The Braggart Soldier

by Plautus

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Last Updated on September 26, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 570

Miles Gloriosus, a Roman play adapted from a no-longer extant Greek work called Alazon, was revised by prolific playwright Plautus to suit modern Roman audiences. Plautus’s satire is often translated into English as The Braggart Soldier and tells the tale of what was to become a stock character in Roman literature. Traditionally, live music played on reed pipes accompanied the dialogue, and the variance of the metrical structure reflects their original intonation. However, modern readers of Plautus’s work will notice that they are generally divided into five thematic acts, though this division does not accurately reflect the original organization of the material. 

Like many of Plautus’s plays, the Roman satire followed the actions of the clever slave, whose cunning and knack for intrigue led the main characters to happy and often romantic endings. In so doing, these plays elevated the role of the slave or servant and made the arts more accessible and relatable to the common man. Rather than a tale of kings and gods, these plays dealt with the mundane aspects of everyday life, and the average Roman was often the main character. Even among wealthy patricians and snobby merchants, the clever slave nearly always came out on top, an unexpected turn that spoke to a broader swath of the Roman populace than ever before.

Alongside the clever slave, Roman plays adopted a slew of other archetypal characters, usually referred to as stock figures, who came to represent factions or aspects of Roman society. The Braggart Soldier introduced the stock character miles gloriosus, creating a schematic example of an arrogant soldier bent on stealing the love interest from the adulescens, or young lover. Many other elements of the play replicate these stock figures and tropes. The conflict stems from the division of two young lovers, the adulescens, and the virgo, or young maiden. This division sparks intrigue, usually led by the clever slave or servus callidus, and results in their reconciliation. 

Often, such plays involve a senex, or older male character, as indeed The Braggart Soldier does. There are many more stock figures that figured into Roman play craft, but these essential figures provide the backdrop for the ironic twists and turns of the arrogant soldier’s eventual downfall. Indeed, the play ends—as many in this genre do—as the aggressor receives a beating at the hands of his victims. This plot line, although stereotypical, is nonetheless satisfying to audiences who enjoy seeing bullies thwarted and justice meted out.

Roman literature was a didactic art form that offered lessons about Roman life and values. Stock characters such as the clever slave made the plot palatable and engaging to a wide range of audiences; the misdeeds of other characters, such as the braggart soldier, indicated how one should and should not act. In this sense, Roman playwrights offered moralizing tales that taught critical lessons about virtue and justice. Indeed, these tales often deal with righted wrongs to explain the importance of humility, kindness, and neighborliness. Virtuous characters earn their happy endings through their cunning and kindness; because they are good, they are rewarded, and the story ends in their favor. However, stock characters representing undesirable aspects of Roman life are punished, often violently, and their misdoings leave them worse off than they began. Plautus’s The Braggart Soldier is no different, as the play reprises these quintessential aspects of Roman comedies adapted from Greek originals.

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