|Characters||Arcturus (the star-god)
Sceparnio (Daemones' slave)
Trachalio (Plesidippus' slave)
Palaestra (Labrax's prostitute)
Ampelisca (Labrax's prostitute)
Charmides (Labrax's friend)
Turbalio (Daemones' slave)
Sparax (Daemones' slave)
Gripus (Daemones' slave)
|Setting||shore near Cyrene, before Daemones' house and a shrine of Venus|
Rudens is a play by Roman author Plautus, thought to have been written around 211 BC. Its name translates from Latin as 'The Rope'. It is a comedy, which describes how a girl, Palaestra, stolen from her parents by pirates, is reunited with her father, Daemones, ironically, by means of her pimp, Labrax. The story is, however, far more complex; in particular, humour is derived from the interactions between slaves and masters, and the changes in friendships throughout. The play is set in Cyrene, in northern Africa, although the characters come from a range of cities around the Mediterranean, most notably, Athens.
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Rudens is introduced by a prologue given by Arcturus, before the play properly opens with a dialogue between Daemones, an elderly Athenian man, and his slave, Sceparnio; Sceparnio's cheekiness towards his master, who seems to lack the strength to contest this behaviour, is the provision of humour from the outset. Shortly after this, a young Athenian man called Plesidippus appears onstage, to seek information politely from Daemones. The interaction between slave and master (or rather, stranger) is shown again, as Sceparnio gives Plesidippus an extremely cold reception, showing his rudeness but also, possibly, his care for Daemones, seemingly protecting him from a stranger. After some argument (indirectly) between Sceparnio and Plesidippus, the latter finally asks Daemones (by way of a physical description) whether he has seen Labrax recently at the temple of Venus, which is nearby, on the coast of Cyrene, Libya. He also describes Labrax as bringing with him two girls, who are later to be named as Ampelisca and Palaestra. Suddenly, Daemones is drawn away from the conversation with Plesidippus, noticing two men, shipwrecked, attempting to swim towards the shore; Plesidippus immediately leaves with his friends, in the hope that one of them might be Labrax. After he has left, the scene develops, with Sceparnio spotting a boat in the turbulent sea, containing two girls. He engages in a detailed commentary of the girls being knocked around on the sea, and then being thrown out. Daemones, however, growing tired of the events, sharply tells Sceparnio that, should he wish to dine at his master's expense, he should get back to work.
The play shifts, then, to the two girls who were thrown out of the boat, into the sea, and subsequently separated. It opens with the first girl, Palaestra, lamenting her situation; she first focuses on the fact that she is in an unknown country, and that the gods have punished her unjustly, before being troubled by her loneliness. Indeed, she suggests that her ordeal would be less awful if her companion, Ampelisca, were with her. Elsewhere on the coast, Ampelisca is similarly upset; however, her reaction is one more resembling absolute despair. She states that she wishes to die, and that she has nothing to live for; nevertheless, she is driven to continue by the prospect that her friend might be alive. Ampelisca's soliloquy is cut short, when Palaestra hears a voice. After some consideration and careful listening, the girls realise that they have heard each other's voices, and follow them. Finally, the two girls turn around a rock and meet each other, grasping each other's hands with joy. With nowhere to go, the girls can see only the temple of Venus in the distance, and so decide to go in that direction.
Outside the temple, the girls pray desperately to its god (note that, at this point, they do not know that the temple is that of Venus, or even of a goddess), so loudly, in fact, that the priestess, Ptolemocratia, is drawn outside. The priestess speaks in a rather pompous tone, asking the girls why they have turned up to the temple so poorly dressed, seemingly disregarding the fact that they have been shipwrecked. However, Palaestra's desperate pleas for mercy and supplication soon soften her spirit, and, after complaining that she has barely enough resources to look after herself, she states that she has a moral duty to do what little she can to help the girls, and accordingly invites them into the temple.
