In defense of Myrrhina: friendship between women in Plautus's Casina.
The argumentative behavior of Myrrhina towards her friend, Cleostrata, in Act 2, Scene 2, of Plautus's Casina has struck many scholars as inconsistent with her amicable behavior elsewhere in the play. (1) When the two women meet in this scene, which is their first encounter on stage, Cleostrata expresses indignation towards her husband, and Myrrhina counters that her grounds for indignation are not valid. The friction between the two women is obvious, but later they cooperate fully in Cleostrata's efforts to humiliate her husband and foil his plan to rape the slave girl, Casina. The charge of inconsistency appears as early as Peter Langen (1886, 127), who stated simply, "Der Charakter der Murrhina ist nicht konsequent durch gefuhrt" (The character of Myrrhina is not executed consistently throughout), and as recently as Ariana Traill (2011, 502), who writes, "The betrayal is as short-lived as it is unexpected." (2) To Eduard Fraenkel (2007, 204), the difference in her behavior is so striking that he concludes it must be the result of Plautine interpolation:
The principles which Myrrhina espouses in lines 199-211 fit neither her character nor her behaviour during the rest of the play nor the nature of her friendship with Cleostrata. The two women are in complete harmony; the intimacy of their relationship is studiously emphasized at the beginning of this scene (179-83). Cleostrata is deeply worried; such cold-blooded opposition by her friend, as it is portrayed in only one set of lines, 199-211, is intolerable: it contradicts the way the Greek poet has clearly shaped the whole play.
The primary goal of my paper is to demonstrate that Myrrhina's behavior in Scene 2.2 is not inconsistent with her otherwise strong expressions of solidarity with Cleostrata; in fact, she acts precisely as a friend should by warning Cleostrata that her opposition to her husband could get her into serious trouble. Before delving into this, I will examine the methodological problems behind Langen's original proclamation and investigate why his conclusion--that Myrrhina's behavior is inconsistent--perseveres even though his methodology is now considered outdated.
Returning to the dramatic world of the Casina, the trouble arises when Cleostrata's husband, Lysidamus, makes a particularly overt and particularly grand effort to gain sexual access to their slave, Casina, who is of marriageable age. Lysidamus plans to arrange her marriage to his personal slave, Olympio, so that he can access Olympio's chambers and rape Casina without arousing the suspicions of his own wife, Cleostrata. Their son, Euthynicus, who is also interested in the young woman, has devised a similar plan to marry Casina to his own slave. Casina has no lines and the audience is never shown her perspective; she is a hapless bystander whose future will be decided by a handful of citizens who fight for the prestige that comes from controlling Casina as property. (3) Cleostrata, aware of her husband's intentions, attempts to keep Lysidamus from Casina by lending practical support to the efforts of their son. In private conversation with Myrrhina in Scene 2.2, Cleostrata argues that she, not her husband, should be allowed to arrange Casina's marriage, because Casina belongs to her. Myrrhina objects that women have no property and, therefore, everything Cleostrata claims to own actually belongs to her husband. We will look more closely at their disagreement momentarily.
Langen's search for problematic characters reflects a now outdated methodology: the nineteenth-century German philological tradition valued close reading with a view towards detecting inconsistencies, seen as corruptions created by the manuscript tradition, and then restoring the original text. While the approach was applied broadly to classical texts, it was particularly attractive for the study of Roman comedy, since the plays were adapted from now-lost Greek models, and indeed little Greek New Comedy was available at all. (4) This seemed to be the most fruitful way of uncovering the Greek original, as if one could peel back the (inferior) Roman layer and reveal the unadulterated masterpiece within--a desire that reflects a long tradition of philhellenism and the belief that Roman literature is merely derivative of Greek. But this approach is obviously flawed: if one sets out looking for inconsistencies, they will be found everywhere. Mary Daly (1985, 11) explains the nature of this circular trap:
One of the false gods of theologians, philosophers, and other academics is called Method. It commonly happens that the choice of a problem is determined by method, instead of method being determined by the problem. This means that thought is subjected to an invisible tyranny.... The tyranny of methodolatry hinders new discoveries. It prevents us from raising questions never asked before and from being illumined by ideas that do not fit into pre-established boxes and forms.
Under this tyranny of methodolatry, scholars found exactly what they were looking for. In fact, Langen's problematic statement appears in a section called "Widerspruche, Inkonsequenzen und psychologische Unwahrscheinlichkeiten" (Contradictions, Inconsistencies, and Psychological Improbabilities [1886, 89]). The very organization of his essay betrays the constraints of his methodology one prevalent in his time: when a scene did not make sense to the reader, the reader assumed the error lay with the text, not with his own interpretation.
Protestors against this model for interpreting Roman comedy can be found as early as the early twentieth century when Henry Prescott (1916, 126) proclaimed: "[T]he supposed abnormal features ... may not be explained as Roman defects due to contamination or retractation," but can be attributed rather to "internal or external necessity which, in my opinion, made them inevitable in the Greek original." Prescott's objections went largely unnoticed, and Kathryn Gutzwiller and Ann Michelini (1991, 67-8) demonstrate how the early German tradition continued to influence and limit subsequent approaches by privileging attention to minutiae and questions of authenticity regarded by some as the most objective form of literary study. Although few scholars of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries set out to uncover a Greek model by looking for inconsistencies, many nevertheless accept the received tradition that Myrrhina's character is inconsistent. (5) The recent trend is to dismiss it as unproblematic, stating that the dramatic necessity of the scene justifies the perceived inconsistencies in her character. (6) In the spirit of Prescott, I posit that Plautus wrote the script with care (whether he closely followed or altered this scene from his Greek model) and that Myrrhina's behavior in this scene can be understood in the context of her character, without resorting to the non-explanation of dramatic necessity.
