Plautus' "Stichus" and the Political Crisis of 200 B.C.

by William M. Owens
Plautus' "Stichus" and the Political Crisis of 200 B.C.
William M. Owens
The American Journal of Philology
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WHATTO MAKE OF Stichus? Scholars have written appreciatively of its separate parts: the sisters who are loyal wives to their absent husbands, the sympathetic depiction of the parasite Gelasimus, and even the wild celebration of the slaves that ends the play.' However, when consider- ing Stichus as an artistic whole, scholarship has tended to blanket the play with anathema. Thus Norwood: "What of Stichus, which falls into three mere lumps?"2 Duckworth is more discursive but no less dispar- aging: "The Stichus is hardly a drama; there is no real plot and compli- cation and denouement of the usual sort are lacking. The scenes fall into three groups: these might be called 'The Abandoned Wives' (1401), 'The Homecoming, or the Disappointed Parasite' (402-640), and 'The Carousal of the Slaves' (641-775)."3

Previous readings have focused on the relation of Stichus to Plau- tus' model, Menander's first Adelphoe, attributing the deficiencies in the Roman play to Plautine departures from the model, either through free invention of scenes and characters or through contaminatio, the introduction of scenes from Greek plays other than Adelphoe.4 However, even those who believe that Plautus was more or less faithfully following the contents of Menander's Adelphoe consider Stichus to be a poorly constructed work.5

Given this general critical disparagement and the almost complete

'Loyal wives: Carol Poster in the introduction to her translation of Stichus (in Sla- vitt and Bovie 1995), 315-16. Gelasimus as a figure of pity: Arnott 1972. The slaves' party as dissolute pergraecari: Segal 1987,32-35.

2Norwood 1932,98.

3Duckworth 1952, 146.

4For a discussion of the scholarship on the relationship between Stichus and Me- nander's first Adelphoe see Petersmann 1973, 28-36.

5Cf. Petersmann 1973, 28: "Das Stiick bietet namlich in seiner Handlung keine durchlaufende Einheit, sondern besteht vielmehr aus einer Reihe von Szenen, die teil- weise nur sehr lose miteinander verbunden sind."

Arner~canJournal of Philology 121 (2MO) 385407 C ZMO by The Johns Hopklns Unlrersity Press

loss of its model, source criticism of Stichus has come to resemble a kind of philological shadowboxing against an invisible and superior op- ponent. The present reading seeks to understand the difficulties of this play in terms of its Roman audience of 200 B.C. The broad outlines of this approach were developed by Segal in Roman Laughter (1987), who argued that Plautine humor was accommodated to Roman concerns and preoccupations. Wagenvoort (1931) anticipated Segal's approach with specific reference to Stichus in his suggestion that the play reflects the jubilant mood of the people who had defeated Hannibal in the pre- vious year and recently celebrated Scipio's triumph. Such a people, he argued, were in no mood for a play constructed by the book, but wanted one that was accommodated to their mood:

Plautus Stichum [composuit] . . . cum etiam atque etiam aliae aliunde co- piae domum reverterentur, isdem fortasse diebus, quibus summo cum gaudio Romani Scipionem aspicerent triumphantem. Tali tempore non id profecto cives a poeta suo poposcerunt, ut comoediam sibi praeberet rigidis normis adstrictam quodque ad compositionem attinet omnibus nu- meris absolutam, sed ut spectaculum sibi offerret ad commune gaudium quam poterat maxime accommodatum.~

There is evidence that Stichus was matched to the mood of its au- dience; the Ludi Plebeii for which the play was produced in 200 B.C. were repeated three times, and the popularity of Stichus may have been one of the reasons for the multiple in st aura ti one^.^ However, the mood of the people of Rome in 200 B.c., a politically turbulent year, was more complex than summum et commune gaudium. Fresh upon the victory

6Wagenvoort 1931. 311-12.

'Livy 31.50.3: Plebeii licdi ab aedilibics L. Terentio Massiliota et Cn. Baebio Tam- philo, quipraetor designatics erat, ter toti instaurati. Taylor (1937) has suggested that while instauratio was primarily religious in nature, the popularity of drama, in particular, the comedy of Plautus, could have provided further incentive for repetition of the ceremonies. Monti (1950), followed by Cohee (1994), seeking to establish religion as the soli- tary reason for instaicratio, argued that many instaicrationes were partial and did not nec- essarily involve repetition of dramatic performances. However, the Ludi Plebeii of 200, at which Stichus was produced, are among the nine instances recorded of ludi instaurati toti, occasions on which we may be certain that the performances of plays were repeated. Plautus' popularity in general may be reflected in the fact that all nine instances of llrdi instaurati toti occurred within a nineteen-year span, between 207 and 189, a period en- tirely covered by Plautus' active career.

over Hannibal, the Senate was preparing to fight a war in Greece against Philip V of Macedon. Since the autumn of 201 senatorial am- bassadors had been sent to various Greek states to canvass support for Roman intervention; during this same period ambassadors from a num- ber of Greek states had been in Rome to complain about Philip's ag- gressions.8 In March 200 the consul P. Sulpicius Galba, having received Macedonia as his province, proposed a declaration of war against Philip to the Centuriate Assembly. But a tribune, Q. Baebius, spoke against the bill, and war was rejected by nearly every voting division (ab omni- bus ferme centuriis antiquata est, Liv. 31.6.3). Livy reports that the peo- ple were exhausted from the length of the war they had just completed and that Baebius was able to exploit their discontent.

