Almost every Plautus play that I have read begins with an acrostic that lays out the argumentum. Here's an example from the Menaechmi:

Mercator Siculus, quoi erant gemini filii,
Ei surrupto altero mors optigit.
Nomen surrepticii illi indit qui domist
Avos paternus, facit Maenaechmum e Sosicle.
Et is germanum, postquam adolevit, quaeritat
Circum omnis oras. post Epidamnum devenit:
Hic fuerat alitus ille surrepticius.
Menaechmum omnes civem credunt advenam
Eumque appellant meretrix, uxor et socer.
I se cognoscunt fratres postremo invicem.

I have even noticed some plays, like the Mercator, that have two.

Did Plautus write these acrostics? If not, who did and how do we know? Do we know if they were used in the performance?

1 Answer 1


We have no idea who wrote the argumenta for Plautus' plays.

Fontaine 1996 notes:

The acrostic argumentum prefixed to Gorgylio that spells out CURCULIO suggests that the paradigm [of Latin names for characters] had shifted in antiquity. However, because we do not know when these acrostic argumenta were written and because it remains possible that ancient readers interpreted Curculio as an authentic, archaic transliteration of Γοργυλίων, its evidentiary value is limited.

Hammond, Mack, Moskalew suggest that they were scholars in the second century:

Furthermore, scholars, probably during the second century A.D., composed brief summaries of the plots, called argumenta, in imacic seenarii. There survive for all the comedies of Plautus, except for the incomplete Bacchides and Vidularia, summaries the first letters of whose lines spell the names of the plays concerned, that is, acrostic summaries. For seven plays of Plautus...there are also non-acrostic summaries, as there are for all those of Terence.

They go on:

[Non-acrostic] ones for the plays of Terence are attributed to a scholar of the Hadrianic period, Sulpicius Apollinaris. [...] As the notes will indicate, the summaries show words and meaning characteristic of Silver Latin.

There's a very old hypothesis (at least as early as Wheeley's collection of Ben Jonson's works in 1756) that Priscian the Grammarian (5th/6th century CE) was its author. This is unlikely. One, it's attribution to Priscian is just a guess, included by "some editors" (though I'm not sure who was the first to do so). Moreover, the idea that acrostics are "late" is wrong, and acrostics have been used at least as early as Aratus' Phaenomena.

As Hammond, Mack, Moskalew above point out, the Latin is better located in the first couple centuries CE. Even as early as Smith's Dictionary do we find doubt based on style and word choice that Priscian could have written it.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.