The Braggart Soldier

by Plautus

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Braggart Soldier tells the story of an arrogant man who kidnaps an Athenian woman but is tricked by her lover into returning her without bloodshed. The play, often known by its Latin name, Miles Gloriosus, was written by the satirical Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus and based on a Greek story. 

In the Roman literary canon, plays regularly incorporated stock characters—paradigmatic examples of a character trope who appeared in many plays—and The Braggart Soldier is no different. In fact, the title itself, Miles Gloriosus, or, The Braggart Soldier, is the name for one such tropified character type. Plautus centers the play around this braggart, Pyrgopolynices, a soldier more than willing to boast about his nonexistent heroics and unimpressive accomplishments. Beyond Pyrgopolynices, Plautus employs several other stock characters, such as the tricky slave, young lover, old man, and young maiden. The cast of this satirical play displays Roman literary tactics and conventions and tells a comical tale of lost love, misplaced arrogance, cunning trickery, and well-earned justice. 

The play opens as Pyrgopolynices returns home to Ephesus, a coastal Greek city, from a tour in Athens. He brings with him a woman he kidnapped, Philocomasium. His unwilling companion is in love with a man she was forced to leave behind, a young Athenian man named Pleusicles. Trapped inside the braggart’s home, Philocomasium can think of no way to free herself from her imprisonment and mourns the life Pyrgopolynices stole from her. Soon after, a new servant arrives at Pyrgopolynices's home. Philocomasium exults at the unexpected ally, for the new servant is Palaestrio, the servant of her Athenian lover. When he heard about the abduction of his master’s lover, Palaestrio immediately boarded a ship and followed her to Ephesus, intending to retrieve her. However, the ship was overtaken by pirates, who happened to sell the servant to Pyrogopolynices. The two celebrate their good fortune and pretend not to know each other. 

Palaestrio sends a letter to Athens, urging his former master to come to Ephesus. He does so and moves into the neighbor’s house, which connects to a wall in Pyrogopolynices home. They cut a hole in the wall, allowing the young lovers to visit one another. Unfortunately, Sceledrus, a slave of Pyrogopolynices, spots them after spying through a skylight. To cover their tracks, the conspirators contrive an illusion to trick Pyrgopolynices into believing that Philocomasium has a twin sister, so he does not punish her for her transgression. Once he is convinced, they begin to plot ways to free Palaestrio and Philocomasium from their prison in the braggart’s home. 

Pleusicles convinces the neighbor, an old man named Periplectomenus, to pretend he has a wife who lusts for Pyrgopolynices. The two search for a fake wife and employ Acroteleutium, a courtesan, and her maid to trick the braggart soldier. Palaestrio tells Pyrgopolynices that she wishes him to visit her and tells him what he knows of her feelings and desires. Pyrgopolynices is immediately wooed, but he does not know what to do with Philocomasium, who he no longers wants. Palaestrio recommends the soldier free her and return her jewels and wealth to assuage the sting of his rejection. Pyrgopolynices agrees and offers to give Palaestrio to her as a companion on her journey back to Athens. Pleusicles dresses as the captain of the ship to Athens, and the trio leave for home. 

The love-struck Pyrgopolynices goes to Periplectomenus’s house, where he imagines the lovely Acroteleutium awaits him. Instead, he is greeted by his incensed neighbor and several others, who are enraged by his immoral attempts to court a married woman. They beat him mercilessly until he pays them to stop. After he has limped home, his slave, Sceledrus, informs him that he saw the two lovers kissing at the docks. Pyrgopolynices realizes he has been tricked but seems disinclined to do anything about it. The play ends as the lovers sail back to Athens, justice delivered and wrongs righted.

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