In response, the Senate advised Galba to try again. The war was approved after a vigorous speech from the consul. Livy does not indi- cate any interval between the first and second rogations; nonetheless, McDonald and Walbank have posited a delay of up to several months, arguing that the Centuriate Assembly did not reverse itself until as late as July.9 Errington agrees with this, offering an argument directly rele- vant to the present study: that the Senate had to spend some time en- gaged in vigorous politicking before it could overcome opposition to the war.lO However, the chronology of the two war votes is far from a settled matter. Some have objected that a significant interval between the two votes distorts the text of Livy; Warrior, a recent proponent of this view, argues that approval of the war followed soon upon its initial rejection."

the diplomatic activity in the period leading up to the outbreak of hostilities see Meadows 1993.

9McDonald and Walbank 1937. They are elaborating Holleaux's hypothesis ([I9211 1969,267-68), that a considerable interval was required to coordinate the Centuriate As- sembly's vote for war with the diplomatic activity of a senatorial legation in Greece, part of whose mission would have been to convey the declaration to Philip in a formal rerum repetitio and belli indictio. Dahlheim (1968, 247) sees further evidence of an interval be- tween the two votes in the fact that Galba took his army overseas only at the end of the campaigning season. Reckoning retrogressively from landing of the Roman forces in Greece, Dahlheim suggests mid-August as the terminus ante quem for the second vote. Briscoe (1973, 44-45) also moves the second vote forward a couple of months, as does Scullard (1980, 247. 505 n. 5).

IoErrington 1972, 137.

"Warrior 1996, 64-66, developing a critique that was initially suggested by Bals- don (1954, 30-42) and further advanced by Rich (1976,77-82).

At first glance, a quick reversal of the initial vote seems to suggest that antiwar sentiment was superficial. However, even without a signifi- cant interval between the two rogations there is evidence that antiwar feeling ran deep and persisted even after the war was approved. First of all, even Livy's spare summary of Baebius' speech against the war sug- gests that the Roman people were tired of fighting, unable to enjoy the fruits of peace, and resentful of the Senate's neglect as it pursued fur- ther conquest: Q. Baebius tribunus plebis, viam antiquam criminandi patres ingressus, incusaverat bella ex bellis seri ne pace unquam frui plebs posset (31.6.4). The war just concluded had largely been fought in Italy. The fifteen years Hannibal spent in bringing the war to Roman territory had had a devastating effect on the people and land of central and southern Italy.12 It is unlikely that Livy was exaggerating when he described Roman plebs as fessi diuturnitate et gravitate belli and attrib- uted their initial rejection of the new war in part to taedio periculorum laborumque (31.6.3).

Galba's speech in the contio prior to the second vote is Livy's cre- ation; however, it is possible that Livy reflected some of the arguments that the consul actually put forward.13 This speech as well acknowl- edges the people's war-weariness, but attempts to convert it into a rea- son in favor of going to war. The central argument was that the choice before the people was not one of war or peace, but whether to fight Philip in Greece or in Italy. Referring to the last war, Galba maintained that, had the Romans been prompt in honoring their obligations to the people of Saguntum, they would not have had to face Hannibal in Italy; similar delay in assisting Rome's friends in the Greek East would bring with it similar catastrophe, but with an adversary more formidable than Hannibal, one who would easily enlist in his cause Rome's untrust- worthy allies in southern Italy (31.7.3). The Roman people knew that the worst of their suffering in the previous war had been caused by the presence of their enemy in Italy, and the consul urged them to fight the enemy on his turf rather than their own: Hostium urbes agrique ferro atque igni vastentur. Experti iam sumus foris nobis quam domi feliciora

12On the devastation of the Italian countryside in the Second Punic War and its lasting effects see Cornell 1996.

liBriscoe (1973, 18-19) suggests that Livy had access to Galba's arguments in one or more of his annalistic sources. Cf. Harris (1979, 214), who rejects the authenticity of the speech, "though it may of course accidentally happen to reproduce the arguments Sulpicius really used."

potentioraque arma esse (31.7.13-14). Thus Galba converted the painful memory of the old war into an incentive for the new one.

Getting the assembly to change its mind required material conces- sions as well as clever rhetoric and the specter of another Hannibal. A practical element in Galba's persuasion appears to have been an ex- emption granted to Scipio's African veterans from serving again against their will (31.8.5-6).14 Another source of opposition to the new war may have been a number of state creditors who had lent the state money during the war with Hannibal; the new war jeopardized the final repay- ment they were owed that year. Many of these creditors sought to buy land that was currently for sale, much of it offered by owners of smaller holdings who lacked the capital to restore land neglected or ravaged in the previous war. The price was probably low, and the creditors were eager to buy; thus their anxiety about repayment.15 Livy reports that these private creditors demanded "what was fair (aequum postularent), and when the state still remained opposed to paying back the debt, they discerned a midpoint between what was fair and expedient (medium in- ter aequum et utile)," namely, a compromise that granted the state's creditors the use of ager publicus near Rome at nominal rents (31.13.5). Thus the Senate overcame the reluctance of a second group through another material concession.

If Warrior's chronology is correct, this compromise would have been arranged only after the comitia centuriata changed its mind. In other words, even if Galba had been able to persuade the assembly in short order, there is evidence that the war remained unpopular. Warrior herself sees further possible evidence for the persistence of dissent in a series of religious disputes after the vote, which delayed Galba's depar- ture for Greece.16 One such concern involved a dispute between Galba and the pontifex maximus, who had objected that the consul could not pledge a votum in an indefinite amount. The consul appealed to the

I4Some have argued that Scipio Africanus was opposed to the new war. If this were the case, Scipio's motives were likely complicated and included not only personal concern for his veterans, who had borne the brunt of the war just concluded, but also a desire to check his political rivals' pursuit of glory in the new war. Cf. Harris 1979, 218; Briscoe 1973, 46. Scullard (1973, 82-86) suggests that Scipio was attuned to the people's war-weariness. Dorey (1959), emphasizes Scipio's desire to frustrate his rivals' pursuit of glory.

