Miles Gloriosus is a comedic play written by Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254–184 B.C.). The title can be translated as "The Swaggering Soldier" or "Vainglorious Soldier". His source for Miles Gloriosus was a Greek play, now lost, called Alazon or The Braggart. Although the characters in Miles Gloriosus speak Latin, they are Greeks and largely have Greek names, clothing, and customs. The action takes place in Ephesus, a Greek city on the coast of Asia Minor, famous for its Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The play is thought to date from early in Plautus's career, partly because it contains no polymetric songs[clarification needed] (which became frequent in the later plays), and partly because lines 210–211 have been taken as a reference to the temporary imprisonment of the poet Naevius in 206 BC.
At 1437 lines this is Plautus's longest surviving play. Some scholars have suggested that it may combine two Greek originals; others have thought this unlikely. De Melo, however, suggests that Periplectomenus's long scene of self-praise (596–812) may come from another play; and the scene with Lurcio, which is not well integrated into the story, is also thought to be an addition invented by Plautus.
The play commences with the entrance of Pyrgopolynices (the alazon stock character 'Miles Gloriosus' of the play's title), looking heroic and posing in a pompous manner. Several minions carry the soldier's monstrous shield, and behind him is his "parasite", Artotrogus, who earns his meals by flattering the soldier excessively. The soldier constantly boasts about his accomplishments and portrays himself as a fantastic military hero. In reality, his accomplishments are far smaller, hence the play's title. These opening moments give the audience a sense of Pyrgopolynices' true nature.
After the soldier leaves the stage, Palaestrio, one of the main characters of the play, introduces himself. He tells the audience that he is a slave who formerly served a young Athenian, Pleusicles. Pleusicles had a girlfriend named Philocomasium, who was kidnapped from Athens by Pyrgopolynices, the soldier. When Palaestrio tried to reach his master with this bad news, the slave was seized by pirates and given, by chance, to the same soldier. Both he and the girl have been living in the soldier's house in Ephesus, but Palaestrio secretly sent a letter to his former master telling him where they are. Pleusicles has come to Ephesus and is staying with Periplectomenus, who lives next door to the soldier, and the cunning Palaestrio has cut a hole in the wall so the two lovers can meet one another.
Periplectomenus, an older man of Ephesus, then enters, worried because he has caught Sceledrus, one of Pyrgopolynices' slaves, on the roof, looking in through the skylight. This slave claims he was chasing a monkey, but Periplectomenus is sure that Philocomasium has been seen kissing her lover Pleusicles.
Palaestrio comes up with a plan to tell Pyrgopolynices that Philocomasium has a twin sister visiting Ephesus with her lover and mother and staying with Periplectomenus. Should Sceledrus make accusations, Palaestrio will refute the claim and say it's her twin. Periplectomenus goes back inside to tell Philocomasium what has happened and tell her the plan. Meanwhile, Philocomasium goes through the hole in the wall back into Pyrgopolynices' house, emerging from that house shortly afterward with Palaestrio. Philocomasium tells Sceledrus that she had a dream that her twin sister had arrived from Athens. Sceledrus has his doubts, so Philocomasium goes back into Pyrgopolynices' house, then through the hole in the wall and comes out of the other house as her twin sister. Meanwhile, Sceledrus stands guard outside Pyrgopolynices' house. Philocomasium comes out of Periplectomenus' front door, giving orders to slaves inside. She challenges Sceledrus when he addresses her as Philocomasium, and her manner is that of a free woman. She says her name is Dicea and that she has arrived the previous night from Athens and wants to try to find her twin sister Philocomasium. Sceledrus is now convinced. He promises Palaestrio that he will not speak of this again. Just then, Periplectomenus comes out and is furious at Sceledrus and how he has treated his "lady guest." He threatens to have him whipped but gets over it right away. Sceledrus is distrustful and believes that Periplectomenus and Palaestrio are plotting to catch him when the soldier returns home. He declares that he will lie low for a few days until the matter has cooled.
