by Lisa George
Most of the recent scholarship on Plautus’ Bacchides has focused on the structure of the play and on the embellishments and omissions of the Plautine version of Menander’s original Dis Exapaton, especially studies published after 1968, when E.W. Handley brought out his comparative study of Bacchides and a fragment of Menander’s play.1 Aside from E. Fantham’s seminal study on imagery in Plautus and Terence,2 which includes analyses of Plautus’ “Menandrian” comedies (Bacchides, Aulularia, Cistellaria, and Stichus as well as Trinummus and Mercator), no studies have been attempted which demonstrate Plautus’ use of imagery in Bacchides as a fundamental establishment of a bond of comic heroism between the servuscallidus, Chrysalus, and the meretrixcallida, Bacchis I. I suggest that the similarity of imagery used by Chrysalus and the Bacchis sisters underscores a deeper coincidence of characterization between these two underdog figures, the slave and the prostitute, that exists within the symmetrical structure of the drama. I will analyze the imagery of both the beginning and the closing scenes of the play–those in which the two Bacchides figure–to demonstrate how these subaltern characters are aligned with the primary hero, Chrysalus, in the play’s economy of power. Both servus and meretrix owe their existence to their ability to function in a world that has been arranged to meet the needs of those in power. Both of these outsiders find ways within the dramatic realm to subvert that economy of power: their joint valorization is displayed in the play by means of their symmetrical action and choice of language, which consciously echo and parallel each other.
In two plays of the Plautine corpus, Truculentus and Casina, a female character assumes the more typical function of the servus callidus, that is, to contrive a deception in order to manipulate other characters. In yet other plays, such as Miles Gloriosus and Persa, female characters work with the servus callidus as subordinates in the enactment of a deception. From these basic types of plot configurations, I have posited a fundamental ideological connection between slaves and women in Plautine comedy, which results in the valorization of these subalterns, who represent the Other in Roman society.3 Plautus’ Bacchides, then, offers a unique example of this phenomenon, as a play in which both the women and the clever slave arrange their own schemes, side by side but unconnected. Both teams emerge victorious, using stock methods and enjoying the same thrills of victory. Each subtly influences the other’s sphere without direct intervention, and this influence is acknowledged by both camps through similarity of method and of imagery. The economy of power is evident in the play’s thematic structure: the characters struggle to enter into or avoid subordination to a more powerful figure, and to control the elusive gold, which enables them to obtain sexual pleasure, which is in turn circularly connected to the achievement of power over others. Underlying this fundamental thematic structure is the counterpoint theme of metamorphosis, which signals both sex and power in its many manifestations throughout the drama.4
E. Fantham notes that both Plautus and Terence tend to draw their similes and metaphors from the same image groups: nautical terminology, mythical and epic subjects (which tend to be used exclusively by slaves), warfare and gladiatorial combat (also mainly the province of slaves), the political and civic arenas and other professions, drama, education, hunting and fishing, insanity, natural phenomena of all kinds, animals, sickness, food, plants and agriculture, and various other categories of metaphorical allusion.5 In his presentation of the independent meretrix, Plautus tends to put metaphors of menace, involving either violent natural forces or animals, into the mouths of resistant characters when describing the meretrix, while the male clients of the meretrix tend to be described as passive animals, food or inanimate objects. Predatory language is sometimes used to describe other characters as well, such as the servus callidus, leno and lena, but it seems to occur with much greater frequency in descriptions of the meretrix. Fantham notes that “in Plautus, imagery from hunting and snaring is largely associated with erotic themes…in this respect Plautus’ practice has many parallels in Hellenistic erotic writing.”6 An analysis of the imagery in Bacchides, which is more colorful and more dramatically important than in most others of the Plautine corpus, reveals further the dramatic harmony between meretrix (meretrices) and slave.