IjBriscoe 1973, 93.

I6Warrior 1996, 68-73.

pontifices, who overruled the pontifex maximus, maintaining that a vow for an indeterminate sum was not only allowable but even more cor- rect. A compromise was reached: the Senate would set the amount at the time Galba fulfilled the vow (31.9.8-10). Warrior notes, "Political and economic considerations were clearly at work, but opposition to the impending war may well have been an underlying factor.""

Some time later a theft of money from the sanctuary of Proser- pina at Locris yet again delayed Galba's departure. The Senate ap- pointed Galba's fellow consul, C. Aurelius, to look into the matter and further charged an investigative board (quaestio) to make sure the money was restored to the shrine (12.1-4). This incident as well may re- flect the persistence of antiwar sentiment. The crime raised memories of a similar theft four years earlier from the same shrine, which had delayed Scipio's departure for Africa. Noting the peculiarity that both these sacrileges, of 204 and 200, occurred on occasions when the Ro- mans were preparing to send an army overseas, Warrior suggests that an anonymous antiwar faction was using religio for political ends "in or- der to delay, if not prevent the invasion of Greece."ls There is no posi- tive evidence for this conjecture; however, the fact remains that it was not until the end of the campaigning season that Galba was able to fin- ish levying his troops, training them, and transporting them across the Adriatic. Reluctance about the war may have been the reason for the late start. Either it took the Senate some time to do the necessary poli- ticking and dealing to get the comitia to reverse itself, or opposition persisted even after the war had been approved, possibly through the manipulation of religio for political ends. At any rate, only in Novem- ber, as Stichus was presented at the Ludi Plebeii, did Roman forces ar- rive in Greece.

In 200 B.C. we see a state not united in commune gaudium but one pulled in different directions by separate factions pursuing their own self-interests. This was a period of intense diplomatic activity, heated politicking, and vigorous rhetoric full of appeals to obligation and fair- ness. We hear the echoes in Livy. If the speech Livy composed for him is any guide, Galba appealed to Rome's obligation to protect its friends

"Warrior 1996, 68. Cf. Briscoe (1973, 80). who argues that the Pontifex Maximus. l? Licinius Crassus Dives, was a political ally of Scipio Africanus, and that the objection to Galba's votum was politically inspired.

'Warrior 1996. 72.

overseas, in this case, Pergamum, Rhodes, and Athens; he claimed that in the previous war, if the Romans had observed their jides to the Sa- guntines (si Saguntinis obsessis jidemque nostrum implorantibus impigre tulissemus opem, 31.7.3), they could have fought out the war in Spain, not Italy.19 The obligations of jides may also have been invoked by op- ponents of the war, but in this case, jides in a domestic context. The tri- bune Baebius, acting as protector of the plebs, spoke for the interests of a people who were exhausted from war. The service exemption con- ceded to Scipio's veterans may reflect the general's own activity as a pa- tron and protector of those who had served under him. Finally, the prin- ciple of fairness, of what is aequum, was raised by the creditors who demanded repayment of the money owed them by the state.

This political turmoil is reflected in Stichus, Plautus' adaptation of a Menandrian domestic comedy of manners. Discussion below follows four groups of scenes: (1) the confrontation between the sisters and their father, Antipho, that opens the play (1-154); (2) scenes involving the parasite Gelasimus (155-401, 454-504, 579-640); (3) the reconcilia- tion between Antipho and his sons-in-law (505-78); (4) the slave revel that ends the play (649-775).


Two brothers, Epignomus and Pamphilippus, are married respectively to Panegyris and her younger sister, who is unnamed.20 As Stichus begins, Panegyris laments the absence of the husbands, who have been away in Asia for two years, during which time the sisters have been burdened with caring for their spouses' affairs, activity which she notes is proper and fair (ita ut aequom est, 5). The younger sister agrees that it is aequom that they meet their obligations to their husbands, for pietas demands no less: nostrum oficium /nos facere aequomst / neque id ma- gi' facimus /quam nos monet pietas (7-8a). Then, in great distress, she tells Panegyris that their father, Antipho, wishes to call them home, to take them from their absent husbands and marry them off again.

IgRich (1989) with some modification reaffirms Badian's hypothesis in Foreign Clientelae that the Romans referred to their own domestic patron-client relationships as a model for their relationships with subordinate allied states.

20Cf. Arnott 1972, 72 n. 2; Petersmann 1973, 85.

sed hoc, soror, crucior

patrem tuom meumque adeo, unice qui unus

civibus ex omnibus probus perhibetur,

eum nunc inprobi viri officio uti,

viris qui tantas apsentibu' nostris

facit iniurias inmerito

nosque ab eis abducere volt.

Though he is regarded as one of the most moral men in the state (unice qui unus civibus ex omnibus probus perhibetur), Antipho now contemplates the action of a wicked man (eum nunc inprobi viri oficio uti). In this passage ofJicium carries its original meaning of "deed" or "action"; however, the moral connotation of the term is also present, the notion of a deed or action that one is obligated to perform for an- other.21 The sisters are fulfilling their ofJicia, but the father is not. The younger sister raises the notion of obligation a third time, observing that it is fitting and proper for all wise people to observe and keep their obligations (omnis sapientis /suom oficium aequom est colere et facere, 39-40). She continues that, even though their absent husbands may be neglecting their own obligations to their wives, she and her sister must nonetheless themselves strive to do the right thing.

etsi illi inprobi sint atque aliter nos faciant quam aequomst, tam pol, ne quid magi' sit, omnibus obnixe opibus nostrum officium meminisse decet. (43-46)

Arnott has noted the rich cluster of moral words that characterize the younger sister's language: oficium, pietas (S), aequus, and (im)probus.22 This deployment of moral vocabulary may take its cue from Menander; however, foremost in the mind of Plautus' audience would have been the Roman notion of moral obligation, oficium, and not its Greek equivalent. The younger daughter is concerned exclusively with the domestic aspect of oficia, the obligations owed one another by members of a family. She repeatedly characterizes the proper observa- tion of these obligations as aequom, what is proper and fair. Pietas, the

2iPetersmann1973, 94.