It is not simply inherited methodological problems that hold us back, but also an androcentric bias that our culture brings to the text, which becomes evident when we look at the various explanations offered for Myrrhina's behavior in this scene. The confrontation between Myrrhina and Cleostrata is often interpreted as a debate between male and female points of view, and several early-twentieth-century scholars concluded that Myrrhina's behavior makes more sense if it comes from a man. Philippe Legrand (1902, 371) proposed that the oddity was due to contamination, because Plautus assigned lines to Myrrhina that Diphilus had assigned to a male character in his Kleroumenoi, the professed Greek source of Plautus's play (Cas. 31-2). (7) Fraenkel (1922, 299-301) agreed, seeing parallels to Menaechmi 775-802, in which a father rebukes his daughter for complaining about her husband. (8) These interpretations graft a relationship between two women onto a relationship between a man and a woman, not allowing for the possibility that the women's relationship with each other is the primary motivation for how they behave. These hypotheses reveal an assumption of maleness as the default gender, suggesting that Plautus has not done a sufficient job in transforming this particular character from male to female.
Androcentric bias in the study of Greek New Comedy is discussed at length by Madeleine Henry (1986, 141-2), who argues that we have been trained to think about comedy in terms of characters (ethoi) and that the male characters monopolize our attention. We are heavily influenced by formalistic approaches, like that of Northrop Frye (1957, 163), whose summary of New Comedy (Greek and Roman) perfectly encapsulates our preconceptions of the genre: "What normally happens is that a young man wants a young woman, that his desire is resisted by some opposition, usually paternal, and that near the end of the play some twist in the plot enables the hero to have his will" (emphasis mine). Although not all plots fit Frye's summary, it is nonetheless common to interpret New Comedy as the story of the young citizen man, and since he is the focal point, we view other characters in relation to him: his father, his mother, his best friend (male, of course), his trusty slave, or the woman he desires.
Thus we have a context in which to think about how men relate to other men, but when women are involved, we have been trained to think of them in terms of their relationships to men. When Myrrhina speaks, we think, "What bearing do her words have on the interests of the main characters in this play, that is, the men (father, son, and two male slaves) who vie for the girl?" In the early twentieth century, Legrand (1902) and Fraenkel (1922) went so far as to conclude that Myrrhina's lines must literally have been written for a male character. In the later twentieth century, scholars gravitated towards a less drastic solution but still understood the scene in terms of male versus female points of view: Eckard Lefevre (1979, 320) posited that Scene 2.2 is from the Diphilian original, in which Myrrhina is "shy" (that is, fearful of opposing male authority), but later scenes are Plautine interpolations, showing a bold Myrrhina who is willing to take on the male establishment. Monika Waltenberger (1981, 444) did not propose that Plautus has adapted the Greek model per se, but believed that there was an inconsistency, which she explained as Plautus making a metatheatrical statement acknowledging the male actor behind the mask.
By viewing the play narrowly as the story of the citizen man, we mistakenly map all relationships back to him. The received scholarly tradition only compounds the problem, because even as we stop thinking about Roman comedies as modified versions of Greek originals, we nonetheless cling to the idea that Myrrhina here represents and advocates for the masculine point of view. If we approach Scene 2.2 as an interaction between two female friends, however, we are able to understand that Myrrhina is not the playwright's proxy for a man; rather, she acts precisely as we would expect a friend to act, with Cleostrata's best interests at heart, and in a way that Myrrhina believes will be most effective. Her words do explain the masculine point of view, but not because she agrees with it; rather, she uses her awareness of the dominant, male culture to alert Cleostrata to the danger of opposing male authority. But to understand why so many have viewed Myrrhina's behavior in Scene 2.2 as unfriendly and therefore inconsistent with her behavior later in the play, we must first look more closely at the nature of her disagreement with Cleostrata. We turn now to a more detailed reading of this scene.
The Cause of Cleostrata's Distress
The conflict between Myrrhina and Cleostrata is prompted by a disagreement Cleostrata has with her husband, Lysidamus. As master of the house, he claims the right to arrange Casina's marriage, while Cleostrata claims the same right as the person who oversees the daily operations of the female slaves. Their positions reveal a conflict between formal laws and the unwritten customs regarding a married woman's relationship to her female slaves: Cleostrata's attendants are legally the property of her husband, but the female slaves are under the charge of the mistress of the house, and Cleostrata has grown accustomed to making decisions about Casina's care. We are also told in the prologue that Casina is a foundling whom Cleostrata has raised since infancy as if her own daughter, suggesting a possible sentimental connection as well (Cas. 45-6). (9)
When Cleostrata expresses her frustration about the situation, she stresses that Casina belongs to her, a claim that spurs much debate, both in the play and in the previously mentioned scholarship:
quin rnihi ancillulam ingratiis postulat, quae mea est, quae meo educta sumptu siet, vilico suo se dare, sed ipsus earn amat. (193-5a) (10) But [my husband] demands, against my wishes, to give my little slave girl to his foreman in marriage, a girl who is mine, who was brought up at my own expense, but he himself is in love with her.
The issue of ownership (legal or otherwise) is emphasized by the contrast of mihi, mea, and meo with suo and se. Mahalia Way (2000, 204) explains this as a conflict between Lysidamus's legal ownership over his wife's peculium and Cleostrata's de facto authority over it. For Way, "The spouses' struggle over Casina is not over a girl, but over what the control of Casina represents, over which kind of power will prevail in this household." Cleostrata's objection shows that her husband's actions are contrary to her expectation and therefore unfair: custom dictates that Cleostrata have this authority over Casina, and when Lysidamus overrides this authority, Cleostrata perceives an injustice. It is worth noting that Cleostrata's sense of fairness in this scene is defined as what is fair for herself, not for Casina: Cleostrata's repeated use of the first-person pronoun and possessive adjective shows that she is focused on her own wishes. With the stakes so high, it is all the more important that Cleostrata receive support from her friend, Myrrhina, and all the more hurtful when she does not.
