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 and largely have 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 (the alazon stock character 'Miles Gloriosus' of the play's title), 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 Sceledrus, 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. 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 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. 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, one who can act the part of Periplectomenus' wife and 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 Philocomasium. 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 begun to describe what she is feeling for the soldier – namely, 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 is the one who 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.
- Acroteleutium (Meretrix): a courtesan, she is hired to play the wife of Periplectomenus in the plot to deceive Pyrgopolynices. Though married she pretends to be really in love with Pyrgopolynices.
- Artotrogus (Parasitus): Pyrgopolynices' slave whose main job is to agree with everything he says, boosting his owner's ego so that he can feed his ever growling belly. Artotrogus also plays a subversive role, making snide, humorous comments off to the side about how idiotic Pyrgopolynices is.
- Cario: Periplectomenus' cook, he helps bring down Pyrgopolynices at play's end.
- Lurcio (Servus Ebrius): another of Pyrgopolynices' slaves, he provides drunken and comic relief as he tries to perform his duties to his master.
- Milphidippa: the servant of Acroteleutium, she assists her mistress with completing the escape plan for Philocomasium.
- Palaestrio (Servus Callidus): slave to Pyrgopolynices, he was originally Pleusicles' slave. In his attempt to rescue Philocomasium he is captured by pirates and sold to Pyrgopolynices. He masterminds the deception of Sceledrus and his master so as to reunite his former master with his fiancé.
- Periplectomenus (Senex): old man and neighbor of Pyrgopolynices in Ephesus, he assists with the plan to rescue Philocomasium.
- Philocomasium (Virgo): a young Athenian woman who is abducted by Pyrgopolynices from her home and her lover Pleusicles.
- Pleusicles (Adulescens Amator): an Athenian man whose lover, Philocomasium, is stolen by Pyrgopolynices. Upon being contacted by his former slave, Palaestrio, he leaves Athens for Ephesus so as to rescue his love.
- Pyrgopolynices (Miles Gloriosus): a soldier in the army with a massive ego and a small mind. He brags about his many triumphs on the battlefield and in the bedroom. He loves anything and everything there is to love about women but even more so loves everything and anything that has to do with himself.
- Sceledrus (Servus Stultus): Pyrgopolynices' slave, he is caught spying on Periplectomenus' house and charged to keep watch over Philocomasium's room. For the plot to succeed he must be tricked into believing that he did not see what he saw.
- A slave boy: he appears at Periplectomenus' house to go along with the plan to trick Pyrgopolynices. He lets Pyrgopolynices into the neighbor's house to meet with Acroteleutium.
• Acroteleutium (meretrix 'courtesan'): hired to play the wife of Periplectomenus so as to trick Pyrgopolynices. She is another member of the lower classes who helps Palaestrio to deceive his noble master Pyrgopolynices and in doing so to reunite the two lovers, Pleusicles and Philocomasium.
• Artotrogus (parasitus 'suck-up' 'sponge'): the soldier's slave, he is around to boost his master's ego. Present in the opening scene, he is hardly around in the remainder. His compliments earn him food for his ever-hungry belly and serve as ironical and humorous quips to the audience who rightly hears them as insults. So daft is Pyrgopolynices that he genuinely believes Artotrogus is loyal.
• Cario: Periplectomenus' cook. Along with the other slaves he is given a bit of moral high ground as he beats up on his master Pyrgopolynices
• Lurcio: slave to the Pyrgopolynices, extra comedic fool, and drunkard.
• Milphidippa: the servant of the prostitute Acroteleutium. Her purpose in the narrative is to build irony with Palaestrio and also to make Acroteleutium appear more wealthy and desirable by talking her up. She attracts Pyrgopolynices' attentions as well and must be saved from his affection by Palaestrio. Her interaction with Pyrgopolynices reveals his wanton lack of scruples and respect for women. Having taken Philocomasium without her consent, he barely retracts his intent to take a spoken-for Milphidippa. Finally, Milphidippa's interaction with Pyrgopolynices creates dramatic irony in the play as the audience is aware that Palaestrio and Milphidippa are tricking Pyrgopolynices, who is too self-obsessed to notice.
• Palaestrio (servus callidus 'clever slave'): slave to the Pyrgopolynices upon being sold to him by pirates who captured him after he set off to rescue Philocomasium, he is actually Pleusicles' slave. The only one who knows the full extent of the lies told to move the plot along, Palaestrio orchestrates the entire scheme to return Philocomasium to Pleusicles. Ultimately he convinces Pyrogopolynices to give up Philocomasium in order to marry a rich divorcee—really a prostitute he hired, Acroteleutium. The dramatic irony created by Palaestrio's asides adds interest and humor to the already hilarious predicament he expertly solves. Palaestrio consistently breaks the fourth wall to explain what is going on in the show to the audience.