??Arnott 1972. 57-61. Other moral terms noted by Arnott include pudicitia (100). peiorlmelior (109-lo), oportet (112, 130). and piget (122).

wives' reverential love for their husbands, demands no less. Pietas makes it clear that Plautus is thinking of a Roman notion of obligation. Another Roman association woven into the scene is the younger sister's disinclination to remarry, which likely reminded Plautus' audience of the Roman ideal of the univira, a woman who married only once, even in the event of widowhood or divorce.23 The association between the younger sister and the Roman matrona is made explicit in the next scene, when she refers to herself and her sister as matres familias (98). The older sister, Panegyris, hesitates to disobey her father; nonetheless, in this she too seems to be guided by a Roman moral compass, ready to yield to her father out of respect for his patria potestas, or paternal au- thority: pati nos oportet quod ille faciat, quoius potestas plus potest (69).

The younger sister's mode of expression also suggests her Roman- ness. Unice qui unus civibus ex omnibus probus perhibetur echoes the language of aristocratic encomia such as the Saturnians composed in honor of Lucius Scipio, consul in 259: honc oino ploirume cosentiont R(ornai)/ Duonoro optumo fuise vir0.2~However, here we have "Ro- manness" with an ironic edge. The younger sister's jingly excess, unice qui unus, lampoons the traditional encomium and suggests that Anti- pho's haste to remarry his daughters is a neglect of his proper ofjicium.25 Plautus plays with the same theme at 58-64, when Antipho emerges from his house, calling back inside to his slaves that it's a naughty slave who needs to be reminded to do his job: Qui manet ut moneatur semper servos homo ofjicium suom, nec voluntate id facere meminit, servos is habitu hau probust (58-59). Arnott argues that the younger sister's repeated use of ofjicium has turned the term into a catchword, giving comic potential to the conventional monition he de- livers to his slaves.26 However, the humor here involves not only the

z3Williams (1958, 23-27) observes that the univira represented an important ideal in Roman marriage; the ideal may have had its origins in certain religious functions re- served for univirae. More recently, Treggiari (1991, 232-36) has pointed to the sisters as models of Roman pudicitia.

24The text is taken from Warmington 1935 (Epitaphs 4).

25Plautus seems to be taking aim here not at the Scipios in particular but at aristo- cratic self-praise in general. For the Scipios were not alone in this sort of boasting. A contemporary of Lucius Scipio, Atilius Calatinus (consul 258 and 254, dictator 249, censor 247) was celebrated with similar language in an epithet near the Porta Capena that sufficiently impressed Cicero to refer to it twice (De Sen. 61; De Fin. 2.116): Hunc unum plurimae consentiunt gentes populi prirnariurn fuisse virurn.

z6Arnott 1972, 59.

repetition of a charmed word. There is pointed irony in the fact that as Antipho makes his entrance, he is lecturing others on doing their duty, something in which he himself proves deficient.

This crisis of domestic oficium is quickly laid to rest. Antipho is stymied by his daughters' unassailable virtue. In the confrontation be- tween father and daughters (88-154) the old man first hesitates to raise the issue of their remarriage, instead soliciting advice from his daugh- ters regarding a new wife for himself. When he finally says what is on his mind, the reason he gives is not that his sons-in-law are likely dead, but that his daughters have been left as paupers (132). This lame pre- text gives the younger sister the opportunity to express the noble senti- ment that love and loyalty are more important than money (136). When Antipho asks his daughters if they would disobey him, Panegyris de- clares that they will remain obedient to his first command, in their loy- alty to the current husbands (141-42). Even when opposing their father. the women remain paragons of filial pietas. Thus frustrated, Antipho goes off to seek the advice of friends (143); later, the crisis of domestic oficium is rendered moot with the husbands' return.


The obligations of Roman ofJicium were not confined to the immediate family. Saller has shown that ofJicium was an important indicator of patron-client relationships, in which ties of oficia bound together Ro- man patrons and their dependent clients.27 I now argue that patronal obligations are implied in the relationship between Gelasimus, the comic and suicidal parasite of Stichus, and the families of the two sis- ters. Just as Plautus turned the ethical issue present in Menander's first Adelphoe into a Romanized concept of ofJicium, so has he transformed a stock character from Greek New Comedy, the parasitos, into a Ro- man social dependent, the cliens. Saller also notes that clients were dis- tributed in a broad range of statuses, including aristocrats at the top, whose rank was close to that of their patrons, humble plebeians some- where in the middle, and at the bottom ex-slaves, who became the clientes of their former masters.28 In Stichus Gelasimus' ravenous hunger suggests the social dependency of the common citizens who had suf-

"Sailer 1982. 15-17.
2hSaller 1982 and 1989

fered in the war with Hannibal. The hardships of the war, in particular the disruption caused to Rome's food supply, degraded the status of such citizens within the hierarchy of clientelage and left them more de- pendent than ever on their patrons.

