The Braggart Soldier Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 40-page guide for “The Braggart Soldier” by Plautus includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 5 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Valorization of the Military and Social Hierarchy.
Very little is known about Plautus’s life or the productions of his work. The only extant ancient Roman comedies are works written by Plautus and Terence, a playwright who was also a slave. During the time that Plautus was writing, there were no permanent theatres in Rome, as the first one wasn’t erected until 55 BC in Pompey, so performances occurred in temporary spaces at festivals. Like other Roman playwrights, Plautus adapted his works from Greek plays, most of which no longer exist. Plautus did not simply translate the originals; he adapted them and added his own comic twist. His deft use of comic language, puns, and witticisms combines with his tendency to poke fun at conservative Roman society and convention.
For instance, the title of the play, Miles Gloriosus, or The Braggart Soldier, suggests that the soldier will be the hero of the piece according to the conventions of ancient Greek and Roman theatre—think Aeschylus’s Oresteia (a tragic Greek trilogy in which the hero is Orestes), Aristophanes’s Lysistrata (a Greek comedy in which Lysistrata is the protagonist), or Plautus’s comedy The Menaechmi (in which the Menaechmus brothers win the day). However, The Braggart Soldier creates a situation in which the “hero,” the solider Pyrgopolynices, has become intolerable and must be overthrown by his supporting characters. In Pyrgopolynices’s mind, he is the hero of the play, yet his slave, Palaestrio, acts against the soldier and becomes the real hero of the piece.
In placing a slave as the protagonist, Plautus upsets and mocks the entire social hierarchy. When Palaestrio, the slave to a kind master in Ephesus, discovers that the soldier Pyrgopolynices has kidnapped his master’s lover, Palaestrio risks his life to save her. In this, he shows that he is more honorable than the titular soldier. When Palaestrio orchestrates a complicated theme that requires his social betters to do his bidding and results in the freeing of both the girl and himself, Palaestrio demonstrates that he is cleverer even than his kind master. By putting his life on the line for his master without the knowledge that he will be freed, Palaestrio shows that he is even more righteous and selfless than Periplectomenus, the elder neighbor who offers his home and resources to help the lovers reunite.
In The Braggart Soldier, Plautus’s women and slaves are wilier than the men who control their lives. Even the honorable men are often ridiculous, such as the long-winded Periplectomenus, who often doesn’t know when to stop pontificating and allow the action to continue. Similarly, Pleusicles isn’t half as clever as his lover Philocomasium, who pretends to be her own twin while Pleusicles struggles to remember simple instructions and to play one simple character. Roman theatre audiences certainly contained many members of the military, yet Plautus’s play mocking the institution was wildly popular. Although Roman society was rigidly conservative and moralistic, audiences consumed Plautus’s subversions of those values with enthusiasm.