Titus Maccius Plautus Mostellaria I.iii

seated woman with perfume flask
Seated veiled woman in Greek dress filling perfume vial
Wall fresco, Rome, end 1st century BCE

Philematium and Scapha are dramatic characters, not historical women of 2nd century BCE Rome. However, despite the distortions typical of comedy, their characterization permits valuable insights into the roles of and attitudes toward actual women of the Republican period, about whose individual lives contemporary testimony is scarce. Philematium is a young meretrix, recently bought out of slavery by her lover, Philolaches. It is not clear how she entered her profession, but, given her slave name, she may have originated in the Hellenistic East or Magna Graecia. Scapha is an old woman, once a sought-after meretrix but now Philematium's slave and perhaps her future destiny. Their interaction in this excerpt (ll.188-292) from the toilette scene early in the play illustrates the divide between meretrix and matrona, as Scapha urges Philematium to use her youth and beauty to economic advantage in her new status as a free woman. Although Philematium's loyalty and gratitude toward Philolaches are noble, Livy’s story about the fate of young Hispala Faecenia after her mistress freed her in 186 BCE supports Scapha’s dire warnings based on her own experience. Philolaches stands outside this scene, unengaged in the discussion of whether Philematium should choose the path of meretrix or matrona; his asides, which appear in English translation below, are the characteristic expressions of the comic adulescens in love, concerned only with his pleasure. Philematium's words and behavior, however, are uncharacteristic of her comic role. In the passage below the language she uses to describe her behavior toward Philolaches is more often associated with expectations of married women rather than prostitutes, as Scapha is quick to point out (l. 190): dedication to one man (univira), compliance (morem gerere, opsequens), and good repute (bona fama). Scapha finally concedes that if Philematium has both assurance of livelihood (victum sempiternum) and commitment (amatorem tibi proprium futurum), then Philematium should bind her hair, symbolically a bride at the wedding ceremony (capiundas crines). Having accepted Philematium's intention to adopt the lifestyle of the matrona, for the remainder of the scene Scapha advises her not to concern herself with jewelry or cosmetics and perfume and warns her to remove the scent of silver from her mirror on her hands lest she seem to be doing business. Is Philematium the golden-hearted courtesan who abandons her many admirers for love of her client, a true foil to the opportunistic Scapha? Or, is she performing the role of prospective matrona in the hope that Philolaches will marry a former meretrix, an act forbidden to Roman citizens by custom and law? The question remains unresolved, as Philematium is not seen again; the play ends with the announcement that she ran away with Philolaches into the countryside.

188  SC. Tu ecastor erras, quae quidem illum expectes unum atque illi

morem praecipue sic geras atque alios asperneris.

190  matronae, non meretricium est unum inservire amantem.

Philolaches. Oh Jupiter, what is this evil now turned against my house? May all the gods and goddesses kill me in the worst ways, if I do not kill that slave woman with thirst, hunger, and cold!

PHILEM. Nolo ego mihi male te, Scapha, praecipere. SC. Stulta es plane,

195  quae illum tibi aeternum putes fore amicum et benevolentem.

moneo ego te: te ille deseret aetate et satietate.

PHILEM. Non spero. SC. Insperata accidunt magis saepe quam quae speres.

postremo, si dictis nequis perduci, ut vera haec credas

mea dicta, ex factis nosce rem. vides quae sim et quae fui ante.

200  nihilo ego quam nunc tu amata sum atque uni modo gessi morem,

qui pol me, ubi aetate hoc caput colorem commutavit,

reliquit deseruitque me. tibi idem futurum credo.

Philolaches. Scarcely am I able to keep from striking out the eyes of that instigator!

PHILEM. Solam ille me soli sibi suo sumptu liberavit.

205  illi me soli censeo esse oportere opsequentem.

Philolaches. By the immortal gods, a woman crafty and with natural chastity! By Heracles, the deed was worth it, and I rejoice that I have nothing because of her!

SC. Inscita ecastor tu quidem es! PHILEM. Quapropter? SC. Quae istuc cures

ut te ille amet. PHILEM. Cur obsecro non curem? SC. Libera es iam!

210  tu iam quod quaerebas habes: ille te nisi amabit ultro,

id pro capite tuo quod dedit perdiderit tantum argenti.

Philolaches. By Heracles, may I die if I do not destroy her in the worst ways! That evil-plotting madam is corrupting this woman.

PHILEM. Numquam ego illi possum gratiam referre ut meritu’st de me.

215  Scapha, id tu mihi ne suadeas, ut illum minoris pendam.

SC. At hoc unum facito cogites: si illum inservibis solum

dum tibi’st nunc haec aetatula, in senecta male querere.

Philolaches. I wish that I now would turn into a suffocating disease so that I may snatch that witch’s throat and kill that wicked instigator.

220  PHILEM. Eundem animum oportet nunc mihi esse gratum, ut impetravi,

atque olim, priusquam id extudi, cum illi subblandiebar.