In the context of patronal relationships oficium refers to the re- ciprocal exchange of services between patrons and clients. The oficium of the patron was to protect the client, who relied on his patron for various forms of support in a broad sense; these might include legal as- sistance, physical protection, and even occasional donations of life's ne- cessities, including food. Clients owed their patrons corresponding oficia. They were expected to contribute to the dignitas of their patrons by calling on them at the salutatio, joining their entourage in public, sup- porting them in elections, and providing any number of unspecified ser- vices according to their abilities. For the humblest clients, who were the freedmen of their patrons, these services were legally mandated and called operae. Much of our knowledge regarding Roman clientelage is drawn from sources later than Plautus.29 Nonetheless, in Stichus the relationship between Gelasimus and the two families clearly is patronal in its asymmetry, expected reciprocity, duration, and personal nature.30 The parasite and the families of the two sisters are, of course, of un- equal status. The relationship between Gelasimus and the families is a personal one and of some duration, though in a state of neglect at the time of the play. Finally, Gelasimus performs miscellaneous tasks for his patron families in the expectation that he will be fed in return. These tasks anticipate the sundry ofJicia of the imperial client: Panegyris dis- patches Gelasimus on an errand, to go to the harbor and see if her hus- band's ship has come in (150-54). Shortly after, when Panegyris' slave

290n the reciprocal obligations of patrons and clients see, e.g., the Augustan anti- quarian Dionysius of Halicarnassus 2.9-10; the satirists Martial and Juvenal document the travails of neglected clients; Digest book 38.1 preserves some of the ample imperial jurisprudential tradition regarding operae and other legal obligations of freedmen. On the passage in Dionysius see Wallace-Hadrill 1989.

'OGelasimus is not explicitly identified as a cliens. Damon (1997) has argued that an explicit connection between parasitus and cliens emerged only in the satire of Juvenal and Martial. However, I follow Saller (1982, 8-22) in rejecting the notion that patronage is indicated only where the words patronus and cliens are used. Saller looks at the basic characteristics of patronal relationships: their extralegal character and asymmetry, their reciprocity, and their durative and personal quality. Words that imply the presence of these characteristics, such as fides and officium, likely indicate the existence of patronal relations.

Pinacium arrives from the harbor with the news that the brothers have returned and begins to supervise a cleanup of the house for the arrival of his master, Epignomus, Gelasimus willingly joins in (346-60). He also offers to oversee the sacrifice that Panegyris has ordered her slaves to prepare in honor of her husband's return (396-97). The food Gelasi- mus hopes to receive in return for these services represents the ofJicium owed him by his patrons, material assistance that he needs for survival.

Gelasimus' readiness to perform these small offices has a clear comic motivation that could have been present in Menander: here's a parasite ready to do anything for a meal!31 At the same time, the para- site's readiness to work along with the household slaves suggests that his situation has deteriorated, in Roman terms, to that of the humblest of clients, the ex-slave. The point is implied in Panegyris' rejection of Gelasimus' offer to supervise the sacrifice-she tells him she has enough slaves at home (397). Gelasimus' humble status is also sug- gested by the familiar and even contemptuous tone taken with him by slaves such as Crocotium (235-64) and Pinacium (314-401). But Gelasi- mus is not a freedman; the parasite's services are volunteered, not man- dated. Plautus has suggested these parallels between Gelasimus and the most humble class of clients in order to emphasize the condition of Rome's poor, whose situation had grown more desperate in the Hanni- balic war. Such citizens were more dependent than ever on aristocratic protectors for their survival and may have relied on their patrons for food.32

The dependency of these citizens is reflected in Gelasimus' raven- ous hunger, which Plautus connects directly with the Carthaginian war in Gelasimus' joke that, like an elephant, he has been pregnant for ten years-with hunger (167-70). The parasite establishes a specific connec- tion with Rome's hard-pressed plebeians through a reference to the plebeian aediles, the sponsors of the Ludi Plebeii at which Stichus was being performed. Gelasimus observes that the slave Pinacium is bossing others around without the proper authority: Sine suffragio populi tamen aedilitatem hicquidem gerit (352-53). Another connection between

?'Millett (1989) notes that in New Comedy the relationship between the parasites and his rich "victim" has many of the hallmarks of a patron-client relationship.

'2On famine and food shortages in the Hannibalic war see Garnsey (1988, 182- 97). Garnsey argues that in times of famine private patronage can be assumed to have ex- isted (177): "Rich men supported their poor retainers. The practice does not feature in the annalistic record because it was regarded as essentially a private matter."

Gelasimus and those in the audience who had seen hard times is im- plied in the parasite's auctioning off of his "belongings," actually his witticisms. He teases the audience that he is forced to adopt a "barbar- ian," that is, Roman, custom because he has to act as his own auction- eer: haec verba subigunt me uti mores barbaros discam (193-94). Barba- rus in this context is semantically complex. In a literal sense, Gelasimus is nominally a Greek and, as a Greek, would have considered the Ro- mans barbari. In Plautus, however, barbarus as Roman turns into an in- side joke, through which Romans were able to laugh off Greek preten- sions to superiority.33 The parasite also solicits the spectators directly as potential bidders at the auction, direct address that suspends the dra- matic illusion and implies that the real concern is not a fantasy set in Athens but what is actually happening at Rome (218-34).34 The auction itself and the joke he makes about it help Gelasimus establish himself to the audience as "one of them," both a fellow sufferer and a Roman.

