Miles Gloriosus (play)
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Miles Gloriosus is a comedic play written by Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254–184 B.C.). The title can be translated as "The Swaggering Soldier" or "Vainglorious Soldier". His source for Miles Gloriosus was a Greek play, now lost, called Alazon or The Braggart. Although the characters in Miles Gloriosus speak Latin, they are Greeks, with Greek names, clothing, and customs. The action takes place in Ephesus, a Greek city on the coast of Asia Minor, famous for its Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The Back-story and prologue
The play commences with the entrance of Pyrgopolynices, looking heroic and posing in a pompous manner. Behind him is his “parasite”, Artotrogus, who earns his meals by flattering the soldier excessively, and several minions who carry his monstrous shield. At these opening moments we get a sense for Pyrgopolynices' true nature. He constantly boasts about his accomplishments and portrays himself as a fantastic military hero. In reality, his accomplishments are far smaller—hence the play's title. After he leaves the stage we meet one of the main characters of the play, Palaestrio, who formerly served a young Athenian, Pleusicles. His former master had a girlfriend named Philocomasium who was kidnapped from Athens and taken by Pyrgopolynices. When Palaestrio tried to reach his master with this bad news, the slave was seized by pirates and given, by chance, to the same soldier. Both he and the girl have been living in the soldier’s house in Ephesus, but Palaestrio has sent a letter secretly to his former master telling him where they are. Now Pleusicles has come to Ephesus and is staying with Periplectomenus, who lives next door to the soldier, and the wise Palaestrio has cut a hole in the wall so the two lovers can see one another.
Periplectomenus, an old man of Ephesus, then enters, worried because he has caught one of Pyrgopolynices' slaves on the roof between the two houses, looking in through the skylight. This slave claims he was chasing a monkey, but Periplectomenus is sure that Philocomasium has been seen kissing her gentleman friend (Pleusicles). Palaestrio comes up with a plan to tell Pyrgopolynices that Philocomasium has a twin sister, Honoria, who is visiting Ephesus with her lover and mother and staying with Periplectomenus. Should Sceledrus make accusations, then Palaestrio will just refute the claim, and say it’s her twin. Periplectomenus goes back inside to tell Philocomasium what has happened and to tell her the plan. Meanwhile, Philocomasium goes through the hole in the wall back into Pyrgopolynices' house, emerging from it shortly afterwards with Palaestrio and Sceledrus. Philocomasium tells Sceledrus that she had a dream that her twin sister had arrived from Athens. Sceledrus has his doubts, so Philocomasium goes back into Pyrgopolynices' house, then through the hole in the wall and comes out of the other house as her twin sister Honoria. Meanwhile, Sceledrus stands guard outside Pyrgopolynices' house. Meanwhile, Philocomasium comes out of Periplectomenus' front door, giving orders to slaves inside. She challenges Sceledrus when he addresses her as Philocomasium, and her manner is that of a free woman. She says her name is Honoria and that she has arrived the previous night from Athens, and wants to try to find her twin sister Philocomasium. Sceledrus is now convinced. He promises Palaestrio that he will not speak of this again. Just then Periplectomenus comes out and is furious at Sceledrus and how he has treated his “lady guest.” He threatens to whip him but gets over it right away. Sceledrus who still thinks he’s been tricked, and thinks that there is a plot to get Pyrgopolynices to sell him to another master, decides to say nothing for the moment.
The Plan to fight the Braggart
Palaestrio, Periplectomenus, and Pleusicles all emerge from the house and Palaestrio has come up with yet another plan to bring down Pyrgopolynices and get back Philocomasium. On request, Periplectomenus hands his ring to Palaestrio, who then explains his plan. He needs Periplectomenus to find an accomplished and beautiful woman, who can act the part of Periplectomenus' wife and can claim to be desperate to leave Periplectomenus for Pyrgopolynices. He also stipulates that this woman should have a maid. Periplectomenus knows just the woman - Acroteleutium - who has a maid called Milphidippa. He brings both back to his house, having explained the plot and their role in it. Meanwhile, Palaestrio tells Pyrgopolynices all about Periplectomenus' 'wife' and gives him the ring. Pyrgopolynices agrees to meet her but doesn’t know what to do with Philocomasium. Palaestrio tells him to let her go but to also let her keep all the gold and jewels that he got her, just so she would not be upset. Pyrgopolynices follows Palaestrio’s advice and runs inside to tell her. Moments later, he comes back and tells the audience he has succeeded. He gave her everything that she wanted, and he even gave her Palaestrio! At this time, Acroteleutium has come out of the house, and begins to describe what she is feeling for the soldier. How she can’t take it anymore, and how her eyes will cut off her tongue when she catches a glimpse of him. The two meet, and Acroteleutium tells Pyrgopolynices to come to her husband’s house. Pyrgopolynices is hesitant in this, but she explains that it was in her dowry that she gets to keep the house. The soldier tells her to wait inside for him; just then Pleusicles comes in dressed as a sailor to help gather Palaestrio and Philocomasium.
