Astaphium, maid to Phronesium
Truculentus, slave of Strabax
Phronesium, a prostitute
Stratophanes, a soldier
Cyamus, cook of Diniarchus
maid, slave of Callicles
Syra, slave of Callicles
|Setting||a street in Athens, before the houses of Phronesium and Strabax|
Truculentus is a comedic Latin play by the early Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus. Following the relationships between prostitutes and their customers, it contains perhaps Plautus’s most cynical depiction of human nature in comparison with his other surviving plays.
There is very little to the plot of Truculentus, the play mostly revolves around the interactions between the prostitutes and the men. Phronesium, the main prostitute, relentlessly persuades every male she encounters to give her all their money, by means of trickery or more often by simple flirtation. The men are more than happy to comply with her wishes, although they complain frequently of their regrettable situation. They are essentially under her spell, and are completely unable or unwilling to do anything to break free from it. Her alluring outward façade masks her cold and greedy true nature.
Diniarchus, the man most often at her house, has almost entirely lost his wealth to her by the play’s beginning. By this point, he’s all too familiar with whom she really is and the games she plays. He even assists her with deceiving other men, but nonetheless continues to be her victim as well.
The main deception is played on the soldier Stratophanes. He had lived with Phronesium prior to the plays beginning, and before leaving the city had made many promises to her about what she’d have if they were to start a family together. Phronesium decides to borrow someone’s baby and pretends she has just given birth to it, claiming that it is his when the soldier returns. He begins lavishing her with gifts, however these are not enough for her insatiable appetite. She attempts to gain more by making him jealous, feigning excitement over the gifts of Diniarchus, and later pretending to be in love with a third man, Strabax, her rather dimwitted neighbor.
Throughout the play, Phronesium’s maid Astaphium (who is more of a protégé to Phronesium than a maid) attempts to seduce the men as well. Almost as skilled in the art of seduction as her mentor, she works her feminine charms on several of them, and is even successful in charming the only one of which who resisted, Truculentus.
The character for which the play gets its name, Truculentus, attempts to protect his dimwitted master Strabax from wasting the family’s fortune at the whorehouse. Although he puts up a good fight at first, some chinks in his armor are soon revealed as he can’t help but stare at Astaphium during their encounter. Later he drops all opposition and joins the rest of the men in becoming completely helpless to their control.
The play is brought to a close when it is revealed that the baby Phronesium had been using actually belonged to Diniarchus. He agrees to a shotgun wedding with the mother, and goes to get the baby back from Phronesium. However, Phronesium gets her way as always and keeps the baby until she decides she no longer needs it. Diniarchus, as well as the other men, have learned nothing by the play's end.
- Henry Thomas Riley, 1912: full text
- Paul Nixon, 1916–38
- George E. Duckworth, 1942
- James Tatum, 1983
- David M. Christenson, 2010 
- Wolfang de Melo, 2013