While Gelasimus seems willing enough to observe the obligations he owes his patron, Epignomus, the patron and his family fail to honor the obligations they owe Gelasimus. After Epignomus left for Asia, the parasite received no invitations from his patron's wife-neglect that has brought the parasite to the brink of starvation and causes him to won- der (demiror) at Panegyris' request that he perform an oficium for her, to check things out at the harbor (266-68). Neglect of Gelasimus con- tinues even after the brothers return. As Gelasimus learns from Pina- cium that Epignomus has returned laden with wealth, he thinks that his ship too, as it were, has come in. He cancels the auction and hopes that at last he can cast away hunger (364-87). But then Pinacium tells him that Epignomus has also brought back new parasites, companions who are exceptionally witty: (Pin.) Post autem aduexit parasitos secum. (Gel.) Ei, perii miser. (Pin.) Ridiculissimos (388-89). In other words, Gelasimus has been supplanted by new dependents from Asia. He exits

''At Mostellaria 828 Tranio praises the solidness of Simo's house, observing that no pultiphagus opifex barbarus had built it. In Casina the slave Olympio orders an elabo- rate wedding feast and declares his disdain for "flat Roman fare" (as Nixon translates in the Loeb edition): nil rnoror barbaric0 bliteo (748). Similar gibes at Roman barbari appear at Captivi 492, Curculio 150, and Miles Gloriosus 211 (the famous reference to Nae- vius, the poeta barbarus).

'4Gelasimus also addresses the audience directly at 579-81. He is the only char- acter in Stichus who breaks the dramatic illusion in this manner. The parasite's intention to donate to Hercules a tenth of his profits (233-34) is another indicator of his "Ro- manness."

with the realization that the end is near unless he can displace those who have apparently just displaced him. But his efforts come to naught. When Gelasimus reenters, Epignomus refuses him a place at the table, offering as his excuse that nine guests, envoys from Ambracia, have al- ready been invited. Gelasimus offers to dine in the position of least prestige, leaving the place of honor to the foreigners: summi accum- bent, ego infimatis infimus (493). In this too he is rejected. The parasite exits to consult his friends (503-4).

The social context of Gelasimus' rejection as a client is Roman, for the details of the dinner from which he is excluded are Roman: Ro- man dinners typically accommodated three to nine guests, who reclined on couches that were accorded different levels of prestige, from the lectus summus to the lectus infimus, where Gelasimus offers to recline." Moreover, Plautine sleight of hand connects Gelasimus' displacement from the dinner table directly to the current crisis. For it is not the parasiti ridiculissimi from Asia who ultimately take Gelasimus' place at dinner, but a group of Greek ambassadors from Ambracia. These am- bassadors would have reminded many in the audience of the embassies dispatched by Aetolia, Athens, and other Greek states to complain about the aggressions of Philip and which played a role in fomenting senatorial sentiment in favor of war. It may also be significant that these Greek ambassadors are from Ambracia in northwest Greece, a region that could have been associated in Roman minds with Aetolia, which in the tradition was the first Greek state to complain about Philip.36

A scene follows in which the brothers Epignomus and Pamphilip- pus are reconciled with their father-in-law (505-79). This reconcili- ation helps to emphasize the final rejection of Gelasimus in the next scene (579-640). This time Gelasimus is derided by both brothers; he exits to kill himself. Critics have tended to focus on Gelasimus' jokes and his talent for humor in the face of disaster.37 But Gelasimus may

'jThe motif persisted as a traditional topos for indignation. Cf. Juvenal 3.81-83. where the Roman cliens complains that eastern clienres have taken his place at dinner.

7hThis may be as close as Plautus gets to direct reference to current political situa- tion. However, there may be further oblique allusion in the names of the two brothers. "Pamphilippus" is a plausible reminder for Philip V. "Epignomus" may have alluded to the Centuriate Assembly's reversal of its initial decision about the war: gnome, of course. contains the idea of decision or resolution; the prefix epi-may connote the idea of doing an action over again (LSJ G.4).

37According to Duckworth (1952, 266), Gelasimus' only purpose in the play "is to arouse laughter by his frantic but unsuccessful attempts to gain a meal." In contrast,

give the audience reason to think as well as laugh. His rejection by his former patrons is especially striking because Gelasimus is displaced by outsiders, people who had, in the ordinary Roman ethical view of the matter, less claim than he on his patrons' support. Stichus ends in a series of celebrations that include everyone-husbands and wives, father-in-law and sons-in-law, even foreigners and rioting Greek slaves-everyone, that is, but Gelasimus.


If the audience took any pleasure in Gelasimus' frustration, their plea- sure would have been legitimized morally by the parasite's possible role earlier in reducing the brothers to poverty. The more the parasite was held responsible for bringing about the brothers' ruination and neces- sary separation from their wives, the easier it would have been to laugh at his exclusion from the celebrations that mark the spouses' reunion. Menander's play may have offered a clearer presentation of the para- site's past excesses.38 In Plautus, on the other hand, the theme is pres- ent only as a series of hints: at 406-9, the mention of poverty and the quarrel it brought about between father-in-law and sons-in-law; at 628, Epignomus' accusation that earlier Gelasimus had brought the brothers to ruin: Dum parasitus mi atque fratri fuisti, rem confregimus. Instead, the Roman poet has emphasized the parasite's hunger and his dependency on his patrons for his livelihood; at the same time Plautus has brought Gelasimus closer to his Roman audience, has made him seem "Roman," through the convention of direct address and jokes and references to Roman institutions and experience. These Plautine inno- vations suggest that the Roman poet was calling for a more sympathetic reaction to the parasite, one that he was likely to get from the audience of the Ludi Plebeii.

Dunkin (1946, 86) has argued that parasites were a class which "none but a social order so selfish as to be utterly hard-hearted, could possibly regard as amusing." Arnott (1972, 70), in his appreciation of Gelasimus, discerns a pattern of artistic, thematic, and linguis- tic links between the parasite and other parts of the play. He demurs from deciding how much of Gelasimus is Plautine, or how much Menandrian; instead, he suggests that the parasite is "a perfect amalgam of the mercurial artistry of Menander with the golden clowning of Plautus."

'Webster (1960, 143-44) argues that the details of the brothers' earlier dissipation would have been made clear in the first act of Menander's play.