Palaestrio the slave, Periplectomenus the old man, and Pleusicles the young Athenian, all emerge from the house. Palaestrio has yet another plan to bring down Pyrgopolynices and get Philocomasium back. On request, Periplectomenus hands his ring to Palaestrio, who then explains his plan. He needs Periplectomenus to find an accomplished and beautiful woman, one who can act the part of Periplectomenus' wife and claim to be desperate to leave Periplectomenus for Pyrgopolynices. He also stipulates that this woman should have a maid. Periplectomenus knows just the woman: Acroteleutium, who has a maid called Milphidippa. He brings both women back to his house, explaining the scheme and their role in it. Meanwhile, Palaestrio tells Pyrgopolynices all about Periplectomenus' "wife" and gives him the ring. Pyrgopolynices agrees to meet her but doesn't know what to do with Philocomasium. Palaestrio tells him to let her go, and to let her keep all the gold and jewels that he got her so that she would not be upset.
Pyrgopolynices follows Palaestrio's advice and runs inside to tell Philocomasium. Moments later, he comes back and tells the audience he has succeeded. He gave her everything that she wanted, and he even gave her Palaestrio! At this time, Acroteleutium has come out of the house and begun to describe what she is feeling for the soldier. She proclaims that she can't take it anymore, and that her eyes will cut off her tongue when she catches a glimpse of him. The two meet, and Acroteleutium tells Pyrgopolynices to come to her husband's house. Pyrgopolynices is hesitant in this, but she explains that it was in her dowry that she is the one who gets to keep the house. The soldier tells her to wait inside for him. Just then, Pleusicles enters, dressed as a sailor, to inform Philocomasium that her boat is leaving.
The soldier says his final good-byes to Palaestrio and Philocomasium. Then a boy comes out of Periplectomenus's house and informs him that Acroteleutium is expecting him. As he is entering, he is ambushed by Periplectomenus and some slaves including his cook, Cario, who threatens to castrate the adulterer with his knife and hang his testicles round his neck. The men drag him into the street and begin to beat him for trying to make advances on a married woman. Pyrgopolynices begs them to stop; eventually giving the men a hundred drachmae to halt their punches. The men leave the beaten soldier to his own devices, after carrying off his tunic, sword and cloak. Suddenly, Sceledrus returns from accompanying Philocomasium to the port, and tells the soldier what really happened. Pyrgopolynices realizes that he has been tricked by Palaestrio. The play comes to an end when an actor tells the audience to applaud.
Further information: Metres of Roman comedy
The division of Plautus's comedies into five acts is not thought to go back to Plautus's time, despite the fact that his Greek models were so divided. Instead the plays seem to have been articulated by changes of metre. Often in Plautus's plays a metrical section will begin with iambic senarii (which were spoken without music), then optionally a scene of music in various metres, and finally a scene in trochaic septenarii, which were recited to the accompaniment of tibiae (a pair of reed pipes). Moore calls this the "ABC succession", where A = iambic senarii, B = other metres, C = trochaic septenarii. However, as in this play, the ABC order is sometimes varied.
Looked at in this light, the play can be divided into six sections, as follows:
The Miles Gloriosus is unusual in that, unlike all of Plautus's other plays, there are no polymetric cantica, or any songs in cretic or bacchiac metres; in fact only four metres are used in the whole play. The four musical "B" passages, as Moore points out, are all scenes involving women, and use these two metres:
Iambic septenarii were sung to, or accompanied by music, and are frequently used in Roman comedy in scenes associated with love.
It has been suggested that the Miles Gloriosus has a symmetrical construction. The opening, describing the arrogance of Pyrgopolynices and his abduction of Philocomasium, is mirrored by the ending, describing the rescue of Philocomasium and the humiliation of the soldier; while the two tricks played against the slave Sceledrus balance the two tricks played against Pyrgopolynices. A similar symmetrical scheme has been detected in the Bacchides.
Roman Comedy normally presents an erotic intrigue between a young man and a young woman, usually blocked by some opposition, such as the father figure of the young woman. During the play, this opposition is dealt with through various twists in the plot, and everything works out for the hero. Roman Comedy always has a happy ending, often taking place in a festival or party. In Miles Gloriosus the slave and townspeople work together to overthrow the soldier. Although we don't know the true past of the Braggart Soldier, we do know that he is the opposition that the two lovers must get through to be with each other.
William S. Anderson suggests that the quality of "heroic badness" has transformed the main character from a conventional hero to a clever slave who outwits his master. The reason is that more people could relate to the slave, and he was the only character that did not look foolish by the end of the play. Palaestrio solved the problem and defeated the soldier using his mind and not his brawn.