The final line (195a) of Cleostrata's objection underscores that the issue is personal: the affront is even worse because Lysidamus is in love with the girl. Fraenkel (1922, 298-9) originally thought the line was a Plautine interpolation, for it seemed out of place to him. (11) Indeed, I believe the line is supposed to stand out: it plants a new thought into the minds of the audience--that Cleostrata may be motivated by something more visceral, for Lysidamus's interest in another woman is an affront to the woman of the house (cf. Men. 782-3; Asin. 856-7, 871-4, 922-34). (12) With line 195a Plautus hints that Cleostrata will be characterized as the nagging and overbearing wife, "the troublesome shrew, who, like a stereotypical uxor dotata, seeks to invert the proper power structure of her marriage" (Moore 1998, 170). (13) As such, the audience expects her to be an unsympathetic character whose vendetta against her husband will be deemed inappropriate for its personal nature, like the wives of Asinaria, Mercator, and Menaechmi, all earlier Plautine plays. (14) A good wife, in contrast, should look the other way regarding her husband's love affairs, provided that the other woman is of noncitizen status and that he does not waste household resources on his lover. Timothy Moore (1998, 170) demonstrates that Plautus's initial portrayal of Cleostrata as the stereotypical bad wife is deliberately crafted to lead the audience astray, for Plautus thereafter will slowly align the audience's sympathies with Cleostrata and against Lysidamus, contrary to expectation. In fact, as one of Plautus's later plays, the playwright is having fun with audience expectations, setting up various characters as recognizable stock figures, only later to show us that our assumptions are wrong.
As the play progresses, Cleostrata presents less and less as a stereotypically jealous wife, largely ignoring the theme of sexual rivalry and instead focusing on the ownership of Casina. This is the most effective tactic Cleostrata can take against Lysidamus, and the one she uses when addressing him directly in a later scene: si facias recte aut commode, / mesinas curare ancillas, quae mea est curatio (If you are going to do what is right and proper, you will allow me to oversee the slave girls, which is my responsibility, 260-1). Since it is socially acceptable and legal for Lysidamus to sleep with as many of his female slaves as he desires, Cleostrata could not hope for much success in objecting to Lysidamus's planned infidelity. (15) Her focus on custom and responsibility towards her charges makes her a more sympathetic character: she is not asking Lysidamus to cede any unconventional power, but merely to allow the return of 'traditional' gender roles, whereby it is Cleostrata's duty as mistress of the household to arrange Casina's marriage.
To express her personal displeasure, Cleostrata stirs up some (additional) marital discord by refusing to cook her husband's lunch and verbally abusing him (150-61). Cleostrata is forced to exercise power within the sphere to which she has been relegated; she takes revenge by neglecting her wifely duties. Kathleen McCarthy (2000, 80) likens this act of rebellion to that of slaves in Roman comedy: because the husband/wife relationship is immutable, with the wife being eternally subordinate, Cleostrata's success in the play is only a temporary aberration. Unlike the clever slave (stock type servus callidus), however, who usually rebels against the master of the house (stock type senex) on behalf of the master's son (stock type adulescens) and has no personal investment other than the joy of duping the master, Cleostrata rebels for intensely personal reasons. (16) She will nonetheless have equal support from the audience, for, like the clever slave, her success will positively impact the adulescens. (17) Furthermore, Cleostrata's interference is the only thing preventing Lysidamus from raping the foundling slave girl, whom the audience expects to be revealed as a citizen. Thus Cleostrata's defiance of her husband will seem justified because the audience hopes the lecherous senex amator will be defeated. Elaine Fantham (2015, 103) argues that the audience would judge Lysidamus's behavior negatively because it causes him to neglect his marital obligations, risks disqualifying Casina from a citizen marriage that is her birthright, and blocks his son from obtaining the girl he desires. (18) Meanwhile, Cleostrata feels powerless to affect Lysidamus's plans for Casina directly, and her emotions get the best of her in the scenes that follow. In fact, it is Cleostrata's focus on her relationship with her husband that distracts her attention from her relationship with her friend, Myrrhina.
The Conflict between Myrrhina and Cleostrata
The struggle between husband and wife quickly becomes a struggle between two friends when Cleostrata seeks out her neighbor, Myrrhina, for emotional support. Myrrhina greets Cleostrata with the line, nam quod tibi est aegre, idem mi est dividiae (Whatever troubles you is equally troubling to me, 180-1), leading the audience to expect that Myrrhina, after hearing Cleostrata's account, will side with her completely. The conversation, however, turns suddenly sour, and the exchange has sparked much scholarly interest. Cleostrata explains her problem as follows: nec mihi ius meum optinendi optio est (There is no opportunity for me to obtain my right, 190). But Myrrhina, instead of validating Cleostrata's indignation, replies with skepticism: mira sunt, vera si praedicas, nam viri / ius suom ad mulieres optinere hau queunt (That's odd, if what you say is true, since usually it is husbands who are not able to obtain their right from their wives, 191-2). Not only does she fail to agree with her friend, but she takes a jab at women at the same time, for ius (right) refers to sex, and the line demonizes wives who withhold it. The comment reflects the Roman view that married women automatically consent to sex with their husbands, and the audience is encouraged to dismiss any woman (or man) who disagrees. (19) Myrrhina's joke, and a few more lines that I will discuss shortly, undoubtedly influenced early scholars who postulated that the lines belonged to a male character in the Greek model. But misogynistic jokes delivered by female characters are not uncommon in Plautus, and the audience might have appreciated the irony, but would likely not have found the lines to be problematic. (20) Just as Plautus initially leads the audience to believe that Cleostrata will be a stereotypically jealous wife, here we are led to believe that Myrrhina will be a stereotypically good wife, where 'good' is defined as 'supporting male interests.'
