- In Defense of Myrrhina:Friendship between Women in Plautus’s Casina
The argumentative behavior of Myrrhina towards her friend, Cleostrata, in Act 2, Scene 2, of Plautus’s Casina has struck many scholars as inconsistent with her amicable behavior elsewhere in the play.1 When the two women meet in this scene, which is their first encounter on stage, Cleostrata expresses indignation towards her husband, and Myrrhina counters that her grounds for indignation are not valid. The friction between the two women is obvious, but later they cooperate fully in Cleostrata’s efforts to humiliate her husband and foil his plan to rape the slave girl, Casina. The charge of inconsistency appears as early as Peter Langen (1886, 127), who stated simply, “Der Charakter der Murrhina ist nicht konsequent durch geführt” (The character of Myrrhina is not executed consistently throughout), and as recently as Ariana Traill (2011, 502), who writes, “The betrayal is as short-lived as it is unexpected.”2 To Eduard Fraenkel (2007, 204), the difference in her behavior is so striking that he concludes it must be the result of Plautine interpolation:
The principles which Myrrhina espouses in lines 199–211 fit neither her character nor her behaviour during the rest of the play nor the nature of her friendship with Cleostrata. The two women are in complete harmony; the intimacy of their relationship is studiously emphasized at the beginning of this scene (179–83). Cleostrata is deeply worried; such cold-blooded opposition by her friend, as it is portrayed in only one set of lines, 199–211, is intolerable: it contradicts the way the Greek poet has clearly shaped the whole play.
The primary goal of my paper is to demonstrate that Myrrhina’s behavior in Scene 2.2 is not inconsistent with her otherwise strong expressions of solidarity with Cleostrata; in fact, she acts precisely as a friend should by warning Cleostrata that her opposition to her husband could get her into [End Page 245] serious trouble. Before delving into this, I will examine the methodological problems behind Langen’s original proclamation and investigate why his conclusion—that Myrrhina’s behavior is inconsistent—perseveres even though his methodology is now considered outdated.
Returning to the dramatic world of the Casina, the trouble arises when Cleostrata’s husband, Lysidamus, makes a particularly overt and particularly grand effort to gain sexual access to their slave, Casina, who is of marriageable age. Lysidamus plans to arrange her marriage to his personal slave, Olympio, so that he can access Olympio’s chambers and rape Casina without arousing the suspicions of his own wife, Cleostrata. Their son, Euthynicus, who is also interested in the young woman, has devised a similar plan to marry Casina to his own slave. Casina has no lines and the audience is never shown her perspective; she is a hapless bystander whose future will be decided by a handful of citizens who fight for the prestige that comes from controlling Casina as property.3 Cleostrata, aware of her husband’s intentions, attempts to keep Lysidamus from Casina by lending practical support to the efforts of their son. In private conversation with Myrrhina in Scene 2.2, Cleostrata argues that she, not her husband, should be allowed to arrange Casina’s marriage, because Casina belongs to her. Myrrhina objects that women have no property and, therefore, everything Cleostrata claims to own actually belongs to her husband. We will look more closely at their disagreement momentarily.
Langen’s search for problematic characters reflects a now outdated methodology: the nineteenth-century German philological tradition valued close reading with a view towards detecting inconsistencies, seen as corruptions created by the manuscript tradition, and then restoring the original text. While the approach was applied broadly to classical texts, it was particularly attractive for the study of Roman comedy, since the plays were adapted from now-lost Greek models, and indeed little Greek New Comedy was available at all.4 This seemed to be the most fruitful way of uncovering the Greek original, as if one could peel back the (inferior) Roman layer and reveal the unadulterated masterpiece within—a desire that reflects a long tradition of...