- Panegyris Channels Penelope: Mêtis and Pietas in Plautus’s Stichus
Plautus’s Stichus is an odd play. Instead of a traditional New Comic plot, we find a tripartite structure that highlights different groups of characters at the beginning, middle, and end. Furthermore, there is a marked change in the tone, which descends from a highly moral beginning to what scholars have called an “antimoral” ending.1 In the initial scenes,2 the plot focuses on two sisters, Pamphila and Panegyris,3 as they wait for their long-lost husbands to return from a journey abroad. The sisters wish to remain married to their absent husbands, but their father Antipho wishes them to remarry. A conflict between father and daughters ensues. This type of father-daughter interaction is unusual in New Comedy,4 and thus offers a unique opportunity for a study in family dynamics.
Past scholars have focused mainly on the sisters’ roles as ideal wives and/or daughters.5 Although they have been correct to identify the overt moral themes of the play and the sisters as impressively virtuous characters, a close study of the sisters’ characterization complicates the definition of “moral.” In this article, I reexamine the sisters’ characterization and its implications. First, I revisit the two scenes in which the sisters appear6 and consider textual evidence for their agency and cleverness, characteristics that have only recently begun to be recognized.7 Next, I consider the sisters’ mention of Penelope and its significance for the literary and social setting of the play. As I shall argue, both the text and the reference to Penelope highlight the sisters’ clever manipulation of their social situation. This play is especially important because it demonstrates the presence of female agency and opposition in a father-daughter relationship, and thus provides a new understanding of daughterly pietas.8
Revisiting the Text
In the play’s opening, we find the two sisters alone onstage, waiting for their husbands to return from a two-year-long voyage. Panegyris, the [End Page 29] elder sister, compares their situation to that of Penelope, whose state of mind is recognizable from their own situation (nam nos eius animum / de nostris factis noscimus, 3–4).9 It is just, she claims, to be worried about their husbands (ita ut aequom est / sollicitae, 5–6). Her younger sister Pamphila responds that what is just is doing their duty, and that they need not do anything more than piety advises (nostrum officium nos facere aequomst, neque id magis facimus / quam nos monet pietas, 7–8). It is Pamphila who first brings up the ensuing conflict: she worries that their father will act unjustly (improbi viri officio uti, 14) by trying to remove them from their homes. Panegyris advises her not to worry, because he would never do such a thing, but she concedes that their father has a point: they have no idea where their husbands are, what they are doing, or if they are alive (31–3). Pamphila asks whether Panegyris is unhappy because their husbands “do not cherish their duty, when you carry out yours” (an id doles, soror, quia illi suom officium / non colunt, quom tu tuom facis? 34–5).10 In response to Panegyris’s affirmative answer (ita pol), Pamphila becomes imperious. She tells her elder sister to be quiet (tace) and admonishes her to recognize and practice officium (34–6) even if their husbands do not (40). The scene ends when Panegyris agrees to keep quiet, and Pamphila orders her one last time to remember her duty (47).
While there is doubtless an argument of sorts between the sisters, we should not overemphasize the conflict at this point. We may reasonably assume that Pamphila’s underlying concern is what Panegyris will do when and if their father presses the point of remarriage. However, no particular course of action is brought up, and Pamphila’s initial question reveals a concern with attitude, not strategy. Moreover, the moral terms of this debate11 do not prevent a comic scenario. When the younger sister corrects her older sister’s definition of aequom or becomes imperious, we should think in terms of a short...