Our understanding of Myrrhina evolves with the subsequent dialogue, which suggests that she interrupts Cleostrata not because she disagrees with her sentiments, but because she believes Cleostrata's position is socially risque. When Cleostrata argues that Casina is her property, Myrrhina attempts to silence her (195a-7):
MY. opsecro, tace. (21) CL. nam hie nunc licet dicere: nos sumus. (22) MY. ita est.
MY. Hush, I beg you!
CL. It's okay to speak here now: it's just the two of us. MY. True.
Myrrhina's ita est shows us how the playwright intends the audience to interpret the command tace: Myrrhina does not want anyone else to hear what Cleostrata has said, but when Cleostrata reassures her that they are alone, Myrrhina feels comfortable continuing the conversation. Sharon James (2015, 110) notes: "This is a striking sign of women's awareness that their speech is circumscribed, that there are subjects they ought not to discuss in public and, perhaps, words and formulations they ought not to be overheard using." Contrast this with an exchange between two sisters, Pamphila and Panegyris, in Plautus's Stichus, in which the objector genuinely disagrees with her sister and supports unquestioning loyalty to one's husband (34-47):
PAM. an id doles, soror, quia illi suom officium non colunt, quom tu tuom facis? PAN. ita pol. PAM. tace sis, cave sis audiam ego istuc posthac ex te. PAN. nam quid iam? PAM. quia pol meo animo omnis sapientis suom officium aequom est colere et facere. quam ob rem ego te hoc, soror, tametsi es maior, moneo, ut tuom memineris officium: etsi illi improbi sint atque aliter nobis faciant quom aequomst, tam pol ne quid magis sit, omnibus obnixe opibus nostrum officium meminisse decet. PAN. placet: taceo. (23)
PAM. Is that what bothers you, sister? That [our husbands] are not doing their duty, but you are doing yours?
PAN. Yes! That's it.
PAM. Hush! Don't let me hear this from you again.
PAN. Why not?
PAM. Because, by Pollux, I think it is right that every wise person observe and do his or her duty. For this reason, sister, I advise you, even though you are older, to remember your duty: even if they are reprobates and act unfairly towards us, by Pollux let us not make the problem even bigger, but with every effort we should remember our duty.
PAN. You are right: I'll drop it.
In both plays, the objecting woman issues the command out of a desire to protect her loved one. In Stichus, however, Pamphila clearly supports men's interests over women's, and in the ultimate expression of patriarchal values, Plautus has created a world in which what is best for the men happens to also be best for the women, thereby justifying the supremacy of men's needs over women's. In Casina, the audience might expect that Myrrhina, like Pamphila, truly aligns herself with male interests, but it will later become clear that Myrrhina takes this position not because she believes it (in fact, the playwright never makes her personal opinion known to us), but because she believes it is the most effective one. While the scene in the Stichus is a clear-cut debate between the 'good wife,' whose interests align with those of men, and the 'bad wife, whose interests are in conflict with those of men, Plautus turns the trope on its head in Casina. (24)
Myrrhina's oppositional behavior continues for several more lines while Plautus draws out the characterization of her as good wife, countering Cleostrata's bad wife. Once Cleostrata convinces Myrrhina that they can speak safely without being overheard, Myrrhina objects to Cleostrata's claim that Casina is her property (198-202):
unde ea tibi est? nam peculi probam nil habere addecet clam virum, sed quae habet, partum ei hau commode est, quin viro aut suptrahat aut stupro invenerit. hoc viri censeo esse omne quicquid tuom est. How did this [slave girl] come to be yours? For it is not proper for an upstanding woman to have private property without her husband's knowledge. If she has property, she did not come by it properly, but she stole it from her husband or acquired it by dishonesty. By this token, I believe everything that is yours belongs to your husband. (25)
Cleostrata seeks sympathy, but Myrrhina does not give it. Rather, she appears to undermine the premise of Cleostrata's distress: Cleostrata is upset because her husband took control of what she believes is her property, but Myrrhina counters that Cleostrata has no property. Such a comment risks invalidating Cleostrata's anxiety by sending the message that her feelings are not justified. It might appear to the audience, and it certainly appears to Cleostrata, that Myrrhina is failing to meet the emotional needs of her friend. When Cleostrata asks for affirmation, Myrrhina openly refuses to grant it. Unlike the women of the Stichus, who are working towards a common understanding (for Pamphila asks her sister to explain her objections, then listens carefully and is persuaded), in Casina the playwright has created obvious and deliberate tension between Myrrhina and Cleostrata. It is not until later that we understand Myrrhina's behavior: whatever sympathy she may have for Cleostrata, Myrrhina knows that the rest of society will grant her no such compassion. In the meantime, the playwright keeps us on the edges of our seats, wondering how this conflict will play out.
The argument culminates when Cleostrata accuses Myrrhina: tu quidem advorsum tuam amicam omnia loqueris (Indeed you are speaking against your own friend with everything you say 203). Many scholars agree with Cleostrata, interpreting Myrrhina's behavior as defiant and unfriendly But Myrrhina's frustration is a clue that Cleostrata is misreading the situation, which Plautus has deliberately engineered to lead Cleostrata, and us, astray. We are supposed, at first, to perceive Myrrhina as the stereotypically obedient wife who defends the status quo. But to understand her character more accurately, we must take into account the lines that immediately follow, in which Myrrhina tries to explain the misunderstanding (204-7):
tace sis, stulta, et mi ausculta. noli sis tu illi advorsari, sine amet, sine quod lubet id faciat, quando tibi nil domi delicuom est. Quiet, you foolish woman, and listen to what I'm saying! Do not set yourself against your husband: allow him to love, allow him to do what he likes, as long as nothing is lacking for you at home.
