The Captives

by Plautus

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Places Discussed

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*Aetolia (ee-TOH-lee-ah). Ancient city-state in western Greece, near which Hegio lives close to an unnamed harbor town. Aetolia is at war with Elis, another city-state, located on southern Greece’s Peloponnesian Peninsula, which is home to Hegio’s son Tyndarus, a captive since his boyhood.

Plautus’s historical sources, if any, for this drama are unknown, but it is likely that any two warring Greek regions would have met his dramatic needs. The war that threatens to separate Hegio from his sole remaining son in fact reunites his family. The Greek setting is typical of the Roman playwright Plautus, who used many Greek plots, characters, and plot devices, though the story’s mores are more Roman than Greek. By using Greek settings he could comment on Roman foibles from a distance.

Hegio’s house

Hegio’s house. Though the audience never sees inside it, Hegio’s house stands as a symbol of the captivity of his sons, Tyndarus and Philocrates. For Hegio’s houseguest Ergasilus it is a place to practice his parasitism, and for the plot is it a convenient meeting place for the various characters. For the Roman audience, the home, placed a short distance out of town, is symbolic of family and the high value it held in that culture. From the beginning, however, it is also symbolic of the disguised homecoming of Hegio’s lost son, as well as of the errant slave Stalagmus, who can and does identify him.


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Beacham, Richard C. The Roman Theatre and Its Audience. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1991. Explains the physical aspects of Roman theater with illustrations and speculates on the nature of the ancient audience. Useful for production ideas.

Duckworth, George. The Nature of Roman Comedy: A Study in Popular Entertainment. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1952. The classic study on the subject of Roman comedy. Provides a comprehensive introduction to Latin playwrights, including Plautus.

Konstan, David. “Captivi: City-State and Nation.” In Roman Comedy. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983. Examines the plays of Plautus and Terence in the light of the ancient city-states’ cultural system. This play is seen to bring up the question of Greek national identity.

Leach, Eleanor Winsor. “Ergasilus and the Ironies of the Captivi.” Classica et Mediavalia 30 (1969): 145-168. Examines situations in the play such as the handling of the traditional recognition scene.

Segal, Erich. Roman Laughter: The Comedy of Plautus. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968. Organized by topics rather than by plays, this book presents an argument about Plautus’ comedy as a whole. An appendix includes a twenty-three-page discussion of The Captives.

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Critical Essays