This sympathy is encouraged by Plautus' insertion of the recon- ciliation of Antipho and his sons-in-law (505-78) between two scenes in which Gelasimus is rejected, first by Epignomus (454-504), and then by both brothers (579-640). In the reconciliation, Antipho requests a gift from his son-in-law Epignomus: a pretty girl musician to enjoy in bed, maybe even more. The old man suggests that it would be only fair (aequom, 559) for his son-in-law to give him a girl, since he himself had given his son-in-law a dowered daughter. Aequom is, like ofJicium, a charmed word. Its reappearance here, albeit in a humorously sub- verted context, recalls the treatment of the ofJicium theme in the open- ing scenes of the play. The concern then was narrowly with obligations owed by one family member to another.39 But Roman ofJicia had a wider embrace and included obligations outside the family, such as the obligations between patrons and clients. The sandwiching of the family reconciliation between two scenes in which the client parasite is re- jected draws a connection between the narrower and wider aspects of oflcium. Earlier Antipho is judged harshly for neglecting his oflcium to his sons-in-law. Now, it is implied, the families should suffer similar judgment for neglecting their dependent, Gelasimus. A detail in the reconciliation scene (553-54) may remind us specifically of the neglect of the parasite: Antipho tells Epignomus that he would be willing to receive a gift of as many as four flute girls-provided he didn't have to feed them! Antipho wants other dependents so long as he does not have to provide for them.

Plautus has done something else to tip the moral scale against An- tipho and his sons-in-law: he makes these characters seem "more Greek." Antipho couches his request for flute girls in a transparent fa- ble which he calls an apologus (538): There was once an old bachelor with married daughters. The younger brother brought back a harp girl and a flute girl from abroad. Wouldn't it be fair, said the old man in the fable, to give me someone to sleep with, since I gave you a wife? The apologus made Antipho's intentions all too clear. Both brothers play on the word. One asks ironically, "I wonder where this apologus is headed?" (541) "What a relevant apologus!" exclaims the other (544). Banter of this sort continues until Antipho's hopeful conclusion of the apologus, according to which the father-in-law and sons-in-law reach

'"ee Arnott 1972, 59-61, on the repetition of aequom at 559

an agreement (565-66). Then the old man announces to Epignomus and Pamphilippus that he will go and greet his daughters and get ready for the party. The brothers again express their admiration at his cleverness:

AN. sed ego ibo intro et gratulabor vostrum adventum filiis.

poste ibo lautum in pyelum, ibi fovebo senectutem meam.

post ubi lavero, otiosus vos opperiar accubans.-

PAM. graphicum mortalem Antiphonem! ut apologum fecit quam fabre!

EPIG.etiam nunc scelestus sese ducit pro adulescentulo. (567-71)

Plautus stresses the Greekness of Antipho through a striking con- centration of Greek words: apologus, pyelum, and graphicum. Attention is drawn to apologus through repetition. It is significant that the ad- jective graphicus has undergone a semantic change from its original signification: Greek graphikos indicates skill in the arts of writing or drawing; in Plautus graphicus describes cleverness or cunning; its use here is almost certainly a Plautine inno~ation.~~

Roman semantic ma- nipulation of the Greek word suggests that Plautus intended to charac- terize Antipho's senescent sexual drive as Greek. Plautus' linguistic em- phasis of the Greekness of these characters gives the audience further license to condemn them. Antipho and his sons-in-law fail to meet their Roman oficia and give themselves over to Greek indulgence.


Plautus resumes the theme of Greek indulgence in the conclusion of Stichus (641-775), the wildest and most Greek of all Plautine revels. Greek words appear here in greater abundance and frequency than anywhere else in Plautus. Stichus sets the tone when he proposes to his fellow slave, Sangarinus, that they take an "Athenian holiday": Athenas nunc colamus (670). Sangarinus is in a mood to celebrate; he has just re- turned with the brothers and is full of good spirits, prothymiae (659). No other parties are being given that day; the two friends must take care of themselves alone, monotropi (689). Moreover, things must be celebrated on a slave's budget: they divide the caresses of the courtesan Stephanium between themselves and drink from cheap Samian ware, for the scaphiurn, cantharus, and batiocha are wine cups of the wealthy (693-94). Sangarinus appoints Stichus the strategus (702) of the party; this reflects the Greek custom where a symposiarch determined the strength and quantity of the wine the other revelers would drink. There is music, and Stichus is inspired to sing a scolion, a Greek drinking ditty (707). Both slaves end up drunk and dancing insanely:

SA. Qui Ionicus aut cinaedicust, qui hoc tale facere possiet?
STI. Si istoc me vorsu viceris, alio me provocato.
SA. fac tu hoc modo.
STI. at tu hoc modo.
SA. babae!
STI. tatae!
SA. papae! (769-71)

Earlier Plautus has suggested that Antipho's party plans with the flute girls were a species of Greek immorality. In this scene, another concentration of Greek words marks out as Greek the slaves' wild party. Here again Plautus draws a contrast between Greek license and the neglect of the parasite. This contrast pivots on the Greek word prothyrniae, goodwill. Preparing his final exit, Gelasimus complains that not only is food expensive, but human kindness and goodwill have per- ished: viden benignitates horninurn ut periere et prothyrniae? (636). The parasite then exits having announced his intention to die; the slave revel commences. In happy contrast Stichus trumpets the joy of the revel (658-59): quot risiones, quot iocos, quot sauia, saltationes blan- ditias, prothymias! While there is no goodwill for Gelasimus, there's plenty to go around for everyone else, even the slaves.


