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Roman Pharmacology: Plautus' "Blanda Venena" Author(s): Dorota Dutsch Source: Greece & Rome, Vol. 52,
Roman Pharmacology: Plautus' "Blanda Venena" Author(s): Dorota Dutsch Source: Greece & Rome, Vol. 52,

Roman Pharmacology: Plautus' "Blanda Venena" Author(s): Dorota Dutsch Source: Greece & Rome, Vol. 52, No. 2 (Oct., 2005), pp. 205-220 Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association Stable URL: Accessed: 01-01-2019 21:19 UTC

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The assumption that women are both given to blanditia and

to such discourse informs a variety of Latin texts of various p

comedy abounds in samples of such speech more than any o

Donatus, the fourth-century commentator on Terence, claims

typical of women in Terence's plays to seek to please others diri) whenever they speak.2 The same scholar also observes

personae occasionally indulge in the purportedly feminine

blanditia when talking to women.3 Donatus further expla

the most literal level) blanditia manifests itself in certain expr such as the modifier amabo, the emphatic possessive mi/mea, and the

use of the interlocutor's proper name - which he calls blandimenta.4

Modern statistics show that in all Roman comedies these expressions

indeed predominate in the speech of female characters, and when they

occur in the lines of men, are usually addressed to women.5 Not only

Terence, then, but also Plautus, made efforts to comply with the stereo-

1 See e.g. Pacuv. Trag. 195, Apul. Met. 10.21, 10.27, Livy. AUC 1.9.16, 27.15.11-12, 32.40.11,

Petron. Sat. 113.7.2, Tac. Hist. 1.74, Ann. 13.13, 14.2.

2 Ad Ad. 291.4: 'It is characteristic of women when they speak either to flatter others or to pity

themselves' (Proprium est mulierum cum loquuntur aut aliis blandiri aut se commiserari). For blanditia

being typical of women (not just of certain female stock types) see also Ad Ad. 288.4, 289.1, and 353.2, Ad An. 286.2, 685.1, Ad Hec. 585.3, 824; Ad Eu. 95.2.

3 Donatus' comments on how old men occasionally speak blande when addressing women, see Ad

Hec. 740.4, 7. Cf. V. Reich, 'Sprachliche Charakteristik bei Terenz', W.S. 51 (1933), 77. Terence

himself uses the term exclusively to draw attention to male blanditia (Ph. 252, Hec. 68, 861). An exchange in the final scene of the Hecyra, during which Pamphilus dismisses Bacchis' claim that he is the most coaxing of all men with 'look who's talking' suggests that Donatus was nevertheless

correct in his assessment.

4 Mea, mea tu, amabo, and other such expressions are blandimenta fitting for women (Ad Eu.

656.1). Repeated use of the name of one's interlocutor is also a blandimentum (see Ad Eu. 462.2, 871).

5 Cf. J. B. Hofmann, Lateinische Umgangssprache (Heidelberg 1978, 4th edition), 127 and 137. For

the most exhaustive account, see J. N. Adams, 'Female Speech in Latin Comedy', Antichthon 18

(1984), 55-67, on gender differences in the use of polite modifiers (amabo, quaeso, and obsecro),

68-73, on mi/mea. M. Gilleland, Linguistic Differentiation of Character Type and Sex (Diss.

University of Virginia, 1979), analyzes the distribution of endearing forms of address among

various stock characters in Plautus and Terence, concluding that gender, not status, is the decisive

criterion, ibid. 281. See also below n. 37 on amabo used by men.

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type of blanditia as feminine discourse. The plays of Pl ticularly remarkable testimony, since, in addition to t

they feature numerous comments that reveal how t

was expected to construe 'soothing words'. This essa

focus on Plautine blanditia as it searches for a rationale of 'soothing speech' in Roman comedy.

Indulgent words

The expressions that Donatus describes as blandimenta have one

common denominator: they stress affinity and relationship. Amabo, '

will love you', would originally have conveyed a promise of future affec-

tion.6 The emphatic use of the possessive mi/mea would have been a token of familiarity, as would the use of the addressee's proper name

Consequently, blanditia appears to have connoted a level of speech suit

able to the most personal interactions. Ernout and Meillet conjecture

that the adjective blandus originally denoted ingratiating and inarticulate

speech,7 leading us to the outskirts of 'civilized' language where articu

late speech borders upon interjections and onomatopoeia.