One of the great misfortunes and difficulties of this play is the lost opening. By comparing the length and metrical variations of other Plautine beginnings, various scholars have estimated that about 200 lines have been lost.7 An examination of the imagery used in the first extant scene, between Bacchis and Pistoclerus, demonstrates that the theme of metamorphosis provides a connection between the disparate images used by the actors. Bacchis sets forth her proposal to Pistoclerus: he needs to protect her sister from the soldier, and as a reward for guarding the house, he will be wined, dined, and made love to (41-49). Pistoclerus responds: “PI: uiscus meru‘ uostrastblanditia. BA: quid iam? PI: quia enim intellego,
duae unum expetitis palumbrem, peri, harundo alas uerberat.
“PI: Your sweet talk is pure birdlime. BA: Why do you say that? PI: Because even I perceive it,
you two are after one pigeon–I’m finished–the birdlime reed beats at my wings.8
The first metamorphosis involves the (metaphorical) transformation of Pistoclerus into a small, wild, and frightened bird, and the Bacchides, by implication, into cunning hunters who employ deceptive snares to trap their prey. The next metamorphosis turns the Bacchis sisters into Bacchantes, who are commonly symbolic of wild and nearly feral behavior (“quia, Bacchis, Bacchas metuo et bacchanal tuom,” 53). Again, Bacchis ignores the imaginative metaphor and presses Pistoclerus to describe why he is afraid. The young man counters with another animal image: “PI: magis inlectumtuom quam lectum9 metuo. mala tu es bestia.
nam huic aetati non conducit, mulier, latebrosus locus.
“PI: I’m more afraid of your enticements than of the bed itself. You are an evil animal.
A lurking lair is not appropriate for this youth, woman.
Bacchis assures him that she herself would prevent him from doing anything foolish with her: she is thinking only of her sister’s welfare and how to insure it. Pistoclerus remains skeptical, however: her words may sound pleasing but given tangibility, they become “stinging” or “barbed,” 63, and “animumfodicant, bona destimulant, facta et famam sauciant,” (“they pierce the heart, they gouge one’s goods, and they wound character and reputation,” 64). Her words become weapons that harm him, but his own weapons, along with the other trappings of a vigorous Roman youth, are changed into the dissolute accouterments of a debauchee in a prostitute’s house, which is itself also transformed into a perverted Greek wrestling arena: “PI: quid ego metuam, rogitas, adulescens homo?
penetrate [me] huius modi in palaestram, ubi damnis desudascitur?
ubi pro disco damnum capiam, pro cursura dedecus?
BA: lepide memoras. PI: ubi ego capiam pro machaera turturem,10
ubique imponat in manum alius mihi pro cestu cantharum,
pro galea scaphium, pro insigni sit corolla plectilis,
pro hasta talos, pro lorica malacum capiam pallium,
ubi mi pro ecquo lectus detur, scortum pro scuto accubet?
apage a me, apage. BA: ah, nimium ferus es. PI: mihi sum. BA: malacissanduses.
“PI: Why am I, a young man, afraid, you ask?
To enter into a wrestling arena of this sort, where one sweats into debts?
Where I should take up debt instead of discus, disgrace instead of race?
BA: You talk beautifully! PI: Where I would take up a turtledove instead of a sword,
and where someone would put a drinking cup in my hand instead of a boxing glove,
a ladies’ chamber pot instead of a helmet, a braided wreath instead of military decorations,
dice instead of a spear, a soft cloak instead of a breastplate,
where I’d be given a bed instead of a horse, and would lie down with a whore instead of a shield?
Allez from me, allez! BA: You are much too rough. PI: I am to myself. BA: So make yourself super-soft.