Again Myrrhina uses tace to silence her friend, not out of disrespect, but out of concern for her well-being. Followed closely by sis mi ausculta, the line demonstrates Myrrhina's frustration that Cleostrata is not listening to her: Cleostrata does not understand that Myrrhina is making a completely different kind of argument. When Myrrhina used the command tace just moments before, it was to prevent her friend from being overheard while speaking against her husband. Now, Myrrhina is impatient because her own argument is not being heard. She says that not heeding her advice is foolish (stulta), showing that she is looking out for her friend in a different way. Instead of meeting Cleostrata's current emotional need for empathy, Myrrhina is trying to offer practical advice that will benefit Cleostrata in the long run.26 She is doing precisely what a good friend should do. Because she is more emotionally removed from the situation than Cleostrata, Myrrhina is able to understand it more objectively: she can see that Cleostrata's actions might get her into trouble and tries to warn her accordingly.
As Myrrhina's motivations become clearer to the audience, Cleostrata's continued obtuseness becomes all the more striking. She steps up her rhetoric against Myrrhina, still believing the argument is chiefly a battle between the sexes: satin sana es? nam tuquidem aduorsus tuam istaec rem loquere (Are you insane? For now you are saying things against even your own interest! 208-9). This line, no doubt, plays a large role in the early scholarly misinterpretation of this passage, particularly arguments that Myrrhina's lines in this scene were originally assigned to a male character. But again, we should not adopt Cleostrata's interpretation of the dialogue, for Plautus, in the over-the-top manner of comedy, is constantly reminding us that we are witnessing a giant misunderstanding, and that Cleostrata's interpretation of Myrrhina's behavior is wrong. Myrrhina tries once and for all to clarify that she is actually speaking for Cleostrata's interests, not against them, when she says (209-13):
semper tu huic verbo vitato abs tuo viro--CL. quoi verbo MY. "i foras, mulier."
MY. Foolish woman! You must always guard against this command from your husband.
CL. Which command?
MY. "Woman, leave my house." (27)
Finally Myrrhina has phrased her position bluntly: Cleostrata must watch what she says and does because displeasing her husband could result in divorce. (28) Myrrhina is as loyal a friend here as she is later, when she helps Cleostrata orchestrate the deception against her husband. Plautus has deliberately postponed the moment in which Myrrhina's true character is revealed, allowing the audience to experience the tension between the two women as long as possible.
Conflict as a Dramatic Device
The tension between Myrrhina and Cleostrata is real, but it is worthwhile to ask what purpose such tension could serve, rather than interpreting it as a mistake. The exchange between the two women serves as a short agon in which two people debate the issue from different premises: what is legal (Myrrhina), and what is fair, that is, in accordance with custom (Cleostrata). The agon is not an uncommon feature in Greek comedy, and it is plausible that this scene goes back to Diphilus's original. There is no reason to speculate that the conflict or its details were invented by Plautus. As a plot device, it allows the characters to evaluate two ethical systems that are in conflict. Furthermore, debate between two women of similar social stations (in this case, married citizen women) is one way for the playwright to examine two choices with which a woman is faced, as seen with Antigone and Ismene in Sophocles' Antigone, and the two sisters in Plautus's Stichus. (29) By splitting the voice of one character into two, the audience can be privy to what might otherwise be an internal thought process (the same can be achieved with an introspective monologue). The debates in Casina and Stichus also give Plautus the opportunity to engage the audience in a philosophical debate about the unfairness of a woman's lot in marriage, much like the agon of Aristophanes' Lysistrata. This is not to suggest that these playwrights come out strongly or even weakly in favor of women's rights; they merely acknowledge the fact that women (and perhaps men?) may have some objections to the existing power structure.
While Cleostrata clings to an abstract principle of fairness, Myrrhina tries to explain that life is not always fair. And both are right: surely it is unfair that Lysidamus can disregard his wife's wishes with impunity. Surely it is unfair that Lysidamus can use his male authority to rape a young virgin, one whom Cleostrata has raised, whose future Cleostrata has spent years planning, and whose happiness is on the line (not to suggest that Cleostrata is concerned with Casina's happiness, for it is difficult to demonstrate, on the basis of the text, that she cares about anything other than preventing her husband from his extramarital liaisons). But Myrrhina is also right: if Cleostrata opposes her husband in this, she will get little support from society and may suffer gravely for her culturally inappropriate intervention. Cleostrata argues desperately for something that will make her happy right now, although her position turns out to be not in her best interests overall, while Myrrhina has Cleostrata's long-term security and happiness in mind.
Myrrhina is the outside observer whose primary goal is to protect her friend by malting what seems to her to be an objective argument. Cleostrata and Myrrhina may be talking to each other, but they are having two very different conversations: Cleostrata seeks emotional support, but Myrrhina gives practical support. Cleostrata believes Myrrhina is being unsupportive and misogynistic; Myrrhina sees that Cleostrata's judgment is clouded by her anger and emotional pain. Their miscommunication leads to more frustration and hurt feelings. As the conversation unfolds, Myrrhina realizes that her approach is creating animosity in the friendship (setting her advorsum suam amicam, 203), but she is willing to risk this disharmony to protect her friend. Cleostrata, meanwhile, by focusing her energy on her relationship with her husband, has neglected her relationship with her friend. Her all-consuming desire for vengeance temporarily interferes with her ability to catch the signals that Myrrhina really does care about her and is offering the appropriate kind of support. While Myrrhina's approach may be unusual, I would not go so far as to call it out of character or problematic. She is still performing the duties of a friend, albeit in a different way than Cleostrata (and many scholars) expect.