Indeed, in the corpus of Latin texts, references to vox blanda often

appear in similar contexts - those of the utmost privacy. Erotic contexts are certainly most frequent,8 but the 'soothing voice' would not have bee confined to the bedroom. For example, Lucretius' usage of blandus in De

rerum natura implies that blanditia resounded in nurseries, in the prattle o

young children and in the voices of the nannies, as well as at the beds of

the moribund, where moans mingled with words of comfort.9 What lovers, children, and the moribund have in common is their vul-

nerability: after all they are obliged to expose the intimate details of their

bodies and allow lovers or caregivers to cross interpersonal boundarie otherwise respected by their society. Lovers and those tending to the

very sick or the very young thus acquire an in-depth knowledge of the

6 Cf. C. Bennett, Syntax of Early Latin (Hildesheim, 1966), 41, and Hofmann (n. 5), 127.

7 A. Ernout and A. Meillet, Dictionnaire etymologique de la langue latine (Paris, 1967), 72.

8 Hor. Carm. 4.1.8, Petr. 113.7, Ov. Am. 3.1.46, 3.7.58; Ars 1.455, 1.468, Prop. Val. Max. 2.7.6.

9 See 5.230 for the nurses' blanda atque infracta loquella and 5.1017-18 for children's blanditia (cf.

Hor. S. 1.1.25, Verg. G. 3.185, Val. Max. 2.7.6). For vox blanda as alleviating pain, see Lucr

6. 1244-6 'the soothing voice of the weary mingled with the voice of complaint' (blandaque lassorum

vox mixta voce querellae); the voice can be understood to belong both to the weary caregivers or to the

victims of the plague - see C. Bailey, Titi Lucreti Cari De Rerum Natura Libri Sex (Oxford, 1963).

Blandus is regularly applied to describe soothing remedies, cf. TLL, 2030, 12-40.

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needs of others, along with an overwhelming power to comfort (or to harm). The exchanges that take place in the bedroom, nursery, and

hospice belong to a discourse of contiguity and indulgence, where empathy (or illusion of empathy) prevails over objective judgment and

soothing is more important than telling the truth. This association of blan-

ditia with such a discourse explains the Plautine idiom denoting promises

whose fulfillment is much desired yet considered unlikely -blanda dicta.10

Psychologists and anthropologists have discerned an attitude of connect-

edness and participation throughout the history of human societies. 11 Such

an orientation towards the world, in which the self is defined as an inherent

part of the cosmos closely connected to other people, animals, and land-

scapes, emphasizes unity rather than the division between various logical categories: self and other, man and woman, human and animal, living

and dead.12 This attitude has been described as both a mode of representing the world prevalent in certain non-western societies (Levy-Bruhl) and as an

intellectual undercurrent in societies that favour the logic of division, in

which the discourse of care and connectedness, often perceived as typical

of women, tends to be suppressed (Gilligan).13 Moreover, it has been

demonstrated that speakers of various modem languages commonly resort to a discourse of intimacy when trying to compensate for any action threatening the other's self-esteem,14 and it might be argued that Roman blanditia denotes a phenomenon of a similar order.

10 See Epid. 158-9, cf. 320-1, Mos. 389, cf. 395, and Aul. 192, cf. 195-6. Note that our expla-

nation of blanditia as discourse of indulgence and contiguity also accounts for the practices of pol-

itical blanditia described in De petitione: empty promises and nomenclatio (31, 41) De pet. presents the candidate's use of such strategies as a necessary evil: 'while blanditia is base and shameful

under other circumstances, it is, nevertheless, necessary in canvassing' (ibid. 31); cf. Cic. De orat. 1.112: where 'to canvass in a rather coaxing manner' (petere blandius) is described as 'making a

fool of oneself' (esse ineptum).

1 See S. J. Tambiah, Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Reality (Cambridge, 1990),

84-110, for the history of this concept in the social sciences since Levy-Bruhl.

12 See the notes on the personality in 'primitive' society in Levi-Bruhl, How Natives Think

(New York, 1966), 54-81.

13 C. Gilligan, In a Different Voice, (Cambridge, 1982), esp. 16-19, on women's tendency to define

themselves in a context of human relationship. See J. Kristeva 'Un nouveau type d'intellectuel', Tel Quel

74 (1977), 7, and her remarks on the innate adversity towards generally established categories felt by the

woman 'cramped within the confinement of the body' ('trop prise par les frontieres du corps').

14 p. Brown and S. Levinson, Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage (Cambridge, 1987, 1st

ed. 1978) is based on data from unrelated languages. People across cultures use similar strategies to

show respect for the other's self-image. One such type of strategy, 'positive politeness', consists in

stressing the relationship between speaker and hearer, Brown and Levinson, op. cit. 101-29. See

C. Kerbrat-Orecchioni, Les interactions verbales (Paris, 1990-1994) Vol. 1,192ff. for references to

other research confirming the validity of the Brown-Levinson theory.

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Fish and lovers are best fresh

Of all Plautine personae, prostitutes (meretrices) and madams (len

are most frequently accused of using blandimenta to manipulate

others.15 A typical example is found in the first act of the Menaechmi. Sporting his wife's best coat, the cross-dressing Menaechmus visits his

(well-named) girlfriend Erotium. When he offers the coat to her as a

gift, Erotium thanks him in an appropriately effusive manner: her extra- vagant reference to Menaechmus' triumph is spiced with an allusion to

the (supposedly) numerous rivals he has outdone: 'You easily succeed to

be more successful with me than all those who have their requests

granted'.16 The parasite Peninculus, who has been observing all this,

now reminds the audience why they should not be fooled (193-5):

Meretrix tantisper blanditur, dum illud quod rapiat videt; nam si amabas, iam oportebat nassum abreptum mordicus.

