Introduction and question
Metuis, crēdō, nē forēs sămiae sient.
You fear, I believe, that the doors may be Samian*.
* By [Henry Thomas Riley] translated as ‘of Samian crockery’.
By context, it appears that Pēniculus is implying that the doors are fragile. In the Perseus text, there is no footnote explaining this comparison. What is it about Samian [crockery] that makes this line work?
I apologise for not having more context or suggestions to provide; I do not have any of my books present (they’re not in this country), so I am unable to access much of the information I usually have access to. When looking the word up in L&S, I am redirected to the entry on Sămus, where it is written that:
I. An island on the coast of Asia Minor opposite Ephesus, famed as the birthplace of Pythagoras, as also for its earth and the vessels made from it,
My best guess, is that Pēniculus here is saying that Menaechmus is knocking so quietly that you’d think the doors were made of porcelain (Norwegian idiom meaning fragile). But could it perhaps rather be that Samian crockery was considered of poor quality – so that he is knocking quietly so as to not break some very shoddy doors? The L&S entry suggests otherwise. A bit further into the entry, one reads this:
testa, earthen-ware made of Samian (or other equally fine) clay
This suggests that the reference is more in line with our ‘of porcelain’. This is further strengthened by the Oxford Classical Dictionary entry on Roman pottery:
At the top of the quality scale were mass-produced vessels with a smooth red glossy surface designed for the table, notably eastern and western terra sigillata, or samian ware, whose Italian varieties (especially that from Arrezzo) were particularly widely distributed in the Augustan period.
I would love to get more input on this, however. My experience with Plautus, hints that there may be more behind his lines than there appears to be. It could just as well be that I am overanalysing this. If anyone with more insight than me into Roman comedy and/or culture could help clear this up, I would be very grateful.
My question, as stated above, is: What is it about Samian [crockery] that makes this line work? As a follow-up to this, I am inclined to ask about what we can, from lines such as these, infer about how the Roman theatre stage was decorated?