The focus shifts to a group of fishermen, singing about their poor lives. Plesidippus' slave Trachalio enters the scene, confused as to why he cannot find his master, and so asks the fishermen in the most rude way possible; this, again, is an example of the humour induced by a slave's behaviour towards a free man. Having stated that they have seen neither Plesidippus nor Labrax, they leave. Labrax had stated that he would meet Plesidippus for dinner at the temple of Venus (explaining why Plesidippus was speaking to Daemones at the start of the play), and would discuss the girls there. Because neither Labrax nor Plesidippus can be found, Trachalio comes to the conclusion that his master has been cheated by the pimp, who was actually shipwrecked and so was not able to meet Plesidippus; Trachalio states that he had predicted this, and comically proclaims that he is a soothsayer. On his way to the temple, to seek information from the priestess, Trachalio walks into Ampelisca, who is going to a nearby cottage (Daemones') to fetch water. Trachalio states that he recognises the girl, and Ampelisca recognises him; they enter into a friendly conversation, with Trachalio explaining that his master cannot be found and that Labrax has cheated him. Fuelling his ego, Ampelisca, too, states that he is a soothsayer, introducing further humour. Ampelisca refers to Palaestra being with her, the mention of whom prompts Trachalio to state that she is his master's girl. The conversation continues, as Trachalio obviously, but sweetly, flirts with Ampelisca who, apparently flattered, replies in similar ways; this gives further humour: while Plesidippus was negotiating the terms of buying Palaestra (his girl, according to Trachalio), Trachalio was forming a relationship with Labrax's other girl and Palaestra's friend, Ampelisca. Trachalio's wit is obvious soon after, explaining a rather complex logical argument to explain how Labrax could not have been caught by Plesidippus. Towards the end of this scene, Ampelisca states that Palaestra's misery is being caused by the fact that she has lost a chest, in the shipwreck, containing articles which would identify her to her parents, should she ever find them again; this becomes extremely important later in the play. Trachalio leaves the scene, entering the temple to speak to Palaestra.
Ampelisca continues with her task, and knocks on the cottage door to get water. Sceparnio, Daemones' slave answers, and is delighted to see a woman — hardly the behavior of a slave, and thus another source of humor. Indeed, he interrupts her to suggest that it would be more appropriate for her to call again in the evening. He is given an extremely cold reception by Ampelisca, who is keen to complete her work. Incredibly, Sceparnio then announces that he is the resident priest, and that Ameplisca must speak to him nicely to get what she wants — an outrageous statement to be made by a slave. Finally, Ampelisca, tired of arguing, agrees to do whatever he wants, and so Sceparnio scurries away to fill her jug with water. However, after he leaves, Ampelisca looks out at the sea and notices, on the shore, two men, whom she instantly realizes as being Labrax and his friend, Charmides. Terrified, she retreats back to the temple to tell Palaestra and to seek safety. Meanwhile, Sceparnio is returning with the filled jug, convinced that Ampelisca is deeply in love with him. When he does not see her, he presumes that she is playfully hiding, before his mood becomes more sour, until he gets tired of searching. However, worried that he would be in great trouble for leaving the jug, elaborately decorated, unattended, he takes it into the temple himself. Sceparnio's delusions about Ampelisca loving him would provide humour for an audience which has already seen that she despises him, and is fond of Trachalio anyway.
The emphasis shifts to Labrax and Charmides on the shore. They pointlessly argue for some time, blaming one another for the current situation; they suspect that the girls are both dead and that Plesidippus will not be happy, since he had paid a deposit for Palaestra. The way in which these two friends argue is humorous, and reflects their characters — disloyal. Suddenly, they come across Sceparnio, now leaving the temple, and wondering why two women are there, crying. Hearing this, Labrax interrogates Sceparnio, realising that they are Ampelisca and Palaestra; his continual questioning annoys Sceparnio, who is then cheekily asked by Labrax whether he can provide them with a place to stay. Sceparnio does not oblige, but does offer to dry their clothes — an offer which Charmides refuses. The scene ends as Charmides enters the temple to seek shelter.