Myrrhina's behavior serves another important dramatic function by instructing the audience how to feel about Casina and Cleostrata. The scene heightens suspense for the audience by highlighting the danger faced by Casina, the citizen virgin whom the audience hopes will be saved from rape. There is a layer of dramatic irony, since Myrrhina argues a position that is harmful to Casina, not knowing that Casina is her daughter, as will be revealed in the epilogue. (30) The audience will side with Cleostrata because Casina's fate is tied to Cleostrata's success. (31) Furthermore, the exchange warns us that Cleostrata, by opposing her husband, risks divorce and the financial and social instability that follow. With this danger highlighted, the audience becomes all the more invested in the success of Cleostrata, the hero whose perseverance will save the innocent virgin from defilement. Once the stakes are defined, Myrrhina's opposition serves no further purpose and the audience can delight in watching the two friends collude, along with the household slave Pardalisca, to humiliate the master of the house. In fact, it appears that Myrrhina's argument prevails because Cleostrata, with her friend's help, shifts her focus from preventing the wedding to malting a fool out of Lysidamus. Thus Myrrhina's argumentative behavior makes sense to the plot and is written in a way that is consistent with her character.
Myrrhina is not simply Plautus's mouthpiece for the male prospective, as many scholars have suggested. When Myrrhina explains the male point of view on property rights and marital relationships, it is easy to oversimplify the discussion as one of male versus female view points, whether or not one takes the next step of mapping her lines onto a male character in Diphilus's lost play. But we need not do this in order to understand the interaction between these two women. In this scene, Plautus shows that Myrrhina is aware of the limitations placed on women by men: men have decreed that women cannot have property, and men maintain tight control on their power over the women in their households, both citizen and slave. Although aware of male culture, Myrrhina does not represent it; rather, she uses her knowledge of male culture to help her friend understand the unfortunate but likely consequences of her actions.
Although few scholars would now attempt to explain inconsistencies in Plautus as a product of contamination, the conviction that inconsistencies exist in the first place has persisted. In the case of Casina 2.2, that conviction manifests itself in the belief that Myrrhina's character is an aberration in need of explanation. While hypotheses that Plautus changed line attributions from the Greek model or inserted a character from a different play have been abandoned, the scene is still perceived as problematic: at best, scholars accept Myrrhina's so-called inconsistent behavior because it is dramatically necessary. The success of Plautus in his own time, however, suggests that his plays were more than just adaptations, but were internally consistent and worthy of Aristotle's criteria in the Poetics for a good drama. (32) If the audience members were scratching their heads in confusion at inconsistent characters, the play would have flopped.
Nor should we always expect consistency, that is, flat characters, for in Casina Plautus is playing with audience expectations for the characters: Cleostrata first appears to be a typical uxor dotata, out to usurp power from her husband, but we discover that she does it for noble reasons; Lysidamus is introduced as the senex, but then revealed to be the lecherous type who pursues inappropriate sexual liaisons (senex amator); and Myrrhina is first portrayed as the 'good wife' stock type, advocating unquestioning submission to one's husband, but we soon see that she is simply a wise woman who knows how the system works: she delights in challenging male authority so long as it is done subversively. We are meant to perceive changes in several characters or, rather, we are meant to assume, based on clues dropped by Plautus, that Cleostrata and Myrrhina will be characterized in one way, so that we can be delighted when they act contrary to our expectation. In fact, defying the stock types seems to be a mark of skill. Plautus boasts that his Captivi will not contain the expected characters: the periurus leno (deceitful pimp), the miles gloriosus (boastful soldier), and the meretrix mala (evil prostitute) (Capt. 57-8). Plautus did not make a continuity mistake in Casina, but rather he made good comedy.
Implications for the Study of Comedy
For the modern reader, our problems of interpretation are inherent to our role as outsiders, trying to learn about a culture from which we are far removed. While Plautus's contemporaries watched his plays with giddy anticipation, waiting to see what new twist the playwright would bring to conventional plots, we, the modern readers, must make a concerted effort to relocate ourselves into Plautus's world. For better or for worse, we do this by looking for similarities to plays we already know, and hence we map the exchange between Myrrhina and Cleostrata onto similar exchanges between a father and daughter, like the one in Plautus's Menaechmi. In doing so, we fail to see how Plautus has changed not just the gender of the antagonist in this debate, but also her motivations and tactics for deploying this particular argument.
Likewise, our simplified understanding of the genre as one that follows the affairs of the citizen male encourages us to think about the female characters in relation to men; but if we approach the genre as a comedy of manners and situations, we will not suffer the same limitations. While we may be inclined to contemplate how each scene will ultimately affect the young man's endeavors, we need not, when viewing an exchange between two women, interpret one female character as a proxy for a male. To do so would be to assume that the playwright had no conception of relationships between women, no ideas about what friendship between women might look like, and so he defaulted to what he wrote best: relationships of women to men.
Instead, we should seek to understand what governs women's social bonds with other women in the world of Plautus. Indeed, all three surviving New Comic playwrights offer scenes in which female friends, sisters, or mother-daughter pairs negotiate the terms of their relationship, make personal sacrifices to help one another, and risk animosity in order to protect a loved one (as Myrrhina does for Cleostrata in Casina). A closer look, for example, at two pairs of friends in Plautus's Cistellaria (the retired prostitutes Syra and Melaenis, and their respective daughters, Gymnasium and Selenium), and at Chrysis and her neighbor in Menander's Sarnia, will help us understand how Plautus and Menander conceptualized female friendship. Depictions of mother-daughter pairs in Plautus's Asinaria and Cistellaria and in Terence's Adelphoe and Hecyra can show us how social pressures govern the actions of mothers towards their daughters and vice versa. (33) Several pairs of sisters (natural born sisters in Plautus's Bacchides and Stichus and foster sisters in Terence's Eunuch and Andria) give us insight into the nature of the sisterly bond, the societal constraints placed upon women, and the limited set of tools which women have to improve the lives of their sisters. (34) It is worthwhile for us to reevaluate the dramatic representation of the social world of women, because to assume that the male social world is the only, or even the primary, governing factor in relationships between women leads to misunderstandings of the text.