• Periplectomenus (senex 'old man'): an old man of Ephesus and neighbor of Pyrgopolynices. He helps Palaestrio out with his plan to bring down his braggart neighbor. He houses Philocomasium's lover and suggests to Palaestrio to cut an opening through the party wall into the adjoining house so that Philocosmasium can come and go as she pleases. He gives a long speech on the evils of marriage, wives, and children. He prefers freedom over children and worry. Happy living his life as he wishes, he says he does not regret leaving behind no heir. Though a bachelor and self-proclaimed crank, he is willing to risk himself for others as he helps connive to bring the lovers back together. His actions show an obvious soft spot in his heart for love.
• Philocomasium (virgo 'maiden): Athenian girl and lover of Pleusicles, she is abducted by Pyrgopolynices. A cunning and intelligent woman, she masquerades as her own twin sister to aid in her escape from Pyrgopolynices.
• Pleusicles (adulescens 'young man'): a young man from Athens who has enlisted the help of his former slave, Palaestrio, to take back his girlfriend, Philocomasium, from the man who has taken her, Pyrgopolynices. In the duping of Pyrgopolynices he plays the role of sailor. His only part in the plan hatched by Palaestrio and Periplectomenus is to serve as the vessel who will return Philocomasium to Athens. Love-struck and a bit addled he almost blows the entire scheme. Palaestrio's cleverness and Pyrgopolynices' stupidity keep all rolling along and he successfully wins back his girl.
• Pyrgopolynices (miles gloriosus 'braggart soldier'): the character the play is named after, he is a soldier in the army who brags about the many feats he has accomplished on the battlefield and in the bedroom. From the opening scene to play's end his great deeds are shown to be as hollow as his character is deluded. The other characters easily trick him by feeding his ravenous ego.
• Sceledrus (servus stultus 'foolish slave'): slave to Pyrgopolynices and at play's start caught spying on the house of Periplectomenus. He sees Philocomasium embracing her true love Pleusicles. He must be duped lest he spoil Palaestrio's entire plot to restore Philocomasium to her lover. He is easily tricked by Palaestrio into thinking he has not seen what he really has. His confusion leads him to great distress and to a wine-induced sleep. His gullibility functions as a source of comic relief in the play.
• A slave boy: appears only briefly in the play, he invites Pyrgopolynices into Periplectomenus's home to meet Acroteleutium. He seems to remind the audience of what is about to happen, and prepare them for the drama at the end of the play when Pyrgopolynices realizes he was set up.
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.
Archetype of the Boastful Soldier
The miles gloriosus is the archetype of the boastful soldier trope, so much so that his ego becomes his downfall. He tells many lies about himself: he crushes an elephant's femur, his children live a thousand years, and his would be a kingship were he alive at a different time. He believes that everyone loves him. In actuality, he is universally hated. His hubris undoes him as the other characters are able to steal back from under his nose the girl that he previously had stolen. An old man, a prostitute, and a slave work together to deceive him and steal the girl back. Posing as his neighbor's wife the prostitute pretends to be in love with him. Because he is so egotistical, he believes her. Without suspecting a trick, he loses the girl, the lovers are reunited, and he is undone by his own cook.
Children and Wives
The debate about getting married and having children is one that Plautus, through the character Periplectomenus, brings up in the play. The senex, Periplectomenus, makes a long speech about his views on marriage and children. He states that it is not ideal to get married and that there is no use for having children. He thinks women only talk about frivolous matters and that they spend too much money; he does not want to be financially responsible for a wife or for children. He also states that he would worry too much about his children if he were to have any. This discussion of marriage and children shows the readers the positive and negative aspects of being married and having children. His views, however, run counter to other significant events in the play. The prostitutes show themselves as generous and kind when they help trick Pyrgopolynices and reunite the lovers. In doing so they also show their wit and resourcefulness. Periplectomenus himself shows a willingness to undergo hardship and risk in helping out a fellow creature. In sum his views on marriage and wives seem out of place in a play that otherwise offers kindness, generosity, and sacrifice as the antidote to ego, greed, and rapacity.
Drinking and Drunkards
Though not a major part of the play or plot Plautus does explore the theme of drinking and drunkenness through the characters of Lurcio and Sceledrus. A slave of Pyrgopolynices, Lurcio encounters Palaestrio as he searches for Sceledrus. During this encounter Lurcio admits, in a rather sarcastic manner, that Sceledrus is asleep and that both he and Sceledrus are drunk on their master's stolen wine. Initially upset because he is unable to speak with Sceledrus, Palaestrio soon regains his composure. Through this scene Plautus provides comic relief, portraying the unifying laughter that alcohol can promote. Alcohol is the vehicle that awakens a person's joviality, enhancing their, and thereby the audience's, overall level of enjoyment. In this same scene Plautus also displays its negative effects. A few of them are theft, addiction, and lethargy. Both Lurcio and Sceledra know full well that they will face severe punishment if they are caught stealing their master's wine, but their addiction is sufficiently deep for them to disregard the potential consequences of their actions. An additional negative of alcohol is its sloth-inducing effect. After drinking heavily Sceledrus, who is supposed to be watching over Philocomasium, abandons his duties and responsibilities and instead falls asleep. Though he does not make it a major part of the play, Plautus does offer a nuanced look into the highs and lows of drinking and drunkenness.