Shortly after, Daemones emerges from his cottage, explaining a dream he had had about being attacked by a monkey, trying to climb a tree to get to a swallow's nest, because he did not lend the monkey a ladder; like the audience at this stage, he has no idea what the dream meant. He hears a great noise from inside the temple, and then sees Trachalio running out, exclaiming incomprehensible pleas for help. Trachalio hysterically approaches Daemones, begging for help in the same complex way, but still making no sense to the latter. Finally, he explains that two girls and the priestess are being attacked in the temple; he expands on this, explaining that a man (known to the audience as Labrax) is trying to take the girls, clinging to the altar, away. Being a decent man, Daemones calls upon two strong slaves, Turbalio and Sparax, to go into the temple to help them; Palaestra and Ampelisca leave the temple.
Having been found by the pimp, from whom she thought she was now safe, Palaestra despairs, asking what will become of herself and Ampelisca now; once again, she states that it would be better for them to die. Suddenly, the girls notice Trachalio, giving them some hope; however, despite Trachalio's reassurances, both girls insist that they are intent on suicide. Trachalio tells the girls to wait at the altar outside the temple, where both he and Venus will ensure their safety. Ampelisca prays to Venus for this protection, joined by Trachalio who begs for the goddess to help them both. Daemones then emerges from the temple, along with Turbalio and Sparax, bring Labrax. Another, more violent side of Daemones is seen: he insults Labrax, and instructs one of his slaves to punch him. Nevertheless, Labrax remains defiant, stating that he will have his revenge against Daemones and that the girls are, at least by the law of his own country, his property. However, Trachalio interjects, insisting that if any Cyrenian judge were summoned, he would agree that the girls should be free and that Labrax should spend the rest of his life in prison. Labrax responds harshly to having a slave arguing with him, continuing to speak to Daemones. However, seemingly enjoying the exchange between Trachalio and Labrax, Daemones orders the pimp to continue his argument with the slave. Finally, Labrax is defeated in his resolve, and converses with Trachalio, who threatens that even the slightest touch of the girls will result in him being beaten. Greedy as always, Labrax states that Trachalio may have the girls, but only if he is willing to pay, and indeed that Venus could have them if she were to pay. Daemones is outraged at the idea of Venus ever giving money to a pimp, and threatens him with further violence with even the slightest offense against them. Suddenly, Trachalio states that one of the girls is Greek, and has Athenian parents, which interests Daemones, realising that she is of the same nationality as him. This brings back the memories of his lost daughter, stating that she was only three years old when she was stolen by pirates, and that she would now be as old as Palaestra if she were still alive (not realising yet that Palaestra is his daughter). Trachalio then suggests that, to determine whether he or Labrax is more honest, they should compare each other's backs for blisters from whipping for crimes; he believes that Labrax' back will be covered with more blisters than a warship has bolts, and that his will be smooth enough for a bottle-maker to execute his art. Labrax takes no notice of the threats, and makes for the cottage, stating that he intends to fetch Vulcan (representative of fire), since he is an enemy of Venus. One of the two slaves makes a humorous comment, that there will be no fire in the house since they are allowed to eat nothing but dried figs. This is ignored, and Labrax explains his plan to build a fire with which to kill the girls; however, Daemones suggests that Labrax is burnt instead. Trachalio decides to leave to fetch his master, Plesidippus, to whom Labrax had sold Palaestra; his exit is slow, as he continually reminds Daemones to watch Labrax carefully.
After Trachalio has left, Daemones toys with Labrax, telling him to go and touch the girls. There is humour here, since every time Daemones prompts him, Labrax insists that he intends to make for the girls, but seems too timid to carry it out. This carries on for some time, until Daemones sends one of his slaves, Turbalio, into the cottage to fetch two clubs. On his return, Daemones carefully positions both slaves around the pimp, instructing them as to exactly how they should hold the clubs, threatening absolutely that any attempt to touch them whatsoever will result in their death, stressing also that he is not allowed to leave. Daemones then leaves to return to the cottage.
Labrax is left alone with the two slaves behind him. He jokes about the fact that, although the temple had formerly been Venus’, the presence of the two heavy-handed slaves with their clubs, makes it seem that it is now Hercules’. Having called out to Palaestra, Sparax answers, asking what he wants – Labrax is familiarly rude. Testing their patience, he asks whether he can move closer to the girls, but is threatened with the clubs; the slaves toy with him, encouraging him to move forward. Trachalio returns, with his master, Plesidippus. Despite Trachalio’s diligent efforts to protect the girls and his hate for Labrax, he is berated by his master for not having killed the pimp; quite surprisingly, Trachalio shows significant mercy towards Labrax, appealing at Plesidippus’ suggestion that he should have killed the pimp ‘like a dog’.