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(1) Plautus did not divide his play into numbered acts and scenes, but I use the conventional, post-Plautine assignations for the sake of convenience. My thanks to Kathryn Gutzwiller, Barbara Gold, and Shelley Haley for providing valuable feedback on early drafts of this article, and to Ariana Traill for giving me direction on the project when it was in its nascence.
(2) For scholarship in the intervening period, see Legrand 1902, 371; Fraenkel 2007, 204 (a translation of Fraenkel 1922, 299); Cody 1976, 471; MacCary and Willcock 1976, 124 ad 199; Lefevre 1979, 320; Waltenberger 1981,444; O'Bryhim 1989, 84-5.
(3) See Gold 1998, 22 for a discussion of how Plautus uses the character of Casina, known only through representations by other characters in the play to "negotiate the central issues in the play: border crossings, the paradoxes of gender identification, and the resistance of marginalized, hidden, and silent characters (women and slaves)." Marshall (2015, 125) draws attention to the lack of agency inherent to a woman of Casina's status: 'Any serva or ancilla may serve as a potential sex partner at any time, since by law she lacks agency and the right to choice."
(4) The first substantial chunks of Greek New Comedy were revealed to us with the discovery of the Cairo Codex in 1907 (republished as Riyad and Abd el-Kadr 1978), which contains large parts of Menander's Sarnia, Epitrepontes, and Perikeiromene, a section of the Heros, and a section of another untitled play. The Bodmer Papyrus contains the most complete play that we have, Menander's Dyskolos, and it was first published in Martin and Chenaux-Repond 1958.
(5) Extravagant solutions are still occasionally proposed, such as that of O'Bryhim 1989, who argues that Plautus combined scenes from two different plays, each of which had a Myrrhina. This proposal is based on similarities between Casina and Plautus's own Mercator, a source play that O'Bryhim argues Plautus reused when writing his Casina (the other source play being Diphilus's Kleroumenoi).
(6) Cody 1976, 471; MacCary and Willcock 1976, 124 ad 199; Traill 2011, 502 note 12.
(7) His solution is pure conjecture, as there is no evidence that a male character made this speech in Diphilus's original.
(8) See Fraenkel 2007, 204-5 for the English translation. We should note that many parallels between plays can be found on account of stock characters and stock scenes.
(9) Cf. James 2015, 112: "Cleostrata has raised Casina as a daughter, so her response to her husband's erotic designs on the girl combines protectiveness toward Casina and repulsion at Lysidamus's urge toward a form of incest."
(10) The text of Plautus's Casina is drawn from the new 2011 Loeb of De Melo. All translations are my own.
(11) See Fraenkel 2007, 203-4 for the English translation. Fraenkel argues that in Diphilus's Kleroumenoi, Cleostrata was unaware of her husband's amorous feelings until much later in the play, and therefore line 195a in the Casina must be Plautine interpolation. His hypothesis is meant to explain why, later in the play (Cas. 531), Cleostrata expresses surprise when she learns of her husband's sexual desire for Casina (as Fraenkel interprets the line). Jachmann (1931, 108) counters Fraenkel's proposal, stating that Diphilus's Cleostrata must have known about her husband's amorous intentions, because her indignation is the very thing that motivates her trip to the neighbor's house for advice. In a later Italian translation, Fraenkel (1960, 434 note 281) states that he was convinced by Jachmann's rebuttal. Slater (1985, 74-5) reconciles the early line (Cas. 195a) with the later line (Cas. 531) by arguing that the former is dramatically necessary in order to make the audience side with Cleostrata against her husband, while McCarthy (2000, 89 note 23) finds no contradiction between these two lines at all, feeling that the later line shows Cleostrata's surprise, not at learning of Lysidamus's amorous feelings (for she already knew of them), but at learning of his particular plan to get himself alone with Casina next door.
(12) The sexual pursuit of a slave by her master "remained a transgressive act that both undermined familia and ought to be kept hidden at least from citizen women" (Marshall 2015, 126). On Casina as sexual rival to Cleostrata, see also Richlin 2015, 35.
(13) James (2015, 111) provides further evidence that we are meant to associate Cleostrata with the uxor dotata stock type, which is signaled by her language throughout the play: "Cleostrata never employs the soft speech (oratio blanda) that is thought to be typical of women's language in comedy."
(14) The wives of Mercator and Menaechmi ask their wealthy fathers to intervene when their husbands show interest in prostitutes (Merc. 796 and Men. 765-71), and Artemona of Asinaria says to her husband, faxo ut scias quid pericli sit dotatae uxori vitium dicere (I'll make sure you know how dangerous it is to speak ill of a dowered wife! 886-7). On the dating of these three plays and the Casina: because of a remark in Casina about the rarity of Bacchic revels these days (Cas. 980), the Casina was likely written after the Senatus consultum de Bacchanalihus of 186 BCE, which limited those activities; this would make the Casina one of Plautus's last plays (De Melo 2011, 2: 7). On the basis of style, the Asinaria and Mercator are dated to Plautus's early career (De Melo 2011, 1: 137 and De Melo 2011, 3: 8, respectively) and Menaechmi to the middle of his career (De Melo 2011, 1:419).