Bacchis’ persuasive words belie her need. The irony of this scene is that Pistoclerus feigns fear of corruption by Bacchis, represented by his use of animal imagery to indicate a loss of rationality (the “wild”), but Bacchis’ apprehension of the soldier is real, and in this case, at least, she has no intention of fleecing this poor beast of his fortune and reputation. Rather, both Bacchides save the fleecing for the “sheep” they meet at the end of the play: the two old men. Both Bacchis and Pistoclerus vacillate between two stock roles: Bacchis is “cast” as the greedy ‘courtesan’ by Pistoclerus (and will be so characterized by Lydus) as she schemes to avoid the stock situation of the helpless young girl; Pistoclerus aspires to the part of the young man in love, when Bacchis really needs more of a helpful ally (like, e.g., the neighbor Periplectomenus in Miles Gloriosus).11 Pistoclerus goes on to compare the threshold of the prostitute’s house to a rushing river (85), and for the first time in this scene, Bacchis acknowledges his metaphor: yes, she says, and you’ll lose something in that river, too (“atque ecastor apud hunc fluuiumaliquid perdundumst tibi,” 86). Finally, Bacchis seems to give up: the soldier will carry Bacchis II away, but it’s no concern of his (90). “Sumne autemnihili?,” (“Am I nothing then?,” 91) Pistoclerus moans. Bacchis again (for the fifth time in this scene) asks why Pistoclerus is afraid, underscoring the real threat facing her in opposition to his imagined danger. This final query seems to loosen his resolve, and using formal Roman legal language, he gives himself over to her service: “BA: age igitur, equidem pol nihili facio nisi caussa tua.
ill‘quidem hanc abducet; tu nullus adfueris, si non lubet.
PI: sumne autem nihili qui nequeam ingenio moderari meo?
BA: quid est quod metuas? PI: nihil est, nugae. mulier, tibi me emancupo:
tuo‘ sum, tibi dedo operam. ba: lepidu‘s. nunc ego te facere hoc uolo.
“BA: Go on then. By Pollux I don’t care, except for your sake.
He will certainly carry her off: you don’t have to be with me, if it’s not what you want.
PI: Am I nothing at all, then, can’t I control myself?
BA: What is it you’re afraid of?. PI: It’s nothing, just nonsense. Woman, I give myself over to you.
I am yours, command me. BA: You’re sweet. Now, this is what I want you to do.
Pistoclerus’ choice of words is telling here: the verb emancupo means, “to give from under one’s own power or authority into that of another,” and had its primary meaning in the emancipation of a son from the absolute power of the paterfamilias.12 Pistoclerus is thus giving himself into slavery to Bacchis, and by so doing, he is renouncing the control that legally and morally belongs to his own father. In Bacchides there is a series of voluntary enslavements, to the clever slave and to the meretrix, which is paralleled by real enslavements, of Bacchis II to the soldier and Chrysalus to the old man Nicobulus. The real enslavements drive the plot; the voluntary enslavements provide both the means of achievement and the rewards for both ‘master’ and ‘slave.’13
Thus the transformative imagery in the first scene foreshadows the importance that metamorphosis will take throughout the rest of the play. The emphasis of the imagery is on the loss of the rational, essentially on the loss of power and control: Pistoclerus becomes a captured bird; Bacchis is an evil wild animal and a Bacchant (practically feral). Their house is a wrestling arena, signaling the slippery dealings that go on inside (cf. Palaestrio in Miles Gloriosus), with a rushing river for a doorstep. The sister picks up on the plethora of images in the exchange between Pistoclerus and her sister when she says, after the departure of the youth: “quia piscatus meo quidem animohic tibi hodie euenit bonus,” (“To my mind you landed a great catch today,” 102).
In comparison, Chrysalus also employs animal imagery to describe his “prey,” Nicobulus, and himself. Nicobulus is the ram of Phrixus (241-243) whose golden fleece will be shorn.14 This mythological reference looks forward both to Chrysalus’ Trojan War imagery as well as to the sisters’ characterization of the old men as sheep in the final scene. Connecting to the bird imagery in the opening scene, Chrysalus describes himself as a hawk that will swoop down on Nicobulus (accipitrina, 274). Chrysalus changes the bird metaphor from passive (Pistoclerus as bird trapped in birdlime) to active bird of prey, and this transformation thus signals the shift in the ecomony of power.