Labrax greets Plesidippus cheekily, but it is received with contempt. Plesidippus sends Trachalio to fetch the men who had accompanied him in the first instance, when meeting Daemones and Sceparnio, leaving, essentially, just Plesidippus and Labrax. Labrax questions Plesidippus, asking with which crime he is being charged; he then states that he cannot be charged, since he did not actually take the girls away – he just took them some of the way, hindered by the storm. Tired of the banter, Plesidippus throws a rope around Labrax’s neck and orders him to march with him to the magistrate. As they walk past, Labrax’s friend, Charmides, emerges from the temple, at Labrax’s calls for help. Expecting to receive assistance from his friend, Labrax asks him why he is failing to act; Charmides ignores his former friend, and instead congratulates Plesidippus, and then tells Labrax that he is getting exactly what he deserves. As he is led off, the girls are brought into the safety of Daemones’ cottage, and Charmides, in soliloquy, states humorously that he intends to testify at the court…for the prosecution.
Daemones emerges from his cottage, again in soliloquy, stating what a good job he has done in saving the two girls, and how beautiful he considers the two girls, in his protection, to be. This leads onto his wife, who is now intently watching him, mistrustful of his fidelity. He refers to his slave, Gripus, who is a fisherman whom he sent out the last night to fish. He is late, and Daemones doubts that, given the severity of the storm, he could have caught anything.
The scene switches to Gripus, alone, carrying his net behind him; his mood is unusually raised considering that he could not have caught much. However, he soon states that his net is heavy because of gift from Neptune and furthermore, that he hasn’t caught a single fish. Gripus explains how he has been blessed with his prized catch because of his diligence, and then reveals that what he has caught is a wooden trunk — because of its weight, he presumes that it is filled with gold, and therefore that he can now buy his freedom. He explains his plans: to haggle with Daemones for his freedom, and then to buy land, a house, slaves, and to set up a merchant-shipping business — all high aspirations considering that he does not even know what is in the trunk! However, he obviously gets carried away, believing that he will become famous, owning a yacht, and then that he will found a town called Gripopolis, soon to become the capital of a great empire. He drags off the trunk to hide it, when Trachalio calls him. Despite Gripus' assumption that he has come looking for fish, Trachalio insists that he only wishes to speak with him, while carefully examining the contents of the net (all this occurs with Trachalio holding onto the end of a rope attached to the net, stopping him from leaving — hence the name of the play). Trachalio begins to explain his interest in Gripus' catch; Watling's translation here uses repetition for comic effect — Trachalio asks him 'promise me you won't break your promise', to which Gripus states that he 'promise[s] not to break his promise', and finally Trachalio talks about seeing 'a robber robbing', repeatedly. Trachalio explains that he knows the owner of the trunk, and that it should be returned — Gripus takes no notice, arguing that it is his property now. He justifies his cause by using the example of a fish — a fish in the sea cannot belong to anyone, but once it has been caught, it is the property of the fisherman. Trachalio, showing his quick-wit, states that if he is correct, the trunk is as much his as it is Gripus'. The argument becomes increasingly obscure as Trachalio demands in which way a trunk can be treated in the same way as a fish, to which Gripus states that there is such thing as a trunk-fish. Trachalio becomes sick of the argument, and instead suggests that they seek an arbitrator to make a decision — characteristic of Gripus, he suggests a tug of war — an idea much scorned by Trachalio. Humorously, Trachalio threatens to punch Gripus (even though the latter is obviously far stronger); a similar threat from Gripus makes him back down quickly, offering a 50:50 share of the trunk. A failed attempt by Trachalio to carry off the trunk leads to more argument; Gripus quickly gives up, lacking the wit to keep up with Trachalio. There is a final futile attempt by Gripus to win the trunk by reasoning, suggesting that if Trachalio leaves him with the trunk, he will not be an accessory to the crime. Trachalio finally suggests that the man living in the nearby cottage (Daemones) should act as the arbitrator; to himself, Gripus utters that he cannot lose the trunk now, presuming that his master will side with him.
