REPUTATION OF PLAUTUS

This document was originally published in The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 2. ed. Alfred Bates. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1906. pp. 165-167.

By the Romans themselves various judgements have been passed on Plautus. Varro says if the Muses were to speak Latin they would borrow his language. Quintilian and Aulus Gellius speak of him with the highest praise; but Horace, whose judgement should have great weight, is not so favorable, as this criticism shows: "But our forefathers were taken with the jokes and numbers of Plautus, and admired them with too much indulgence, not to call it stupidity, if it be true that either you or I can distinguish a genteel from a clownish expression, and have ears fine enough to judge of the harmony and beauty of versification." It appears that Horace was not alone in this opinion, and that the court of Augustus had no greater liking than he, either for the versification or the pleasantries of Plautus.

As to his verses, it is certain that he was far from being exact. Nor is it less certain that he has flat, low and often extravagant pleasantries, but at the same time he has such as are fine and delicate. Cicero, for this reason, who was no bad judge of what the ancients called urbanity, proposes him as a model for raillery. The faults of Plautus, therefore, do not mar his excellence as a poet; they are very happily atoned for by many fine qualities, inasmuch that, in the judgment of some critics, he disputes the prize even with Terence himself.

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