A hooker wheedles as long as she can spot something to steal. If you really loved him you

would have bitten off his nose.

A courtesan's blanditia, then, consists in presenting to her client an

image (of him, of herself, and of the situation that has brought them

together) that corresponds to his desires. Such indulgence is meant to

divert his attention from the threat she poses to his property.

Peniculus' joke is even more revealing. If (hypothetically) Erotium

truly loved Menaechmus for himself, she would be a menace not only

to his symbolic territory, but also to his very person: instead of taking his money, she would bite off his nose - a body part sometimes substi- tuted euphemistically for the penis.17 Whether penis or nose, the refer-

ences to biting off (mordicus abripere) and snatching away (rapere) seem to cast the wheedling woman in the role of a sly predator whose tail wags

as she awaits the opportunity to bite.18 The confessions of a madam in

15 Though their dramatic functions are no doubt distinct, both the procuress and the courtesan

participate in the process of verbal seduction. In the Asinaria the young man describes how both

women seduced him 'with charm and kind words' (blande et benedice), 204-14; see especially

207-9: 'you used to say that both you and she loved me and only me' (me unice unum

illam amare aibas mihi).

te atque

16 192: Superas facile, ut superior sis mihi quam quisquam qui impetrant. Gratuitous compliments

are typical of the speech of the meretrix, cf. Donatus (Ad Eu. 463.1) remarks that she speaks 'like

a hooker and a witty girl' (utpote meretrix et faceta).

17 Cf. J. N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (Baltimore, 1982), 35 and n. 2, for the use of

nasus as anatomical metaphor. See contra A. S. Gratwick's suggestion that Erotium might be com-

pared here to a tame bird nibbling on her client's nose, Plautus: Menaechmi (Cambridge, 1993), 158.

18 Cf. OLD l.b.

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the Asinaria contain another veiled allusion to the courtes

phagic appetite.19 Just prior to telling the audience ho

words to become intimate with men (178-80, cf. 220-4

compares her clients to fish and lauds the qualities of the

is as succulent in a pie as he is well grilled (not-so-fresh lovers being apparently far less satisfying). Both excerpts portray the honeyed speech of a courtesan or a madam as a threat to the man's physical well-being, suggesting that he may end up consumed or destroyed: the demimondaine speaks coaxingly to get her food and the client is her meal. Not surprisingly, then, the profession of a madam requires above all a good set of teeth. Indeed, another character from a prostitute's entou- rage, Astaphium, the clever maid in the Truculentus, explains that a suc- cessful procuress needs to bare her teeth in a deceitful smiles as she

charms (blanditur) her visitors (Truc. 224-6):

bonis esse oportet dentibus lenam probam, ad-

-ridere ut quisquis veniat blandeque adloqui,

male corde consultare, bene lingua loqui.

A proper madam should have good teeth in order to smile at people as they come and,

talking to them softly, plot evil in her heart while saying good things with her tongue.

This smile in which the lena bares her teeth, at once alluring and

threatening, is a fitting emblem of the demimondaine's speech.20 Her

blanditia is an ambivalent discourse associated with crossing personal boundaries and with all the pleasure and harm that can arise form such a transgression.

Blanda venena

Our version of the Bacchides opens with a drama of seduction. Tr

enlist a reluctant young man (Pistoclerus) in her sister's neg

with a soldier, Bacchis combines allusions to sexual gratificatio

enticing promises of drinking and kissing parties and does no

19 See Hor. Ep. 5. 37-8 on Canidia's cannibalistic intentions.

20 Given the speaker's profession it is tempting here to think of the pervasive represe

the female body as having an upper and a lower mouth; cf. Carson on the implicati

analogy for the Greek assumptions about female sound, 'The Gender of Sound', Glas

God (New York, 1995), 130-2.

21 These probably translated into some stage action. Cf. 73-4: 'you must be softened, I will help


.pretend to love me' (malacissandus es, equidem tibi do hanc operam

.simulato me amare).

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the quintessential feminine blandishment amabo (44, 62). The youth is

mistrustful of her efforts (50-2):

PI. Viscus meru' vostrast blanditia. BA. Quid jam? PI. Quia enim

intellego, duae unum expetitis palumbem, peri

PI. Your coaxing is nothing but bird-lime. BA. How come? PI. Because I understand that

you are both after one dove. I am lost

Thus Pistoclerus dismisses Bacchis' blanditia as mere bird-lime meant to

immobilize the hunted bird (a possible phallic symbol),22 and this is not the sole instance of a glue-like property being attributed to female

speech. Messenio (Men. 342) also warns his master that once prostitutes

know how to call a man by his name (a form of blandimentum) they 'lean

against' him (se adplicant) and glue themselves to him (adglutinant).

Meretrices use language (promises of future affection or shared plea- sures) to obliterate personal boundaries, creating permanent bonds

between themselves and their clients.

