Nugae Theatri

Comedic Borrowings in the 1533 Edition of Erasmus’ Adages

In: Erasmus Studies
Caitlin Watt Clemson University

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This article examines Erasmus’ additions to the Adagia in 1533 drawn from comedic playwrights Plautus and Terence. Although Erasmus generally expressed a preference for Terence, Plautus is cited more frequently overall in the Adages and the 133 borrowings from Plautus in the 1533 additions drastically outnumber the 22 from Terence. While scholars have noted this numerical discrepancy, few have hazarded concerted attempts to explain it. This article analyzes the different Plautine and Terentian references in the additions of 1533 and reads them in the context of Erasmus’ other educational writings on classical literature and particularly on characters in comedy. Ultimately, two explanations for Erasmus’ apparent preference for Plautus in 1533 present themselves. First, Plautus presented memorable characters who illustrated the tension between eloquence and morality that characterized the debate in Erasmus’ time over comedy’s role in education. Second, Giambattista Pio’s 1500 edition of Plautus with commentary provided Erasmus with other motivations, such as the opportunity for textual criticism, to focus on Plautus.

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