The end of the Play and the Braggart
The soldier says his final good-byes to Palaestrio and Philocomasium, and goes back inside to meet Acroteleutium. Just then he is ambushed by Periplectomenus, and his cook Cario. The two men begin to beat him for trying to make advances on a married woman. Pyrgopolynices begs them to stop; eventually giving the men a hundred drachmae to halt their punches. The men leave the beaten soldier to his own accord; suddenly Sceledrus enters and lets the soldier know what really happened. Pyrgopolynices realized he has been tricked, but does not seem upset about the whole ordeal. The play comes to an end when he tells the audience to applaud.
- Pyrgopolynices – a soldier in the army has many “accomplishments” that he brags to everyone about, and loves everything there is about women.
- Artotrogus – the “yes man” for the soldier, simply around to boost his ego.
- Palaestrio – Slave to the Soldier, who has been sold to him after being captured by pirates. he is actually Pleusicles' slave, and had gone off in pursuit of Pyrgopolynices with the aim of rescuing Philocomasium. He is the standard Plautine 'servus callidus' (clever slave)
- Periplectomenus – an old man of Ephesus and neighbor of Pyrgopolynices. He helps Palaestrio out with his plan to bring down the Braggart.
- Sceledrus – a slave to the soldier, and caught spying on the house of Periplectomeanus.
- Pleusicles – a young man from Athens who has enlisted the help of his former slave, Palaestrio to help get his girlfriend back.
- Lurcio – Slave to the Soldier
- Philocomasium – Athenian girl who was abducted by Pyrgopolynices.
- Acroteleutium – a courtesan, hired to play the wife of Periplectomenus.
- Milphidippa- the servant of Acroteleutium.
- A slave boy
- Cario – Periplectomenus’ cook.
Roman Comedy normally presents an erotic intrigue between a young man and a young woman which is usually blocked by some kind of opposition, usually the father figure of the young woman. Throughout the play this opposition is usually dealt with through some kind of twist in the plot and everything usually works out for the hero. The final scene in Roman Comedy always has a happy ending, usually taking place in a large festival or party. This final scene always tends to be a large spectacle leaving the audience or reader with a good socially, not always morally, acceptable ending. In the case of Miles Gloriosus the slave and townspeople work together to overthrow the soldier, or their leader. Although we don’t know the true past of the Braggart Soldier, we do know that he is the opposition that the two lovers must get through to be with each other. Thus uniting the town people and overthrowing Pyrgopolynices. Eric Bentley suggests that comedy and tragedy both try to cope with despair, mental suffering, guilt, and anxiety. The tragedy of the play is that the Braggart Soldier has kidnapped a beautiful woman from a proud man. The comedy of course is that both men are absent minded and overall buffoons.
William S. Anderson suggests that in the play, the quality of “heroic badness” has transformed from a conventional hero to the clever slave who outwits their masters. The reason being that more people could relate to the slave and was the only character that did not look foolish by the end of the play. Palaestrio solved the problem and defeated the soldier using his mind and not his brawn.
The stock character of the Braggart soldier originated from this play. Afterward, he became a familiar character in many plays, even transforming into other types of characters in later years. The Italian commedia character, Il Capitano is an adaptation of the Braggart Soldier, as is Shakespeare's Ancient Pistol.
- Henry Thomas Riley, 1912: Miles Gloriosus full text
- Paul Nixon, 1916–38
- George Duckworth, 1942
- E. F. Watling, 1965
- Paul Roche, 1968 
- Erich Segal, 1969
- Peter L. Smith, 1991
- Robert Wind, 1995
- Deena Berg and Douglass Parker, 1999
- Plautus. "The Braggart Soldier", Four Comedies, Oxford Press, 1996.
- Anderson, William S. Barbarian Play: Plautus’ Roman Comedy. Toronto. University of Toronto Press, 1993.
- Eight Great Comedies, Ed. Sylvan Barnet, Morton Berman, William Burto. Penguin Books, USA Inc
- Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four essays. Princeton, New Jersey. Princeton University Press. 1957.
- Bentley, Eric. The Life of The Drama. Atheneum, New York. 1964.
- Bentley, Eric. The Life of The Drama Atheneum, New York. 1964.
- Anderson, William S. Barbarian Play: Plautus’ Roman Comedy. Toronto. University of Toronto Press, 1993.
- Victor L. Cahn, Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances, Praeger, Westport, 1996. p.468.
- Platus; Translated by Paul Roche (1968). Three Plays by Plautus. Mentor.
- The Latin Library: Latin text of the play
- St. Olaf College Classics Department: article about a production of the play .