(15) On the different standards for male and female fidelity in marriage, see Corbier 1991, 51; Treggiari 1991, 38-41; Shelton 1998, 54-5; and Braund 2005, 42-6. Plautus recognizes the double standard--that men are free to have sex with slaves and prostitutes but women must be faithful to their husbands--in Mercator 817-29. Furthermore, Treggiari (1991, 40) states that both women and men were judged negatively by the community if they pursued divorce for what was considered to be a frivolous reason, but accusations of such moral impropriety were lodged against women more often than men.
(16) My thanks to the anonymous reviewer who drew my attention to this key difference between the rebellions of the housewife and servus callidus.
(17) Cf. Moore 1998, 179: 'An additional motive must have been the Saturnalian fun inherent in a wife overcoming her husband: the success of the usually subservient wife would bring pleasure similar to that produced by Plautus's many successful slaves."
(18) Cf. Marshall 2015, 129: "His single minded pursuit of his domestic slave should be seen as morally reprehensible; it is not, however, incomprehensible."
(19) Braund (2005, 46) explains the theme of morigera in Roman comedy: a wife must be "compliant with her husband in domestic and sexual matters." The expectation is shown by the household slave Pardalisca in the Casina, when she asks a distressed Olympio if his new bride (who is really a male servant in disguise) is satin morigera (Cas. 897-8), that is, satisfying his sexual expectations. Plautus's Alcumena reinforces the idea, saying that her dowry consists of pudicitiam, pudorem, sedatum cupidinem and morigera to her husband (Amph. 840-1). Additionally, the uxor dotata of Menaechmi is reminded by her father, quotiens monstravi tibi viro ut morem geras quid ilk faciat ne id opserves, quo eat, quid rerum gerat (How many times have I told you that you must be compliant with your husband's wishes, not pay attention to what he is doing, where he is going, and how he conducts his affairs? 788-9).
(20) For misogynistic jokes told by female characters in comedy, see Dutsch 2008, 42-3. Other examples of Plautus putting misogynistic jokes into the mouths of female characters can be found at Merc. 512-3, Aul. 124-7, and Poen. 210-1.
(21) The line attributions and text for this passage appear in the manuscript tradition as follows: my. obsecro face, nam hie nunc licet dicere: nos sumus. cl. ita est. Lindsay (1903) emends face to dice to make sense of the inherited text, but De Melo (2011, vol. 2), Naudet (1830), and MacCary and Willcock (1976) all follow the innovative line attributions of Acidalius (1607). The inherited text is problematic, and both solutions recognize that the exchange is about self-censorship.
(22) Most interpret an ellipsis: nos sumus [solae] (We are alone); but Naudet (1830, 585-6 ad loc.) believes that is unnecessary. He explains the meaning as it stands as nos sumus [quae confabulamur, neque quisquam adest arbiter] (We are the ones talking, and no one else is present to judge us). Both interpretations come to the same thing: they can speak freely because there are no other witnesses present.
(23) Text of Stichus is from Lindsay 1903. Translation is mine.
(24) As demonstrated in note 14 above, Casina dates to after 186 BCE. Wagenvoort (1932, 310-1) demonstrated that Stichus was most likely performed in 200 BCE at a festival to celebrate Scipio's return from Africa. Thus at least some of the audience might recall Plautus's Stichus while watching the Casina.
(25) Myrrhina's statement that Cleostrata can have no property because it all belongs to her husband makes it likely that Cleostrata has entered into the manus of her husband, or at least that Myrrhina assumes she has. By transferring into the manus of her husband, the wife came under his potestas and all of her property became his (Treggiari 1991, 28-9). To envision a situation in which Cleostrata could own property apart from her husband, she would have to be married sine manu and no longer under the potestas of her own father, perhaps because he had already died (Treggiari 1991, 32).
(26) Cf. Way 2000, 203: "Myrrhina advocates a more submissive role, but this too is heavily invested in economic considerations."
(27) Ceasing to cohabitate and separating one's property constituted divorce, and this could be initiated either by the husband, by commanding his wife to move out, or by the wife, by moving out; no public authority was involved. See Treggiari 1991, 33-4 and Borkowski and du Plessis 2005, 128-9 on the initiation of divorce. Corbier (1991) and Treggiari (1991) cover the social aspects of divorce more broadly.
(28) Cf. Braund 2005, 45: "[Myrrhina] argues for turning a blind eye to her husband's love affairs--provided her home life is comfortable--because of the risk of divorce."
(29) For an explication of this trope in Plautus's Stichus, see Feltovich 2015.
(30) The relevant line in the epilogue reads, haec Casina huius reperietur filia esse ex proxumo (This Casina will be found to be the daughter of the man next door, 1013). Although huius can be masculine or feminine, the audience would default to masculine and think of Alcesimus. While Plautus does not explicitly state that Casina is the daughter of Alcesimus by Myrrhina, again the audience would naturally conclude that Myrrhina is her mother.
(31) Jachmann (1931) and James (2015) suggest that Cleostrata is motivated by concern for her foster daughter's future, and while there is no explicit evidence for this, it is certainly possible that the audience would read such concern into Cleostrata's character.
(32) On the success of Plautus, the prologue of Casina tells us that the play was revived some years after its initial performance, and lines were added to the prologue to reflect this (Cas. 5-22), and that it was met with approval during its initial performance (quam vos probastis qui estis in senioribus; / nam iuniorum qui sunt non norunt, scio [You who amongst the older generation have approved (this play); those of you who are amongst the younger generation are not familiar with it, I know, 14-5]).
(33) For an excellent argument on relationships between mothers and daughters of the prostitute class in Plautus, see Dutsch, Forthcoming.
(34) For a detailed discussion of sisters, see Feltovich 2015.
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