In the Asinaria, Cleareta (the madam who prefers both her fish and her clients fresh) indulges in an exhibitionistic diatribe in which she

unveils the secrets of her profession to her daughter's destitute lover,

offering another example of an extended metaphor in which the

speech acts performed by women are endowed with the power to inca- pacitate the listener (As. 221-3):

esca est meretrix, lectus inlex est, amatores aues;

bene salutando consuescunt, compellando blanditer,

osculando, oratione uinnula, uenustula.

The hooker is the bait, the bed is the decoy; lovers are birds; they wax intimate with fond

greetings, solicitous coaxing, and kisses - through enchanting, inebriating talk.

Cleareta's aim is to capture men and turn them into sui (consuescunt, cf. also assuescunt in As. 217) - that is, to eliminate the prescribed social dis-

tance between herself and her victims. Since she achieves her goal through ordinary speech acts, such as greetings and requests (salutan-

do .compellando), the power of her persuasion must lie in the manner

in which she speaks. Plautus renders her style through adverbs and

adjectives: she greets people fondly (bene); her requests are uttered in

a coaxing manner (blanditer); all of her speech is inebriating and spell-

binding (uinnula, uenustula). This final jingle foregrounds two adjectives

22 Cf. Adams (n. 17), 31, on the bird as the representation of the phallus, the term is used as an

intimate term of endearment in Cas. 138 and As. 693.

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that call the audience's attention to the essential mechanisms of feminine

seductive discourse: intoxication and enchantment, both of which involve the loss of free will and selfhood.23 While the first, vinnulus, is

obviously meant to evoke a substance that alters awareness, the

second, venustulus, has similar, albeit indirect, connotations. It brings to mind the related word venus that signifies the charm that inheres in

seduction rites. This might in turn have brought to the spectators'

minds the cognate words venenum and veneficium, denoting respectively a substance imbued with venus and the ritual practice of enchantment.24 The parallel between the venus of charming conversations and that of

spells and curses could well have been quite vivid for the audience of

Roman comedy. Ancient Roman society associated the female body

and mind with the practice of veneficium - a ritual disrupting personal

boundaries and undermining an individual's control over his body.25

Veneficium involves the use of venenum, a task to which, according to

one of the Plautine slaves, a woman is indeed well suited by nature, as

her body is itself a 'garden full of ingredients for every wicked practice'

(mores maleficos).26

It is perhaps not a coincidence that in Plautine theatre accusations of

veneficium are often leveled against the artisans of Venus, who constantly resort to the sticky and inebriating discourse of blanditia. Consider how often the female characters expert in the practice of venus are accused of

veneficium: Philolaches calls Scapha a uenefica, when he hears her sug-

gestion that Philematium should not devote herself to him exclusively

23 Not only are these adjectives possibly coined for the occasion, but diminutives in general are

arguably a feature of female speech in Roman comedy; cf. Gilleland (n. 4), 251.

24 The stem *venes- occurs both in venenum, the substance endowed with venus, and veneficium,

the practice of venus; see Emout-Meillet (n. 7), 721. Both Emout and Meillet (ibid.) and A. Walde,

Lateinisches Etymologisches Worterbuch (Heidelberg, 1910), 735, agree in linking venus with *wen, 'to

desire' and deriving veneficium from venus, either directly or as haplology. The link between Venus

and venenum is possibly alluded to in Verg. Aen. 1.688-9. Cf. J. O'Hara, True Names: Vergil and the

Alexandrian Tradition of Etymological Wordplay (Ann Arbor, 1996), 128. See also Tibullus 2.4.55-7.

On venerari and venenum see Fest. 375.44.

25 For an incisive discussion of the link between women and poison in Pliny, see S. Currie

'Poisonous Women and Unnatural History in Roman Culture', in M. Wyke, Parchments of Gender (Oxford, 1998), esp. 147-8.

26 Miles (187-94); Plautus uses the adjective maleficus, whose nominal form was destined to

become the technical term for black magic; see F Graf, Magic in the Ancient World (Cambridge,

1997), 225-6. The reference to homegrown poisons might allude to the magical use of female

milk, urine, and menstrual blood described by Pliny; cf. A. Richlin, in J. P. Hallett and M. B.

Skinner, Roman Sexualities (Princeton, 1997), 201-2, and J. Vons, L'image de la femme dans

l'oeuvre de Pline l'Ancien. Collection Latomus 253 (Bruxelles, 2000), 116-25. A reference to

Roman folklore would be quite probable in this passage of the Miles, whose stylistic features, as

L. Schaff, Der Miles Gloriosus des Plautus und sein Griechisches Original (Miinchen, 1977), 222,

argues, suggest that it is a Plautine addition to the Greek original.

