Vita da cani e fame da lupo: le caratterizzazioni animalesche di un parassita plautino

Rosanna Rota


Plautus usually does not create characters that act like animals throughout an entire comedy. Sometimes we can see a temporary ‘identification’, according to Fraenkel’s classification (e.g. Merc. 361 muscast meus pater: nil potest clam illum haberi; Pseud. 747 anguillast: elabitur). In other cases, there are mime scenes in which a character assumes strong animal traits, but only for a brief period (e.g. As. 699-710, when the slave humiliates the young master by riding him like a horse or a donkey).
Lastly, animals can be allegorical representations of one or more characters in a single scene (e.g. Merc. 225-54, where a senex recounts a revealing dream).
In Captivi, however, the parasitus Ergasilus displays a surprising animal-like existence. Starting with the usual comparison to a mouse (v. 77: quasi mures semper edimus alienum cibum), Plautus initially presents the character as a snail, which soon transforms into a dog, a companion at the table and a parasite of humans, perpetually hungry and capable of even developing the ferocity of a wolf, as shown at the end of the comedy.

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