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What Zukofsky Found: Sight, Sound, and Sense in Rudens 615-705

Timothy Moore

Washington University at St. Louis

Plautus’ Rudens was an especially apt choice for Louis Zukofsky’s eccentric manner of translation (Zukofsky 1967), as its fascinating mixture of comedy and melodrama, its lively stage action, its metrical/musical variety, and its exuberant sound play combine to make it unique in the Plautine corpus.  After a brief introduction to the play, this paper describes how these features work together in the passage chosen for performance at this workshop: lines 615-705.

In keeping with the tone of the play as a whole, the action and language of 615-705 are unusually melodramatic for Plautus: Trachalio, after seeing the pimp Labrax attack the women Palaestra and Ampelisca inside the shrine of Venus, pleads first with the Cyrenenses populares in general and then with Daemones in particular for help.  As Daemones and his slaves enter the shrine Palaestra and Ampelisca come out and take refuge on an altar, refusing to be consoled by Trachalio’s promise to protect them.  Yet even in this most melodramatic of scenes, Plautus never lets the seriousness overwhelm comedy.  Before he agrees to help, Daemones banters with Trachalio; and even after the two fleeing women enter, the seriousness of their laments is undercut by Trachalio’s rather inept interjections and the audience’s awareness that their danger has in fact just come to an end.

Rudens offers an unusual amount of lively motion, which Zukofsky would have noted in Nixon’s translation; indeed, the play has so much movement to music that it has been called a “dance drama” (Moore 2012).  Lines 615-705 feature some of the play’s most energetic movement: Trachalio runs on stage and must move violently as he implores help from anyone within earshot.  He probably falls down before the knees of Daemones (635).  When Daemones calls upon his lorarii, they move swiftly across the stage as a group and enter the shrine with Daemones. Almost immediately, the audience would witness Ampelisca and Pardalisca entering from the same doorway through which Daemones and the lorarii have just exited. They move frantically and uncertainly for a number of verses until Trachalio admonishes them to run to the altar.  Trachalio then probably moves back across the stage to the shrine as he concludes the passage with a prayer to Venus.

The passage’s unusual metrical variety suggests that this part of Rudens was extraordinary musically as well as visually (Beare 1964, Questa 1995, Moore 2016).  Before the passage begins, Daemones had been speaking iambic senarii.  Trachalio enters with trochaic septenarii, thus beginning music (615).   Palaestra enters singing a polymetric canticum consisting primarily of cretics (664), echoing the rhythms she used in her earlier lament that opened the music of the play (185ff.).  Ampelisca and Trachalio continue the cretics  in their initial dialogue with Palaestra, underlining musically the affinity of the three characters (676-681a).  Refusing to be consoled, Palaestra switches the meter to iambic septenarii (682), which remain throughout the rest of the passage.  This switch is an example of a pattern that occurs throughout Rudens: moving from lyrics, characters sing iambic septenarii instead of the more expected trochaic septenarii.  Because of their conspicuous association with comedy (Varro, De serm. lat, fr. 39 Funaioli), the iambic septenarii help to maintain the comic tone in the midst of the unusually melodramatic action.

Moving his eyes from Nixon’s English to the Latin on the left side of each Loeb page, Zukofsky would have heard in this passage—and throughout Rudens—a great deal of sound play that he would have found most congenial.  The best example comes at the opening of the scene, where Trachalio’s assonance and alliteration are “over the top” even by Plautine standards, reaching their peak at 617-618, which overflow with “p”s:

ferte opem inopiae atque exemplum pessumum pessum date.

vindicate, ne inpiorum potior sit pollentia.

Session/Panel Title

Reading and Performing Louis Zukofsky's 1967 Translation of Plautus' Rudens (workshop)

Session/Paper Number

35.2

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