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(Mos. 218); the old man in the Epidicus refers to a girl with whom his son has been having an affair against his father's will (219-21) as 'that witch' (uenefica), and Diniarchus threatens to bring the formidably per- suasive Phronesium before the tribunal as a uenefica (Truc. 762-3). The juxtaposition of bland- and venus- actually became a collocation

in later Latin. For example, while Tacitus speaks of blanditiae and the

poisonous politics of the imperial court (Hist. 1.15.24), Silius Italicus uses the expression 'to be treated with the soothing poison' (medicari blando veneno) as a paraphrase for falling in love (7.453). Publilius Syrus (Com. 12) quotes a proverb according to which 'sweet talk' (blan- ditia) is intrinsically poisonous (Met. 8.11.7). Ovid juxtaposes coaxing speech and venom in Amores 1.8, where the lena (a character taken directly from comedy and branded as a witch at the beginning of the

poem) gives her disciple the following advice (103-4):27

Lingua iuvet, mentemque tegat: blandire noceque; Impia sub dulci melle venena latent.

Let your tongue help you (in this task) and veil your mind; coax and cause harm! Unholy

venoms hide under sweet honey.

In Plautus' Mostellaria (218-19) a young lover (named Philolaches) wit- nesses a scene analogous to the one in Amores 1.8: and old woman (Scapha) strives to persuade his girlfriend (Philematium) to have as many lovers as she possibly can. The girl rejects Scapha's advice; although she admits to having used coaxing to attract Philolaches in the past (cf. 220: subblandiebar), she nevertheless does intend to remain faithful to him. Yet Philolaches' monody that opens the play

makes it clear that his affair with Philematium has had a disastrous

impact on his moral constitution in spite of her best intentions, and the development of the play (upon his father's arrival Philolaches is too drunk and too busy with his social life to receive him) seems to confirm this diagnosis. The Mostellaria demonstrates, then, that a

woman's blandimenta are pernicious even when she does not intend to

harm her lover: it is as though she were infected with some virus of moral laxity transmittable through speech.

27 J. C. McKeown, Ovid Amores (Leeds, 1989), Vol. 2, 198, notes that the dramatic setting of Am. 1.8 parallels closely the scene in the Mostellaria discussed here and concludes that in this elegy 'Ovid

adheres closely to the comic tradition.' McKeown (ibid. 201-10), F. W. Lenz, Ovid. Die Liebeselegien (Berlin, 1965), and F Munari, P. Ovidi Nasonis Amores (Firenze, 1959) provide notes on the numer-

ous references to witchcraft in Amores 1.8.

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The loss of self: immutatio

In her ability to disrupt personal boundaries and transform her victim the blanda meretrix is the equal of the veneficus/a. The Amphitruo all several times to the possibility of being transformed from a subject c trolling one's own body into an object deprived of free will. Sosia, hav

been maltreated by Mercury-Sosia - who looks exactly like him, ye

most definitely someone else - is under the impression that someone

has taken possession of his image and is using his body (Am. 456):

'Where was I lost? Where was I exchanged [immutatus]? Where did I lose my body?' The verb immutare 'to exchange' appears to be the tech- nical term for such a magical transformation because Plautus uses it again when he has Sosia warn his master, Amphitruo, 'beware not to

lose ownership of yourself; people here are being exchanged [immutan-

tur] these days'.28 While in Amphitruo these disturbing transformations

are blamed on a veneficus,29 in the Truculentus an ability to produce

similar changes is attributed to the meretrix. First, one of the play's

leading male characters, Diniarchus, threatens to accuse his lover of

being a uenefica because she removed what little intelligence he had

from his heart (78) and made him forcibly 'closest to and most intimate

with her' (79).30 Second, the only two scenes in which the play's epon-

ymous villain appears are connected through the dynamics of blanditia. Truculentus' entrance scene (256-321) revolves around his vehement

disapproval of Phronesium's maid, Astaphium. He ridicules the girl's apparently emaciated body, abundance of cheap ornaments (270,

273), slow gait (286), unnaturally red cheeks (290, 294), and elaborately

dressed hair (287-8). Although Truculentus announces that he would

much rather spend a night in the country with a wide-mouthed cow than with this abominable city creature (276-80), nevertheless the girl, undeterred, replies with compliments: 'I like you now that you

speak harshly to me' (273), exhibiting the same kind of behaviour as Bacchis (Bac. 1174) who is called 'sweet-talkative' (blandiloqua). Finally, she expresses her belief that blandimenta, along with other

28 Am. 846.

29 Amphitruo himself accuses a 'sorcerer' (veneficus) of having 'perversely perturbed' the mind of

his entire family (Am. 1043-4).

30 Cf. Mos. 25-30 where Philolaches claims that Venus has deprived him of both his intelligence

and sense of proportion.

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tricks, will be able to transform this violent monstros ing before her (Truc. 317-18):

uerum ego illum, quamquam uiolentust, spero immutari potis

blandimentis, hortamentis, ceteris meretriciis;

However violent he is, I believe he can be transformed with blandishments, words of

encouragement, and other prostitutes' tricks.

The verb Plautus chooses to denote the Grouch's anticipated metamor-

phosis is immutari, the same one he uses to describe Sosia's loss of self.

