TITUS MACCIUS PLAUTUS (d. ca. 184 B.C.)
The greatest Latin comic playwright and earliest Latin of whom substantial writings survive. Of the 130 plays attributed to him, the 21 that have come down from a second-century collection are certainly his. Modeled on plays by Menander, greatest of the Greek New Comedians, who wrote at the very end of the Golden Age of Athens, Plautus' comedies are not merely translated from the Greek, but also incorporate new material not only from other Middle and Late comedies but from Roman life as well. Nowhere is this combination clearer than in his treatment of homosexuality, which the Middle and Late Greek comedies, in marked contrast to Aristophanes' and others' Old Comedies, tended to avoid in favor of marriage and slapstick heterosexual street scenes.
Plautus featured pederasts and pathics and portrayed relationships, primarily between masters and slaves, a dominance-submission pattern that was the normal practice in Rome, far removed from the mentor-disciple paradigm of Greek pederasty, which was theoretically (and often in practice) between upper-class males for pedagogic aims. Likewise in Pseudolus (The Confidence Man), Plautus transformed the refined hetaira of a Greek original into the coarse inmate of a low Roman brothel. Slaves in general figured far more in his plays than in the Greek models, presumably because afterthewars of expansion, they represented a much greater part of the Roman than of the classical Athenian population. Plautus portrayed the stereotypicalcharacters from Greek comedies with a distinctively Roman twist.
His successor Terence (ca. 190-159 BE.) stuck closer to the Greek originals, especially to Apollodorusof Carystus, a disciple of Menander, and to Menander himself, and consequently made few allusions to homosexuality (only three have becn detected). Perhaps this dearth explains why Terence, more than Plautus, was assigned to Roman schoolboys and enjoyed greater vogue in the Middle Ages.
In Greek comedy it is always the effeminate male who is satirized, whereas Plautus portrays macho characters such as braggards and soldiers in Miles Gloriosus who lust in their bisexual aggressiveness. His adult males are bisexual as a matter of course. Thus Plautus reveals the prevalence and character of homosexuality in the Roman Republic at thc close of the Punic Wars, when, although the civilizing role of Hellenism was just beginning, homoerotic relationships already flourished in uncouth, indigenous forms.
Jane M. Cody, "The senex amator in Plautus' Casina," Hermes, 101 (19761,453-76; Saara Lilja, "Homosexuality in Plautus' Plays," Arctos, new series, 16 ,57-64; Amy Richlin, The Garden oJPriapus: Sexuality and Aggression in Roman Humor, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.
William A. Percy