Lydus’ monologue, which follows the exchange between Chrysalus and Nicobulus (368ff), echoes the imagery of the earlier scenes. In keeping with the unity of characterization, Lydus uses only those metaphors that were employed by Pistoclerus before his voluntary enslavement. He calls the Bacchis sisters “Bacchants” (“Bacchides non Bacchides, sed Bacchae suntaccerrumae,” 371) and vampires who feed on men’s blood (“quae hominumsorbent sanguinem,” 372). In trying to convince Philoxenus of the danger his son has entered into, Lydus refers to the prostitute’s house as a shady lair, and compares it unfavorably with the healthy exercise Pistoclerus used to take at the wrestling arena (430-431). Philoxenus, however, is a senex lepidus, a kindly old man, and he refuses to put a damper on his son’s pleasure. Once again the negative imagery is rebuffed.
When Chrysalus thinks up a new ruse involving yet another letter, as a foil to his first, failed scheme and delivers the letter to Nicobulus (761ff.), he once again recalls the birdcatching imagery from the first scene. In an aside, the clever slave gloats, “nunc ab transenna hic turdus lumbricum petit,” (“now this thrush [i.e. Nicobulus] seeks the worm in my bird-trap,” 792). By using the same bird-catching imagery employed by Pistoclerus in the first scene with Bacchis, Chrysalus demonstrates that he is now on the right track. He continues the naval imagery as well, only now Nicobulus, rather than being a loaded freighter, is a warship being bested by a mere raft (797). This change again foreshadows the elaborate Trojan War imagery that Chrysalus will use to describe and glorify his scheming.15
The final scene, in which the Bacchides seduce the old men, preserves and wraps up both the imagistic and dramatic unity of the play. The dual nature of the plot requires the two old men to be the foils to their sons. Thus the reluctant old man, Nicobulus, is father to the willing son Mnesilochus, while the willing old man Philoxenus is father to the initially reluctant young man Pistoclerus. And just as Pistoclerus was won over and enslaved by Bacchis I, so is Nicobulus, while the sister takes on both willing men. The women mock the old men by calling them well-shorn sheep (1120ff.),16 both ‘fleeced’ and harmless (“stultae atque hau malae uidentur,” 1139): “BA: quid hoc est negotinam, amabo? Quis has huc oves adegit?
NIC: Ovis nos vocant pessumae. SO: pastor harum dormit, quom
haec eunt sic a pecu balitantes.
BA: at pol nitent, haud sordidae videntur ambae.
SO: attonsae hae quidem ambae usque sunt.
“BA: Goodness, what’s happening? Who drove these (female) sheep here?
NIC: Those sluts are calling us sheep! SO: Their shepherd is asleep, since
they are wandering away from the flock, bleating.
BA: By Pollux they’re gleaming, both of them seem quite clean.
SO: Yes indeed, they’ve both been thoroughly shorn.
To preserve the semblance of their somewhat withered masculinity, the old men are allowed another Plautine metamorphosis: the helpless female oves become virile, butting rams (1148), foreshadowing the sexual merriment awaiting them in recompense for their voluntary enslavement to the Bacchides.17 Philoxenus, however, submits readily: “nihili sum,” “I am nothing” (1157) he confesses to his friend, recalling Pistoclerus’ final words of resistance before giving in to Bacchis (“sumne autem nihili,” 91). A further signal of his submission is his birdlime imagery: “tactus sum uehementeruisco;/cor stimulo foditur,” (“I am good and stuck in birdlime; my heart is pierced by a dart,” 1158-1159), which also echoes the language Pistoclerus used to describe Bacchis’ persuasive words (61-63). Just as Chrysalus borrowed the bird imagery from the women, now they speak his language, and conclude their triumph with the military jargon he relished: “CH: Iliocapto, ut sit mulsum/qui triumphent milites.
“CH: Ilium has been captured, so that the soldiers might have mead to celebrate their triumph.
“BA: These men themselves have been captured beautifully, who tried to ambush their own sons.