Indeed, Truculentus' transformation involves a similar demise. When

the Grouch returns on stage, he is - just as Astaphium predicted - a

completely different person. He now makes his own attempts at being blandus (670-98), seems to have lost his former taste for cattle, and declares surrender: 'I have an entirely new character [mores], I have lost the old one'. The audience's introduction to this newly-transformed Truculentus has no function in the play other than to demonstrate the

extent of immutatio that a prostitute can produce through her


On the other side of the mirror: blandus amator

Let us recapitulate the imaginary stages of the immutatio. Once the etrix has transfixed, immobilized (Bac. 50, Men. 342), and embraced h

victim (Men. 342), her blandimenta can penetrate into the innerm

recesses of his psyche, transforming him into her familiar (cf. As. 2 222: -suesc- and Truc. 79: summum atque intumum). Young Pistoclerus

in the Bacchides describes in detail the results of this transformation as

he imagines what will happen if he enters Bacchis' house (Bac. 68- 72). In his vision, he is holding a dove instead of a sword; his head covered with a chamber pot, he is wearing a soft cloak instead of a

cuirass. A harlot instead of a shield at his side, the young man's new

self is the complete antithesis of soldierly virility. Pistoclerus seems to perceive his choice between virtue and pleasure as a choice between the masculine and the feminine sides of his nature. As the temptation

continues, it becomes clear that, should his feminine inclinations

prevail, his new self will have to adopt a new way of speaking. Bacchis offers him a lesson in this foreign language (83-4):

Ubi tu lepide voles esse tibi, 'mea rosa' mihi dicito 'dato qui bene sit'.

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If you want to feel at ease, just say, 'my dear rose, give me a place w

Just like the soft cloak of the young man's vision, the expressions of

endearment function as a token of his surrender to Bacchis and her

ways, as though the coaxing discourse of the fille de joie were a

symptom of some contagious disease that the young man contracts when he becomes intimate with her. Bacchis' representation of an exchange between lover and courtesan, wherein the amator uses blandi- menta to obtain free services, is quite flattering compared to the one fea- tured in Trinummus (223-75). The song of the virtuous young man (Lysiteles) paints a less appealing image of the lovers' discourse:

whereas the girls' endearing term of address and modifiers ostensibly help her to have her request granted (and so are for her a source of power), the male lover's words serve only to expose his malleability


'da mihi hoc, mel meum, si me amas, si audes' ibi ille cuculus: 'ocelle mi, fiat: et istuc et si amplius uis dari, dabitur'.

'Give me this, honey, if you love me, if you please'; to this, this nincompoop replies, 'of

course, my precious, I will give you this and if you want anything else, you will get it too'.

Blandus and its cognates feature prominently in the part of the song that precedes this conversation and explains how Love depraves men (237-41):

numquam Amor quemquam nisi cupidum hominem postulat se in plagas conicere

eos petit,

eos sectatur; subdole blanditur, ab re consulit,

blandiloquentulus, harpago, mendax, cuppes, auarus, elegans despol[i]ator,

latebricolarum hominum corruptor blandus, inops celatum indagator.

Love never aspires to cause misery to anyone but a lustful man. He seeks that kind,

follows them, wheedles them treacherously, gives them nonsensical advice, that little wheedler, Mr. Harpoon, that liar, that glutton, that dandy brigand, that wheedling cor-

ruptor of skulkers, needy explorer of dissimulators.

Love's wheedling is responsible for turning the youth into a wheedling

cuculus. But Lystiteles also identifies another culprit - the lover's exces-

sive appetite (237). 'Sweet talk' is thus the means by which a woman

tests a man's limits in the hope of discovering that they are penetrable, i.e., that he is a cupidus, and so, likely to participate in her discourse of pleasure and contiguity. What the latebricolae and the celati try to hide is their propensity for indulging their inner women. Plautus has a name for this kind of man: 'the effeminate species' (genus mulierosum), the term

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used by the soldier in the Poenulus (1303) to describe a

eunuch (cauponius) and embracing two women at on

Plautus routinely casts the uir blandiens in the follo order to satisfy his lust, the lover needs someone else's help and in order to obtain it adopts a woman's persuasive manner of speaking (blanditia).32 Thus the unfaithful husband attempts to secure his wife's cooperation (Cas. 228-9, Men. 626-7); the young man in love speaks sweet words not only to his beloved (Cist. 449, cf. 302; Poen. 360, cf. 357), but also to those who can help him gain access to her -

even if they are his own slaves (As. 707-18, Poen. 129-50).33

Notably, these efforts are almost always represented as futile:34 wives

rebuke their homegrown Don Juans (Cas. 229, Men. 627); lovers may

request something more than promises (Poen. 360); slaves, the

Plautine artists of deception, are even less likely to be fooled (As. 731,

Poen. 135-9).

