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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
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The Braggart Soldier

By Plautus (c. 254–184 B.C.)

  • From From ‘Miles Gloriosus’: Translation of William Cranston Lawton
  • The soldier himself opens the play, coming forth from his house, which, with a neighbor’s, forms the back of the scene. He is attended by his Falstaffian retinue, and also by his especial flatterer and shadow Artotrogus,—“Breadeater.” The pompous veteran has the first word.]

  • PYRGOPOLINICES—See to it that more splendid be my shield,

    Than the sun’s rays are when the day is bright;

    So when there’s need, in battle’s close array

    Its sheen may blind the eyes of enemies.

    And this my cutlass I would comfort too,

    That it be not downhearted, nor lament

    That it is worn so long in idleness,

    Though sadly bent on massacre of foes!—

    But where is Artotrogus?
    Artotrogus[promptly]—Here, beside

    The man so valiant, kingly, fortunate,

    Mars might not such a warrior call himself,

    Nor dare to match your valor with his own!

    Pyrgopolinices—That one I saved on the Curculionian plains,

    When Búmbomáchides Clýtomestóridysárchides,

    Grandson of Neptune, was commander-in-chief—

    Artotrogus—I remember. He, you mean, in arms of gold,

    Whose legions with your breath you puffed away,

    As wind doth leaves and rushes good for thatch.

    Pyrgopolinices—Why, that is nothing!
    [And the complacent warrior goes striding, with nodding helmet-plumes and waving locks, up and down the stage; so that the weary flatterer, beginning his return compliment, presently has an instant to tell us of the audience—behind his hand—something of his real opinions.]
    Artotrogus—So forsooth it is,

    To deeds I’ll tell—[Aside]which you did never do!

    If you can find a more mendacious man,

    Or one more boastful than this fellow is,

    Take me and hold me for your chattel, then!

    Just one thing: olive salad he can bolt!

    Pyrgopolinices[turning]—Where are you?
    [The parasite pretends he has been all the time cataloguing the hero’s exploits:—]
    Artotrogus—Here!—Then, there’s that elephant:

    How with a fisticuff you broke his arm!

    Pyrgopolinices—What’s that? his arm?
    Artotrogus—His thigh I meant, of course.

    Pyrgopolinices—I didn’t try to strike.
    Artotrogus—No! If you had,

    With effort, through the creature’s hide and heart

    And through his bones your arm had made its way.

    Pyrgopolinices[modestly]—That doesn’t matter.
    Artotrogus—No, ’tis not worth while

    For me to tell, who know your valorous deeds.

    [Aside]—My belly makes this misery; and my ears

    Must hearken, lest my teeth have naught to do.

    To every lie he tells I must assent!

    Pyrgopolinices—What am I saying?
    Artotrogus—I know what you would say:

    I remember, it happened.
    Artotrogus[rather wearily]—Whatever it is.

    Pyrgopolinices[more sharply]—You remember—?
    Artotrogus[rapidly]—Yes, a hundred in Cilicia,

    And fifty, a hundred in Scytholatronia,

    Thirty from Sardis, sixty Macedonians,—

    All of them in a single day you slew.

    Pyrgopolinices—What is the grand sum total?
    Artotrogus—Seven thousand!

    Pyrgopolinices[complacently]—So many should it be. You reckon well.

    Artotrogus—I have no records,—I remember it so.

    Pyrgopolinices—Your memory’s good.
    Artotrogus—The tidbits prompt me aright!

    Pyrgopolinices—While you shall play your part as you do now,

    Table companion will I hold you still.

    Artotrogus—What! In Cappadocia, at a single blow

    You had slain five hundred! But—your sword was dull.

    Pyrgopolinices—Poor wretched infantry, I let them live.

    Artotrogus—Why say what all men know, that on the earth

    You only, Pyrgopolinices, live

    In valor, beauty, deeds, unconqueredest?

    All women love you,—and good reason too,

    You are so handsome. Like those yesterday

    That plucked my cloak.
    Pyrgopolinices[eagerly]—What did they say to you?

    Artotrogus—They asked me: “Is this Achilles?” so said one.

    “Yes, ’tis his brother,” said I. Then the other:

    “Well, he is handsome, surely,” so she said,

    “And noble. See how well his hair becomes him!

    Happy the women are with whom he wives!”

    Pyrgopolinices—Did they say so?
    Artotrogus—Why, yes! Both made me swear

    To-day I’d bring you in procession by.

    Pyrgopolinices[pensively]—To be too handsome is a piteous thing!

    Artotrogus—It bores me! For they pray and crowd and beg,

    So that I cannot get your business done.
    [A movement of the soldier at this word “business” gives the quick-witted flatterer his cue.]

    Pyrgopolinices—Have you—
    Artotrogus—You mean your tablets? Yes, and pen.

    Pyrgopolinices—You give your mind to mine right wittily.

    Artotrogus—’Tis fit that I should know your nature well,

    And try to scent out that which you desire.

    Pyrgopolinices—’Tis time, methinks, to hasten to the Forum;

    For there must I bestow their wage upon

    The hirelings I enlisted yesterday.

    For King Seleucus begged me earnestly,

    To gather and enroll him mercenaries.

    Artotrogus—Why, then, let’s go.
    Pyrgopolinices—Attendants, follow me![Exeunt omnes.]

    [The prologue, rather singularly, is now spoken, at the opening of the second act. It may be interesting to cite a few lines, though its literary merit is small.]

    Palæstrio[a slave, appearing from the soldier’s house, as Prologue]—This argument I’ll tell you courteously,

    If you to listen will be mannerly.

    Who will not listen, let him up and go,

    So making room for one disposed to hear.

    This comedy we are about to play,

    For sake of which you sit so festive there,—

    Its argument and name I’ll tell to you.

    ‘Alazon’ is the drama’s name in Greek,

    And Braggadocio is our word for it….

    This’s Ephesus. Yon soldier is my master,

    Who went thence townward; boastful, insolent,

    Filthy, and full of crapulence and lies.

    He says the women chase him all unsought.

    A laughing-stock he is, where he appears.

    So, while with mocking lips they lead him on,

    Most of the girls you’ll see with mouths awry!

    [The last line is perhaps a random jest aimed at the extravagant comic masks. If so, it is an indication of post-Plautine date. One of the most interesting prologues, that of the ‘Casina,’ was certainly composed for a late revival of a remarkably coarse and brutal play. A few examples of these prologues may be instructive.]