Thus Bacchides displays subaltern figures who transform their roles in the economies of sex and power, and move from transacted to transactors. The alignment of slave and woman further points up their alterity in a system determined by the needs of another social stratum, and thus their victory over that system signals their ultimate valorization. Both remain commodities, yet both are able to subvert the economic system to satisfy their own needs. Bacchis’ sister is freed from the soldier, and all privileged male figures enjoy a sexual reward as the prize for their voluntary enslavement.18
1 E.W. Handley, Menander and Plautus: A Study in Comparison, (London, 1968). Subsequent comparative studies include: H.D. Jocelyn, Chrysalus and the Fall of Troy (Plautus, Bacchides 925-978）, HSCP 73 (1969), 135-152; K. Gaiser, Die plautinischen ‘Bacchiden’ und Menanders ‘Dis exapaton’,” Philologus 114 (1970), 51-87; T.B.L. Webster, An Introduction to Menander, (Manchester, 1974); W.G. Arnott, Menander, Plautus, and Terence (Oxford, 1975); H. Tränkle, Zu zwei umstritten Stellen der plautinischen Bacchides,MH 32 (1975), J.R. Clark, Structure and Symmetry in the Bacchides of Plautus, TAPA 106 (1976), 85-96; 115-123; E. Lefévre, Plautus-Studien II: Die Brief-intrige in Menanders ‘Dis exapaton’ und ihre Verdoppelung in den ‘Bacchides’, Hermes 106 (1978), 518-538; D. Bain, Plautus Vortit Barbare: Plautus, Bacchides 526-61 and Menander, Dis Exapaton 102-12, in Creative Imitation and Latin Literature, ed. West-Woodman (Cambridge, 1979); N. Zagagi, Tradition and Originality in Plautus: Studies in the Amatory Motifs in Plautine Comedy, (Göttingen,1980); A, Blanchard, Les Adapations de Plaute, in Essai sue la Composition des Comèdies de Mènandre, (Paris, 1983); C. Questa, Stuttura delle Bacchides (e problemi del Dis Exapaton） in Parerga Plautina (Urbino, 1985); S. Goldberg, Act to Action in Plautus’ Bacchides, CP 85 (1990), 191-201; R. Beacham, The Roman Theatre and its Audience, (Harvard, 1992); M.L. Damen, “Translating Scenes: Plautus’ Adaptation of Menander’s Dis Exapaton,” Phoenix 46 (1992), 205-231; J. Halporn, “Roman Comedy and Greek Models,” in Theatre and Society in the Classical World, ed. R. Scodel, (Ann Arbor, 1993); W.S. Anderson, Barbarian Play, (Toronto, 1993); M.S. Jensen, “The fall of Troy in Plautus’ Bacchides,” C&M 48 (1997) 315-23. See also M.L. Damen’s “By the gods, boys…Stop bothering me! Can you tell Menander from Plautus? Or How Dis Exapaton does not help us understand Bacchides,” Antichthon 29 (1995) 15-29.
3 Cf. W.S. Anderson, Barbarian Play, 89ff., who posits that Plautus developed his male and female “rogues” side by side, but not that they have any fundamental ideological connection. In his article “Acts and Act-Divisions: Some Questions of Adapation in Roman Comedy,” J.A. Barsby plausibly demonstrates that the roles of Chrysalus and Bacchis I would both have been played by the same actor, which further emphasizes in a metatheatrical way the ideological connection in characterization and function between the slave and the prostitute in Plautine comedy (Antichthon 16 , 77-87).
4 N. Slater touches upon this theme in titling his chapter on Bacchides “The Double Dealer–or the Skin-Changer,” (94) (Plautus in Performance, Princeton, 1984). Slater, however, only discusses this theme with reference to Chrysalus’ “supernatural” metatheatrical powers (104). I will expand on this theme of metamorphosis to include other characters who undergo equally dramatic metaphorical transformations, from human to animal, rational to irrational, friend to enemy, hater to lover.
7 See B. Bader, “Der verlorne Anfang der plautinischen Bacchides,” RhM 113 (1970), 304-323; K. Gaiser, cited above; J.R. Clark, also cited above. There are 1211 lines extant of the play; an additional 200 would make it as lengthy as e.g. Miles Gloriosus (1,437 lines), Rudens (1,423 lines) or Poenulus (1,422 lines), not out of the realm of possibility.