The stock character of the Braggart Soldier originated from this play. Afterward, he became a familiar character in many plays, transforming into other types of characters in later years. The Italian Commedia character, Il Capitano is an adaptation of the Braggart Soldier, as is Shakespeare's Ancient Pistol.
The Miles Gloriosus is believed to be adapted from a Greek comedy from the age of New Comedy, but it is not known from which author it is derived. Because there are two separate intrigues (the hole in the wall and the fake wife), and some puzzling details such as the lack of coherence between the end of Act 2 and the beginning of Act 3, it has been argued by some scholars that to make the plot Plautus may have joined together two separate Greek plays; however, other scholars have argued that there is insufficient evidence for this assumption. In her article, Blanche Brotherton points out that double intrigues are fairly common in comedic plots, and one Greek comedy, the Δὶς Ἐξαπατῶν (Dìs Exapatôn) "The Twice Deceiving" (the original of Plautus's Bacchides) even indicates a double intrigue in the title.
A more likely suggestion is that not the double intrigue, but the long and amusing (but irrelevant) discourse of Periplectomenus on the advantages of being unmarried (Act 3.1, lines 596–765) comes partly from another play, and in part is invented by Plautus himself. It is also thought that the scene with the drunken slave Lurcio or Lucrio (Act 3.2) is a Plautine addition, not part of the original Greek play.
The story itself contains elements which are familiar from a number of folk-tales recounted in later centuries in oriental countries: the hole in the wall through which the lovers meet, their escape by ship, assistance by the dupe himself, the dupe's surrender of the faithful slave and gift of valuables to the departing heroine are found in tales from Albania, Syria, Iraq, and Central Asia.
The miles gloriosus is the archetype of the boastful soldier (alazon) trope, so much so that his ego becomes his downfall. He tells many lies about himself: he crushes an elephant's hind leg with his fist, his children live a thousand years, and his would be a kingship were he alive at a different time. He believes that everyone loves him. In actuality, he is universally despised. His hubris undoes him as the other characters are able to steal back from under his nose the girl that he previously had stolen. An old man, a prostitute, and a slave work together to deceive him and steal the girl back. Posing as his neighbor's wife the prostitute pretends to be in love with him. Because he is so egotistical, he believes her. Without suspecting a trick, he loses the girl, and the lovers are reunited.
The debate about getting married and having children is one that Plautus, through the character Periplectomenus, brings up in the play. The senex, Periplectomenus, makes a long speech about his views on marriage and children. He states that it is not ideal to get married and that there is no use for having children. He thinks women only talk about frivolous matters and that they spend too much money; he does not want to be financially responsible for a wife or for children. He also states that he would worry too much about his children if he were to have any. This discussion of marriage and children shows the readers the positive and negative aspects of being married and having children. His views, however, run counter to other significant events in the play. The prostitutes show themselves as generous and kind when they help trick Pyrgopolynices and reunite the lovers. In doing so they also show their wit and resourcefulness. Periplectomenus himself shows a willingness to undergo hardship and risk in helping out a fellow creature. In sum his views on marriage and wives seem out of place in a play that otherwise offers kindness, generosity, and sacrifice as the antidote to ego, greed, and rapacity.
Though not a major part of the play or plot Plautus does explore the theme of drinking and drunkenness through the characters of Lurcio and Sceledrus. A slave of Pyrgopolynices, Lurcio encounters Palaestrio as he searches for Sceledrus. During this encounter Lurcio admits, in a rather sarcastic manner, that Sceledrus is asleep and that both he and Sceledrus are drunk on their master's stolen wine. Initially upset because he is unable to speak with Sceledrus, Palaestrio soon regains his composure. Through this scene Plautus provides comic relief, portraying the unifying laughter that alcohol can promote. Alcohol is the vehicle that awakens a person's joviality, enhancing their, and thereby the audience's, overall level of enjoyment. In this same scene Plautus also displays its negative effects. A few of them are theft, addiction, and lethargy. Both Lurcio and Sceledra know full well that they will face severe punishment if they are caught stealing their master's wine, but their addiction is sufficiently deep for them to disregard the potential consequences of their actions. An additional negative of alcohol is its sloth-inducing effect. After drinking heavily Sceledrus, who is supposed to be watching over Philocomasium, abandons his duties and responsibilities and instead falls asleep. Though he does not make it a major part of the play, Plautus does offer a nuanced look into the highs and lows of drinking and drunkenness.