Two brothers travel east; while they are away, their families neglect their obligations to a dependent, who is left to starve. Even when they return laden with wealth, they offer the dependent no relief, replacing him instead with other dependents from abroad. Considered in these schematic terms, Stichus reflects aspects of the political situation in Rome at the end of the war with Hannibal. Gelasimus suggests the de- pendency of the common citizens who had been hard pressed by the war. The ruin of farms in the war may have highlighted the moral obli- gations of the powerful, for many common citizens were more depen- dent than ever on their patrons. The Senate's stated policy of pursuing hostilities with Philip to protect Rome's friends in the Greek East, de- spite the postwar exhaustion of the beleaguered plebs, is broadly re- flected in the neglect of the starving Gelasimus and his replacement by new dependents. The oficium theme of Stichus suggests an important moral dimension of the debate over the obligations of war: whether Rome should observe its oficia to dependents in the East, or those at home.

Another ethical term, aequom, a word that denotes equity, may also have figured in the political crisis of 200 B.C. The word appears re- peatedly in the opening scenes of the play, and later Antipho cites it as an ethical principle when he requests a girl, or several girls, in return for the daughter he had given in marriage. In Livy's narration of the events of 200 that year the state creditors who insisted on repayment of their loans appealed to this same principle of aequom. The presence of aequom both in the text written in 200 B.C. and the later text about events that took place in the same year suggests that the word had a specific political import at that time, an import that went beyond a ge- neric sense of equity. Finally, Plautus may intend a parallel between An- tipho, who appeals to aequom in his selfish request of one or more flute girls (principal plus interest?) while Gelasimus is starving, and those wealthy state creditors, who appealed to the same ethical idea in de- manding the state repay them the remaining interest on their loans, while many of their fellow citizens were close to ruin.41

The decision to go to war in 200 B.C. was controversial. Plautus' sympathetic depiction of the starving parasite Gelasimus indicates that he enlisted in the debate on the side of a hard-pressed plebs, who had good reasons not to want the war. It is significant, then, that Plautus wrote Stichus for production at the Ludi Plebeii, whose remote origins are associated with plebeian self-consciousness and the expression of

41Aequomis a broad ethical concept and could have played a wider role in the de- bate, especially in a controversy over the proper observance of officium. In his speech in favor of the war the consul Galba warns the Roman people not to equate (aequare) Philip with the enemy they have just defeated: Ne aequaveritis Hannibali Philippum nec Carrhaginiensibus Macedonas: Pyrrho certe aequabitis. (Aequabitis) dico? Quantum vel vir viro vel gens genripraestat! (31.7.8). Galba's use of aequare may have been intended to offer another twist to a current political catchword.

the plebs' separate identity.42 Plautus' position in the controversy aligns him with the tribune Q. Baebius, who spoke so effectively against the war on behalf of the people. It may thus be significant that another Bae- bius, possibly the tribune's brother, Cn. Baebius, was that same year one of the two plebeian aediles who sponsored the Ludi Plebeii and commissioned the play.43

One final speculation regarding an aspect of the political debate that may be reflected in Plautus' use of ethnic stereotypes in the play: Stichus begins with a portrait of two wives who seem almost like Ro- man aristocrats in their concern for moral ideas such as oficium and pietas. In contrast, through the use of Greek words Plautus has empha- sized the "Greekness" of the characters who do not honor their oficium to Gelasimus, Antipho and his sons-in-law. Plautus further asso- ciates this Greekness with debauchery, implied in Antipho's obsession with flute girls and the wild revel of Greek slaves that ends the play. We see here a reflection of the rough and slanderous side of the debate on the war, in what may be read as an insinuation of Greek immorality aimed at the war's proponent^.^^

l2On the plebeian identity and the origins of the Ludi Plebeii see Wiseman (1995, 134-36). who notes the evidence of a Ciceronian scholiast that attributes the origins of these games to plebs' struggle for liberty in the early Republic (Ps.-Asconius 217 St, on Cic. In Verr. 1.31): Plebeii ludi, quos exactis regibus pro libertate plebis fecerunt. An pro reconciliatione plebis post secessionem in Aventinum? Drama produced at the Ludi Ple- beii may have had a continuing tradition of presenting themes of concern to plebeians. Wiseman (1998. 52-59) speculates that a tragedy commemorating the murder of Gaius Gracchus was presented at the Ludi Plebeii of 108 B.C.

"Nothing else is known about Q. Baebius the tribune. However. the aedile, Cn. Baebius Tamphilus (later praetor, 199, and consul, 182) was the son of another Q. Baebius: Q. Baebius Tamphilus, who took part in the embassy to Hannibal at Saguntum in 219 and to Carthage in 218. This suggested to Broughton (1951, 326) that the two were brothers. As indicated above (note 14), others have discerned the opposition of Scipio Africanus himself to the Macedonian war, and there may have been links between the Baebii and Scipio: cf. Briscoe 1973,70-71.

"On an interest in Greek culture as a motivation for Roman opprobrium see Gruen 1984, 260-66. If indeed Scipio Africanus was popularly associated with opposition to the war. the insinuation of Greek immorality aimed at the war's proponents would pay back a similar attack aimed at Scipio a few years earlier, when he was in Sicily get- ting ready to take on Hannibal. Scipio was reproached for behaving like a Greek (Liv. 29.19.12): "He would walk about the gymnasium in a Greek cloak and sandals: he turned his attention to books and the palaestra."

Stichus may never be for us a great play; however, it may not have been as bad a play as the scholarly consensus thinks it was. Stichus is carefully connected with the political realities that prevailed in Rome in 200 B.C. Those realities inform the play and help make sense of what otherwise seems a collection of loosely connected episodes. True, Stichus lacks the polished plot of Menander, a quality that we are able to appreciate over the great gulf of time and culture. Nonetheless, for its original audience, the Roman audience at the Ludi Plebeii of that year, this play likely offered some trenchant reflection of the contemporary political situation as well as some moments of brilliant political satire.45



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