9 J.A. Barsby notes that inlectum looks like the negative of lectum (i.e. “non-bed”), even though the two words are not etymologically related (Plautus Bacchides, (Warminster and Wiltshire, 1986), 101, n. 55): inlectus, -us > illicio, -ere, -lexi, -lectum, to allure, entice; lectus, -i > Greek λέχος. Barsby translates “What I fear, you wicked creature, is your bidding, not your bed” (35).
10 Barsby notes that machaera and turtur can both have obscene connotations, as euphemisms for penis, but he is reluctant to apply this double-entendre here: “The turtle-dove obviously represents the life of debauchery, whether conceived of as a courtesan’s pet (Theoc. 5.96) or as a gastronomic delicacy (Most. 46), the sword the life of the soldier; but we might expect a more precise point of comparison, The fact that both turturand machaera can be used in an obscene sense (for penis) may be accidental. The objection that salacious double-entendres do not fit the character of the earnest Pistoclerus is not decisive. But sexual puns, which are absent from either Menander or Terence, are not particularly common in Plautus either, and they usually occur in dialogue which makes the double meaning explicit,” (102, n. 68). I suggest that such a double-entendre was indeed intended: the contrast is between both the hard life of the soldier and the soft life of the libertine as well as the vigorous (possibly predatory) sexual life of the military man versus the tamed and submissive sexuality of the prostitute’s “pet” (which also refers back to Pistoclerus’ earlier birdlime metaphors). J.N. Adams notes that turturilla may have been soldier’s slang for “brothel” and that turtur as euphemism for “penis” seems to have been vulgar and low-class (though he does not find the pun here “compelling”) (Latin Sexual Vocabulary [Baltimore, 1982], 32; 44; 214). Another possible double-entendre crops up in line 72: he would “ride” in a lectus instead of on an equus.
13 See E. Segal, Roman Laughter, Chap. IV, “From Freedom to Slavery.” Segal discusses the idea of the “‘saturnalian overthrow’ of the everyday Roman value system,” as regards “the ascendancy of slave over master,” (99). L. Nadjo’s article “MaÎtres et serviteurs dans les Bacchides de Plaute,” Latomus 46 (1987), 301-317, concentrates more on the relationship between the portrayal of slaves on the Roman stage and in Roman society. Neither scholar approaches the topic in the way I am doing here–they speak only of master voluntarily or involuntarily letting the slave have power over him, and do not extend their discussions to include other types of enslavements.
15 For an analysis of this imagery, which is beyond the scope of the present discussion, see E. Fantham, 109-10 and H.D. Jocelyn, “Chrysalus and the Fall of Troy (Plautus, Bacchides 925-978), HSCP 73 (1969), 135-152. Jocelyn examines the structure of the image and posits that it was a later insertion into the text.
17 Fantham notes that Plautus here has recycled the attondere theme from an earlier use in Mercator, but here employs it in a manner unique to the plot and imagery of Bachides: “the fleecing motif in 1125 is applied to the twice-deceived Nicobulus…but Plautus has to recall the main action; hence, Philoxenus is allowed an aside, and within the sheep metaphor, the sisters move toward inviting the old men in…finally, the real issue of the confrontation, the rescue of the sons, is presented by a multiple identification: 1145-6, the sons are agni conclusi, Chrysalus the mordax canis (but this is inconsistent; the dog should protect the lambs, not lead them into danger); finally (1148) the oves will undergo a Plautine transformation and change sex to become butting rams” (104).
18 This article was presented in part as a paper at the symposium “What Goes on in the House Next Door? Lenones and Meretrices in Plautus” at Hollins University, November 15, 2001. I wish to thank G. Frederic Franko, Christina A. Salowey, Anne Duncan, Taylor Corse and Ellen Rees, as well as the editor and anonymous reviewer of this article, for offering many helpful suggestions and corrections.
Domination And Duality In Plautus’ Bacchides. Lisa George. Arizona State University. 2001. Diotima: Materials for the Study of Women and Gender in the Ancient World. Ross Scaife. Stoa Consortium. 2001.