Pyrgopolynices exhibits characteristics of the stock character, miles gloriosus, who boasts in an arrogant and self-righteous manner. His relationship with his hanger-on, Artotrogus, the stock character of the parasitus, reveals that he relies on others to glorify his deluded sense of self. So conceited is Pyrgopolynices, constantly talking about his many victories on the battlefield and in the bedroom, that Artotrogus is hardly needed. At first glance a character used solely to boost his master's ego, Artotrogus is primarily driven by his incessant need for food. His shameless compliments are so outrageously offered that they reveal a hidden agenda for his seemingly superfluous part: the compliments he offers are really insults, earning him his board and exposing his master's idiocy. Pyrgopolynices' pride blinds him to it all. He is fooled consistently by his underlings and everyone else whom he considers beneath him. His overdeveloped pride stands in stark contrast to a severely underdeveloped intellect that leaves him easy prey to his slave Palaestrio's machinations. Palaestrio cleverly pulls the wool over his master's eyes and frees the stolen Philocomasium from him. Easily the biggest fool of the play, Pyrgopolynices is readily manipulated and tricked by Palaestrio and others around him. The very women Pyrgopolynices lists as his conquests and idolizers mock, dupe, and deflate him. Plautus's work shows that in creating characters who appear masculine and macho but lack basic intelligence he is commenting on the Rome of his time and suggesting that true virtue and character lie within the hearts and minds of Romans with the ability to self-reflect and see the world through another's eyes.
Pyrgopolynices, the miles gloriosus, thinks of himself as a great general with great achievements and with great looks. In reality, his achievements are insignificant, his actual military prowess is inept, and his looks rendered repulsive by his character. For conquest he steals from Athens a defenseless woman by tricking with gifts her mother into thinking he is a nice guy. When the mother's back is turned he steals the daughter from underneath her. His exceptional brawn will be overpowered by play's end by a lowly cook. Pyrgopolynices consistently refers to his handsomeness and how it is such a curse because women who come across him are instantly attracted to him and will not stop pestering him. In reality, women abhor him and his presence. Pyrgopolynices' tremendous ego is matched by his fabulous stupidity. He is easily tricked by his slave, Palaestrio, the callidus servus, and thereby loses the woman he had abducted. In presenting an authority figure as so inept and devoid of any sense of self or decency, Plautus comments on the Rome of his time and presages the generals to come who will wreak havoc on the common folk of the dying Republic.
Over the course of the play, the protagonist Palaestrio and his cohort behave as good Greek (or, rather, Roman) citizens, exhibiting such virtues as hospitality and generosity (Periplectomenus), loyalty (Palaestrio to Pleusicles), and virtue (Philocomasium). Conversely, Pyrgopolynices and his household engage in vice, including womanizing and boastfulness (Pyrgopolynices) and sloth and excessive drinking (Lurcio and Sceledrus). Palaestrio and his cohort show the value of cooperation when they work together to convince Sceledrus (idiocy) that he did not see what he actually did. Later, by succeeding in tricking Pyrgopolynices (vanity and ego) and reuniting the lovers, Palaestrio and his allies show the superiority of virtue over vice. This is reinforced in the end as Pyrgopolynices, recognizing his defeat, remarks to the audience that they should 'serve all lechers so, and lechery will grow less rife'. His concession is a clear denunciation by the playwright of the soldier's corrupt ways.
The title of the play, The Swaggering Soldier, suggests that the hero is Pyrgopolynices, the Miles Gloriosus. Nothing could be further from the truth. The play's true hero comes from the unlikeliest of places—a slave . Before the play's start, Pyrgropolynices steals Philocomasium from her home, mother, and lover, Pleusicles. Palaestrio, Pyrgopolynices' slave and the play's true hero, seeks to right his master's wrong and reunite Philocomasium with her true love. He masterminds a plan to trick his fellow slave Sceledrus and his master Pyrgopolynices so that Philocomasium and Pleusicles can live happily ever after. Exploiting the stupidity of Sceledrus and Pyrgopolynices, Palaestrio succeeds. In this play Plautus shows his audience that anyone can be a hero, regardless of their situation.
The character "Miles Gloriosus" in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum takes his name from this play.