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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
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Please note that Mommsen uses the AUC chronology (Ab Urbe Condita), i.e. from the founding of the City of Rome. You can use this reference table to have the B.C. dates


III. From the Union of Italy to the Subjugation of Carthage and the Greek States

From: The History of Rome, by Theodor Mommsen
Translated with the sanction of the author by William Purdie Dickson

The History of Old Rome

Chapter XIV - Literature and Art


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Page 40

Construction of the Plot

The havoc, which the Roman editors were compelled in deference to their audience to make in the originals, drove them inevitably into methods of cancelling and amalgamating incompatible with any artistic construction. It was usual not only to throw out whole character- parts of the original, but also to insert others taken from other comedies of the same or of another poet; a treatment indeed which, owing to the outwardly methodical construction of the originals and the recurrence of standing figures and incidents, was not quite so bad as it might seem.

Moreover the poets, at least in the earlier period, allowed themselves the most singular liberties in the construction of the plot. The plot of the -Stichus- (performed in 554) otherwise so excellent turns upon the circumstance, that two sisters, whom their father urges to abandon their absent husbands, play the part of Penelopes, till the husbands return home with rich mercantile gains and with a beautiful damsel as a present for their father-in-law. In the -Casina-, which was received with quite special favour by the public, the bride, from whom the piece is named and around whom the plot revolves, does not make her appearance at all, and the denouement is quite naively described by the epilogue as "to be enacted later within."

Very often the plot as it thickens is suddenly broken off, the connecting thread is allowed to drop, and other similar signs of an unfinished art appear. The reason of this is to be sought probably far less in the unskilfulness of the Roman editors, than in the indifference of the Roman public to aesthetic laws.

Taste, however, gradually formed itself. In the later pieces Plautus has evidently bestowed more care on their construction, and the -Captivi- for instance, the -Pseudolus-, and the -Bacchides- are executed in a masterly manner after their kind. His successor Caecilius, none of whose pieces are extant, is said to have especially distinguished himself by the more artistic treatment of the subject.

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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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