Pride Cometh and then the Fall
Pyrgopolynices exhibits characteristics of the stock character, miles gloriosus, who boasts in an arrogant and self-righteous manner. His relationship with his slave, Artotrogus, the stock character of the parasitus, reveals that he relies on others to glorify his deluded sense of self. So conceited is Pyrgopolynices, constantly talking about his many victories on the battlefield and in the bedroom, that Artotrogus is hardly needed. At first glance a character used solely to boost his master's ego, Artotrogus is primarily driven by his incessant need for food. His slavish compliments are so outrageously offered that they reveal a hidden agenda for his seemingly superfluous part: the compliments he offers are really insults, earning him his board and exposing his master's idiocy. Pyrgopolynices' pride blinds him to it all. He is fooled consistently by his underlings and everyone else whom he considers beneath him. His overdeveloped pride stands in stark contrast to a severely underdeveloped intellect that leaves him easy prey to his slave Palaestrio's machinations. Palaestrio cleverly pulls the wool over his master's eyes and frees the stolen Philocomasium from him. Easily the biggest fool of the play, Pyrgopolynices is readily manipulated and tricked by Palaestrio and others around him. The very women Pyrgopolynices lists as his conquests and idolizers mock, dupe, and deflate him. Plautus's work shows that in creating characters who appear masculine and macho but lack basic intelligence he is commenting on the Rome of his time and suggesting that true virtue and character lie within the hearts and minds of Romans with the ability to self-reflect and see the world through another's eyes.
Substance Trumps Style
Pyrgopolynices, the miles gloriosus, thinks of himself as a great general with great achievements and with great looks. In reality, his achievements are insignificant, his actual military prowess is inept, and his looks rendered repulsive by his character. For conquest he steals from Athens a defenseless woman by tricking with gifts her mother into thinking he is a nice guy. When the mother's back is turned he steals the daughter from underneath her. His exceptional brawn will be overpowered by play's end by a lowly cook. Pyrgopolynices consistently refers to his handsomeness and how it is such a curse because women who come across him are instantly attracted to him and will not stop pestering him. In reality, women abhor him and his presence. Pyrgopolynices' tremendous ego is matched by his fabulous stupidity. He is easily tricked by his slave, Palaestrio, the callidus servus, and thereby loses the woman he had abducted. In presenting an authority figure as so inept and devoid of any sense of self or decency, Plautus comments on the Rome of his time and presages the generals to come who will wreak havoc on the common folk of the dying Republic.
The Triumph of Virtue over Vice
Over the course of the play, the protagonist Palaestrio and his cohort behave as good Greek (or, rather, Roman) citizens, exhibiting such virtues as hospitality and generosity (Periplectomenus), loyalty (Palaestrio to Pleusicles), and virtue (Philocomasium). Conversely, Pyrgopolynices and his household engage in vice, including womanizing and boastfulness (Pyrgopolynices) and sloth and excessive drinking (Lurcio and Sceledrus). Palaestrio and his cohort show the value of cooperation when they work together to convince Sceledrus (idiocy) that he did not see what he actually did. Later, by succeeding in tricking Pyrgopolynices (vanity and ego) and reuniting the lovers, Palaestrio and his allies show the superiority of virtue over vice. This is reinforced in the end as Pyrgopolynices, recognizing his defeat, remarks to the audience that they should 'serve all lechers so, and lechery will grow less rife'. His concession is a clear denunciation by the playwright of the soldier's corrupt ways.
The title of the play, The Swaggering Soldier, suggests that the hero is Pyrgopolynices, the Miles Gloriosus. Nothing could be further from the truth. The play's true hero comes from the unlikeliest of places—a slave . Before the play's start, Pyrgropolynices steals Philocomasium from her home, mother, and lover, Pleusicles. Palaestrio, Pyrgopolynices' slave and the play's true hero, seeks to right his master's wrong and reunite Philocomasium with her true love. He masterminds a plan to trick his fellow slave Sceledrus and his master Pyrgopolynices so that Philocomasium and Pleusicles can live happily ever after. Exploiting the stupidity of Sceledrus and Pyrgopolynices, Palaestrio succeeds. In this play Plautus shows his audience that anyone can be a hero, regardless of their situation.
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