Lysidamus, the outrageous senex in the Casina, is perhaps one of the most memorable Plautine incarnations of the 'coaxing man' (Cas. 228,

274).35 This amateur of girls and bearded men alike (466) comes on

stage, singing of his new perfumes and his love for Casina, and goes on to complain to the audience that, although his wife's very existence is a torment to him, he must nevertheless address this living curse 'coax- ingly', blande (228). Rejected by his wife and impatient to spend the night with Casina, this vigorous patriarch then makes amorous advances

31 The opposite of mulierosus is a mas homo, the kind with which the soldier identifies himself


32 Additionally, some old men in comedy, as Donatus observed, also resort to blanditia (cf. Ad

Ad. 291, Ad Hec. 231, 744). Plautus has only two scenes with the senex blandiens. Euclio (Aul.

184, 185) accuses Megadorus of blanditia, ascribing his excessively friendly words to greed.

Simo's kindness (Ps. 1290) towards the drunk Pseudolus seems inspired by the same motivation (cf. hoc in 1291 referring to his wallet). Notably, both Greeks (cf. A. Giacomelli, 'Aphrodite and

After', Phoen. 35 (1980), 14-15, and Romans (M. Skinner in Hallett and Skinner (n. 25), 135,

might have viewed old men as incapable of active sexual behaviour and, consequently, as effeminate.

33 These observations are based on those stage situations where: a) the text includes at least one

explicit reference to the male character practicing blanditia; b) the character in question utters on

stage at least one of the blandimenta identified by Donatus (in Poen. 357 if., exceptionally, a slave

speaks for his master); c) we have the addressee's reaction. For husband and wife, see Cas. 228-

9, Men. 626-7; for lovers: Cist. 302 and 450-63; Poen. 357 and 330-405; for a lover talking to

his slave: As. 222 and 707- 731, Poen. 129-34.

34 Plautus has Mercury (506-7) draw the audience's attention to the sycophantic skills of Jupiter

(cf. Am. 499-550), reminding everyone that he is after all his father. Cf. Hes. Op. 78, where Hermes is said to have bestowed the gift of sweet words on Pandora and her daughters.

35 For Lysidamus' sexuality as a source of his ridicule, see W. T. MacCary and M. M. Willcock

Plautus: Casina (Cambridge, 1976), 30-1.

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on his pet slave Olympio (449-75). As he tries to kiss h

back (459) he whispers in the slave's ear (454): 'my mea). The role of blanditia as a marker of homosexual exchanges is

even more obvious in another horseback riding scene, this time in the Asinaria, where a younger amator, named Argyrippus, is at one point

forced to carry one of the slaves on his back (700-11).36 In placating

his tormentor, the youth is one of the rare males in Roman comedy to use the characteristically feminine expression amabo and the only one

to address it to another man (As. 707 and 71 1).37

Blanditia is a language shared by the woman and the 'effeminate man'

(mulierosus), a kind of secret code by which a woman can recognize a

woman in a man's body. Primarily a subversive property of the demi- mondaine's speech, blanditia enables her to transgress a man's personal

boundaries and transform him into a 'smooth-talking man' (vir blandus). Her victim then takes on her mode of thinking and speaking, only with

much less success.

Salutary poisons

Unlike men, the Plautine women - no matter what their status - are

frighteningly efficient whenever they resort to blanditia. And although

the clever demimondaines are most deft at using it, the skill of coaxing is not unknown to virtuous matrons. For instance, the first scene of

the Stichus shows a pair of faithful wives employing blandimenta to

slyly coax their father into allowing them to continue waiting for their

husbands (58-154). One daughter uses the endearing mi (90); the

other sweetens a question with amabo (91). They also try to kiss and

cleverly compliment their father, saying that he is the most important

man in their lives and implying that even their loyalty toward the

absent husbands is secondary to their filial obligations (96-8). The matrons' manner of speaking is no doubt reminiscent of a courtesan's

speech, but their goal - remaining faithful to their husbands - obviously

is not.

36 On the homosexual implications in this scene, see MacCary and Willcock (n. 35), 200, as well

as Adams (n. 5), 61, n. 73 on As. 711.

37 Adams (n. 5), 61 numbers for the use of amabo add to 89 or 90 with eight or nine (Mos. 324 is

doubtful) occurring in the male speech; my TLL search yielded the total number of 102 or 103 (including Mos. 324), with nine or ten occurring in the speech of male characters (As. 707, 711;

Cas. 917-18; Men. 678, Mos. 324, 467; Pers. 245, 765; Poen. 370, 380). The two examples in

the As. are the only ones occurring in a conversation between men.

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A quarrel in the Casina revolves around the ownership of a married

woman's sweet talk. When the old Lysidamus instructs his wife

Cleustrata to ask her neighbour Myrrhina for help in preparing Casina's wedding, she fails to make such a request and, when questioned by her husband, lies, saying that Myrrhina's husband refused to lend her (his wife's) help. Lysidamus is quite disappointed and assumes that his wife is directly responsible for her failure (584-6):

LY uitium tibi istuc maxumum est, blanda es parum.