The scene moves to the entrance of the cottage, where Daemones has been forced, by his jealous wife, to let the girls go from the house — Ampelisca and Palaestra are despairing once again. Gripus and Trachalio arrive at the cottage and greet Daemones, when, upon hearing that Gripus is Daemones' slave, Trachalio is astounded. However, he speaks politely to Daemones, greeting him, and then, surprisingly, stating how excellent it is that they are master and slave. Gripus and Trachalio enter into a childish race to give their side of the story first — to the audience's (and Gripus') surprise, Daemones gives Trachalio the right to speak first — after a brief explanation that the trunk belongs to Labrax, they quarrel again. Daemones appears to be watching the spectacle as a comic event, commenting on the wit of either side and laughing at insults hurled by each of them. Trachalio continues the story by stating that he does not claim anything in the trunk, and that he instead wishes to return an item to Palaestra — a box containing toys from when she was a baby. Instantly, Daemones agrees that he should have the box, despite an appeal from Gripus that they might be gold. However, showing absolute devotion to the girls, he states that he will pay Gripus in gold for whatever he takes from the trunk — despite not having the means. Trachalio then proposes that Palaestra should be made to recognise the box, to make sure that he is correct; Gripus protests again. Daemones asks Trachalio to explain the story again, invoking considerable annoyance, and even more with an interruption from Gripus. Finally, Gripus hands the trunk over to Daemones, on condition that anything not belonging to the girls he can keep. Daemones asks the girls whether the trunk is that in which the box of trinkets was kept — they confirm it, and Gripus, cynical, states that they did not even look at it. Palaestra counters this by telling Daemones to look inside the trunk and box, while she describes all the contents. As Palaestra recognizes the box, she exclaims that her parents are in there, which Gripus comically takes literally, stating that she will be punished for imprisoning her parents in a box. They begin the proof of ownership, as Palaestra describes the toys in the box; the first is a small golden sword with an inscription, "Daemones," which she states is her father's name. Daemones begins to realize the truth — that Palaestra is his daughter. The next is a small axe with another inscription — Daedalis — the name of Palaestra's mother and of Daemones' wife. The scene erupts into three simultaneous soliloquies — Daemones exclaiming his joy at finding his daughter, Gripus lamenting the loss of the articles in the trunk, Palaestra continuing to describe the items in the box. Finally, this is broken when Daemones states that he is her father, and that her mother is just inside the house. Trachalio congratulates Daemones, and they all — except for Gripus — enter the house. Gripus laments his loss, suggesting that he should just hang himself.
The play moves on by a few hours, as Daemones leaves his cottage, talking to himself about his good fortune and his intention to marry his new-found daughter to Plesidippus.
Tug of War
- Henry Thomas Riley, 1912
- Paul Nixon, 1916-38
- Cleveland K Chase, 1942
- E. F. Watling, 1964
- Christopher Stace, 1981
- Peter L. Smith. 1991
- Robert Wind, 1995
- Constance Carrier, 1995
- David M. Christenson, 2010
- Wolfang de Melo, 2011
- "T. Maccius Plautus, Rudens, PROLOGVS". tufts.edu. line feed character in
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- "Plautus, with an English translation by Paul Nixon". archive.org.
- Plautus; Translated by Wolfgang de Melo (2012). Plautus, Vol IV: The Little Carthaginian; Pseudolus; The Rope. Loeb Classical Library. ISBN 067499986X.
- Plautus, The Rope and Other Plays, translated by E. F. Watling, Penguin, London, 1964, ISBN 0-14-044136-0.
- Plautus, Rudens, edited by H. C. Fay, Bristol Classical Press, Bristol, 1969, ISBN 0-86292-063-9.
- Plautus, The Storm or 'The Howler', translated/adapted by Peter Oswald, Oberon Books, London, 2005, ISBN 1-84002-585-9.