiscitary rogationes (509).

15Later dates are possible but decrease in probability.

16Erich Segal, "The Purpose of the Trinummus," AJP 95 (1974) 252-64 [now reprinted in the second edition of Segal's Roman Comedy (Oxford)].

17Out of the twenty-one instances in the play, almost three times as many as any other play by Plautus: see Segal (n. 6 above) 260. Segal also notes (p. 257) that everyone in this play has something to say about mores; Stasimus is only the last in the series.

18The prologue is completely Plautine, according to Fraenkel (n. 2 above) 434, who agrees with Wilamowitz and Jachmann. See also Brix-Niemeyer-Conrad, Plautus: Trinummus (Leipzig 1931) 38.

19Curculio makes a running entrance at 280 and orders everyone out of his way, most with a word. That the Graeci palliatti merit eight lines of comedy at their expense suggests they are a contemporary issue for Plautus' audience. Visual irony increases the comedy: Curculio himself is wearing the pallium.

20N. 7 above. See also Segal (n. 16 above) especially 260-64.

21A. E. Astin, Cato the Censor (Oxford 1978) 71-73, notes that there is no clear evidence, save the dubious testimony of Plutarch, for hostilities between Cato and the Scipios before 187 B.C. On Cato's belief in the Roman duty to conserve property, see Astin, 94-95, and on his complex but ultimately hostile attitude toward Greek influence, chapter 8, especially 172-73 and 176-78.

22See also Astin (n. 21 above) 25-27.

23Segal (n. 16 above) 255.

24The question may be raised: if we see the figure of Cato in the background, does that not argue for a later date for these two plays, as Cato's influence in the state increased from his consulship in 195 B.C. to his censorship in 184? Given the choice of dating the Trinummus after the censorship of 194/93 or that of 189/88, I think not. Cato made an unsuccessful attempt for the censorship of 189/88. We have no direct testimony for what his election "platform" might have been, but given his views and his actions as consul and as censor in 184/83, it is not unreasonable to assume that his views on luxuria, Greek influence, and the decay of mores formed part of his appeal to the electorate. It then seems unlikely that Plautus would make even the obliquest allusion to a defeated candidate and his views immediately after the fact. Plautus could not afford to offend any aristocratic faction.