Philolaches. May the gods do as they wish with me, if I do not free you again on account of that response and if I do not destroy Scapha.

SC. Si tibi sat acceptum est fore tibi victum sempiternum

225  atque illum amatorem tibi proprium futurum in vita,

soli gerundum censeo morem et capiundas crines.

PHILEM. Ut fama est homini, exin solet pecuniam invenire.

ego si bonam famam mihi servasso, sat ero dives.

Philolaches. By Heracles, if my father has to be sold, would that he come soon before I, while I’m alive, ever allow you to go without and go begging!

231  SC. Quid illis futurum est ceteris qui te amant? PHILEM. Magis amabunt,

cum me videbunt gratiam referre bene merenti.

Philolaches. Would that I receive word that my father is dead so that I may disinherit myself and make her my heir!

235  SC. Iam ista quidem absumpta res erit: dies noctesque estur bibitur,

neque quisquam parsimoniam adhibet: sagina plane est.

Philolaches. By Heracles, it’s a sure thing that I’ll be thrifty on you first of all; for you will neither eat nor drink anything at my house for ten days.

PHILEM. Si quid tu in illum bene voles loqui, id loqui licebit:

240  nec recte si illi dixeris, iam ecastor vapulabis.

Philolaches. By Pollux, if I had paid as much money for a bull to be sacrificed to highest Jove as I spent for her freedom, never would I have spent it so well! Can’t you see that she loves me from the depths of her heart? O, what a lucky guy I am: I have freed a patron who will speak in my defense.

245  SC. Video te nihili pendere prae Philolache omnes homines.

nunc, ne eius causa vapulem, tibi potius adsentabo,

Si acceptum sat habes, tibi fore illum amicum sempiternum.


PHILEM. Cedo mi speculum et cum ornamentis arculam actutum, Scapha,

ornata ut sim, cum huc adveniat, Philolaches voluptas mea.

250  SC. Mulier quae se suamque aetatem spernit, speculo ei usus est:

quid opu’st speculo tibi, quae tute speculo speculum es maxumum?

Philolaches. Lest you will have spoken so cleverly in vain, Scapha, on account of your words today I will give a reward – to you, my Philematium.

PHILEM. Suo quique loco (viden?) capillus satis compositu’st commode.

255  SC. Ubi tu commoda es, capillum commodum esse credito.

Philolaches. Ah! What worse thing is able to be recalled than that woman! One moment that wicked woman is an ass-kisser, another just a pain in the ass!

PHILEM. Cedo cerussam. SC. Quid cerussa opu’st nam? PHILEM. Qui malas oblinam.

SC. Una opera, era, ebur atramento candefacere postules.

Philolaches. Cleverly spoken about the eye-liner and the ivory. Brava! I applaud you Scapha!

261  PHILEM. Tum tu igitur cedo purpurissum. SC. Non do. scita es tu quidem.

nova pictura interpolare vis opus lepidissimum?

non istanc aetatem oportet pigmentum ullum attingere,

neque cerussam neque melinum, neque aliam ullam offuciam.

265  PHILEM. Cape igitur speculum.

Philolaches. Oh miserable me, she gave the mirror a kiss! What I wouldn’t give for a stone, with which I could shatter the head of that mirror.

267  SC. Linteum cape atque exterge tibi manus. PHILEM. Quid ita, obsecro?

SC. Ut speculum tenuisti, metuo ne olant argentum manus,

ne usquam argentum te accepisse suspicetur Philolaches.

Philolaches. I don’t think I’ve seen a madam craftier than this one. How cleverly and artfully did it come into her mind about the mirror![LINK TO LENA]

272  PHILEM.Etiamne unguentis unguendam censes? SC. Minime feceris.

PHILEM. Quapropter? SC. Quia ecastor mulier recte olet, ubi nihil olet.

nam istae veteres, quae se unguentis unctitant, interpoles,

275  vetulae, edentulae, quae vitia corporis fuco occulunt,

ubi sese sudor cum unguentis consociavit, ilico

itidem olent, quasi cum una multa iura confudit coquos.

quid olant nescias, nisi id unum ut male olere intellegas.

Philolaches. How learnedly she understands everything! In no way is there anyone more learned than this learned woman. (To the audience) A very large portion of you audience members know this is the truth, all you who have old slave women at home for wives, whom you acquired with a dowry.

283  PHILEM. Agedum contempla aurum et pallam. satin haec me deceat, Scapha?

SC. Non me istuc curare oportet. PHILEM. Quem obsecro igitur? SC. Eloquar:

285  Philolachem, is ne quid emat, nisi quod sibi placere censeat.

nam amator meretricis mores sibi emit auro et purpura.

quid opu’st, quod suum esse nolit, ei ultro ostentarier?

purpura aetati occultandaest, aurum turpi mulieri.

pulchra mulier nuda erit quam purpurata pulchrior:

290  poste nequiquam exornata est bene, si morata est male.

pulchrum ornatum turpes mores peius caeno conlinunt.

Nam si pulchra est, nimis ornata est.

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