Miles Gloriosus (The Swaggering Soldier)



This section discusses Plautus's Miles Gloriosus.

Miles Gloriosus is a much more typical Plautine comedy: a young lover trying to be with the courtesan he loves, and a tricky slave who will arrange the union. The antagonist, a braggart warrior named Pyrgopolynices, is another stock character, and gives the play its title, . Palaestrio, the tricky slave, manages to convince Pyrgopolynices to send the courtesan away by explaining that there is another women who desires him even more. Palaestrio's little ruse works, leaving the audience with the desired happy ending.

While not as problematic as Captivi, Miles Gloriosus also presents some interesting angles on areas of Roman society. Courtesans, or kept women, appear in this play as objects to be possessed, rather than our notions of prostitutes. Philocomasium (the courtesan) stays with Prygopolynices until he dismisses her, although he did not purchase her for a sum of money (he instead talked with her mother and "persuaded" her to let him take the girl) so he apparently does not own her. In the context of the play, Palaestrio arranges her "dismissal" so that she is allowed to keep the clothing and jewelry, etc. which she received from Pyrgopolynices while she was staying with him. Thus, one could argue that she remained with him for financial reasons. However, given her profession it is hardly unlikely that she would be unable to find another man to support her in a similar fashion.

Another issue raised in Miles Gloriosus is that of marriage and children. Periplectomenus, an old man who helps Pleusicles win back Philocomasium, spends an entire scene debating the merits of marriage versus bachelorhood. He complains that women spend too much money, that he does not need children because he has relatives. Perhaps Plautus is just pulling this out for some cheap jokes about the stereotypical spending habits of women, but this line of reasoning runs against the family bonds exhibited in Captivi. In Captivi, Hegio bemoans the loss of his sons, taking to slave dealing to get one of them back. Rather than considering a wife and family a burden, he places a great importance on his sons. In a patriarchial society such as Rome, where the pater familias literally had the power of life and death over his family, one may see Periplectomenus's rantings simply as a counterpoint to Pleusicles constant statements of love and devotion (although the play never mentions that they will get married and have children). This contrast suggests to the audience that the best way to conduct one's personal affairs is not by falling in love with courtesans, nor by remaining a bachelor, but by getting married to a respectable woman and having children.

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