CL. non matronarum officiumst, sed meretricium, uiris alienis, mi uir, subblandirier.

LY. This is your greatest fault: you are insufficiently coaxing.

CL. It is not the duty of matrons, but of prostitutes, to attempt to coax other women's


Significantly, Lysidamus' reproach implies that he thinks his wife would have succeeded in persuading the neighbour, if only she had been blanda. This bitter exchange between husband and wife points to an underlying conflict regarding a matron's blanditia. Cleustrata claims

that (at least in theatre) it is not a matron's duty to charm other

women's husbands, but rather the business of prostitutes. She thus admits that she can (and perhaps should) speak pleasantly with the men of her household. Lysidamus' general criticism, 'you are insuffi- ciently coaxing', presents the same point of view, as it seems to address not only his wife's failure to charm the neighbour, but also her general reluctance or inability to deliver the due portion of blanditia. The assumption that married women should speak coaxingly, pro- vided that they do not do so to other women's husbands, closely parallels the critique of real women lobbying for the abolition of the Oppian law that comes from the mouth of Livy's Cato (34.2.9-10):

Qui hic mos est in publicum procurrendi et obsidendi vias et viros alienos appellandi? Istud

ipsum suos quaeque domi rogare non potuistis? An blandiores in publico quam in privato

et alienis quam vestris estis?

Where does this habit come from? All that running around in public, blocking the streets

and accosting other women's husbands? Couldn't each of you ask the very same thing

from your own husband at home? Or perhaps you are more coaxing with other women's husbands in public than you are with your own at home?

Cato's pointed insinuation that the sweet-talking matrons may not be so

sweet when addressing their husbands at home reminds us of

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Lysidamus' complaint about his wife and confirms the view that a woman's blanditia was thought to belong to the men of her household.

Cato also insinuates that it is almost adulterous for married women to

talk 'softly' to other women's husbands (blandiores alienis), practically echoing the words of Cleustrata's reply (alienis subblandirier). By using their private voices in public, the matrons are exposing something that Cato considered to be their husbands' private property and are thus threatening to turn the Roman world inside out. Both Livy's Cato and Plautus' Lysidamus clearly regarded soothing speech as a wife's obligation towards her husband, a valuable artifact, not unlike her pensum of wool. A funeral inscription from the second century BCE (CIL 1.1211), which lists charming conversation and dec- orous gait next to housekeeping skills, attests to a similar idea of womanly virtue.38 Like venenum, which could either relieve or harm, a woman's soothing words were not necessarily undesirable.39 When prac- tised under the auspices of husband and home, blanditia might even have been considered beneficial - a daily dose of soothing charm.


The Latin word blanditia denotes a discourse of contiguity and indul-

gence. When applied to language, blandus and its cognates often refer

to expressions and speech acts representing the speaker and her (or

his) interlocutor as connected (mi/mea, amabo) and on the brink of

sharing future experiences (promises). Plautine drama appears to con-

strue the illusion of care and connectedness inherent in female blanditia

as a threat to interpersonal boundaries, thus portraying this discourse as

a phenomenon akin to veneficium and endowed with similar transgres-

sive powers.40 Consequently, the seductive deportment of women

skilled in the practice of venus was styled as a sort of witchcraft, an

attempt to dissolve the boundaries between self and other, to undermine a man's control over his own body and mind.

38 '[A woman of] pleasant conversation, of convenient gait; she kept house; she spun wool: I have

spoken; you may go now' (sermone lepido, turn incessu commodo; domum seruauit: lanam fecit: dixi:


39 The lex Cornelia de sicariis et ueneficis distinguished several types of venena: 'evil' (mala), 'love

potions' (amatoria), and 'medications' (ad sanandum); cf. Graf (n. 25), 46-7.

40 For the coherence between social ritual and other rituals practised by a society, see

B. Malinowski, Coral Gardens and Their Magic (New York, 1935) Vol. 2, 134-52, V. Turner's From Ritual to Theater: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York, 1982), 78 and passim.

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Although blanditia would, like venenum, have been perceived as

morally ambivalent - both harmful and soothing - Roman comedy most often portrays this type of discourse as an insidious drug. In Plautus blanditia essentially seems to mark the female speaker as the sub- versive other, whose words and actions require constant vigilance. What makes the otherness of the discourse of contiguity particularly insidious is its extreme contagiousness, its power to penetrate into the innermost recesses of a man's psyche and awaken his inner woman. The ultimate rationale for the mistrust of female blanditia in Plautine drama appears

to be the fear of discovering the other within the self.


HEINZ-GUNTHER NESSELRATH: Professor in Classics, Georg- August-Universitat, G6ttingen, Germany.

MATTHEW WRIGHT: Lecturer in Classics, University of Exeter.

VINCENT J. ROSIVACH: Professor of Classics, Fairfield University,


DOROTA DUTSCH: Assistant Professor in Classics, University of California, USA.

STEVEN L. TUCK: Assistant Professor in Classics, Miami University,


doi: 10. 1093/gromej/cxiO35

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