Plautus: Capt. 850
Abstract: The word pernamin Capt. 850 is considered a false reading by a number of scholars. In the present paper the author proposed capitonem. The main arguments for this conjecture consist not only of the evident contrast between capitoand ophthalmias, but also in the probable ironic allusions hiding under the two words: Philocrates, as a capito, slips out of the hands of Hegio, who is blind like an ophthalmias and does not perceive the two prisoners’ deceit. All of this should be able to create a certain comic effect.
The line Capt. 850 is read in a dialogue between Ergasilus and Hegio, at the moment when the parasitus is going to announce to the senex the return of Philopolemus:
ERG. Iuben an non iubes astitui aulas, patinas elui, 846
Laridum atque † epulas foueri foculis feruentibus,
Alium piscis praestinatum abire? HE. Hic uigilans somniat.
ERG. Alium porcinam atque agninam et pullos gallinaceos?
HE. Scis bene esse, si sit unde. ERG. † Pernam atque ophthalmiam, 850
Horaeum scombrum et trugonum et cetum et mollem caseum? 
The ll. 838-849 and 851-908 are all trochaic septenaries, so it is rather save to think that the l. 850 should be the same, therefore metrically corrupt . In the past a number of scholars came to the conclusion that the corruption might regard the reading pernam, and proposed to substitute for it a name of fish . Following this idea, we would like to correct pernam in capitonem:
Scīs bĕ | n(e) ēssĕ, | sī sīt | ūndĕ. || Căpĭtō |n(em) ātqu(e) ōph | thālmĭam 
To prove the probability of this new conjecture, we shall divide this paper into five sections: 1. What fish is capito?; 2. What fish is ophthalmias?; 3. A probable word-play; 4. The use of capito in Plautus; 5. The analyse of the corruption.
1. What fish is capito?
According to some Latin dictionaries, capito , “eel” in English, is a fish with a large head; there are two species: one is marine; the other lives in fresh-water . Some encyclopaedias and specific monographs give us more information: capito belongs to the family Anguillidae, the order Anguilliformes ; its scientific name is “Anguilla anguilla”. In Italian, apart from “anguilla”, there are also some dialectal names: the word “capitone”, derived of course from capito, “è diffusa soprattutto nei dialetti meridionali” , in Lazio, Campaniaand Apulia .
In Ancient Rome“cibo lussuoso per eccellenza sono i pesci and i frutti di mare” . M. A. Levi, talking about the culinary art of the Romans, mentioned “le anguille” amongst the marine fish and said: “il vero punto di passaggio fra l’alimentazione dei poveri and quella dei ricchi è rappresentato dalla carne dei pesci” . Ergasilus, un-doubtedly a poor creature, could not help profiting as much as possible from this excellent occasion to be offered a good meal. After having named pork, lamb and chicken, the pa-rasite starts dreaming of the fish, and the fish names gush out of his mouth like a waterfall. Being a rich man, Hegio can certainly offer fish courses to himself and to Ergasi-lus, furthermore, not fish whatever. The capito, by its deliciousness, was very highly appreciated by the Romans; nowadays, it is still “cibo tradizionale nelle feste natalizie: soprattutto la vigilia di Natale” .
The capito in our conjecture is properly this piscis marinus a magnitudine capitis, and not fresh-water one , as the eels “hanno carne molto pregiata, specialmente le fem-mine adulte pronte per la riproduzione” , which proceed in the sea, and exactly in this period the eels are “conosciute meglio con il nome di capitoni” . Ergasilus (we would like to say Plautus), a great gourmet, should know very well when the fish could satisfy as much as possible the appetite of a professional glutton, for this reason, he might usecapito rather than the generic name anguilla in Capt. 850.
2. What fish is ophthalmias?
We think that there is a word-play in the contrast between capitoand ophthalmias; so it would be appropriate to examine more closely ophthalmias before discovering the eventual word-play.
The corruption of the l. 850 regards pernam. But if the reading ophthalmiam is grosso modo certain in the manuscripts, there are divergence and confusion in its interpretation. Some scholars came to the conclusion that ophthalmias could be identified with “lamprey” ; some others, on the contrary, thought that this word might be the name of the fish called oculata in Latin, “occhiata”in Italian . A. Ernout and G. Augello, translating respectively with “lamproie” and “lampreda”, said (with some reservation) that ophthalmias should be oculata . It seems that, according to them, “occhiata” and “lampreda” were two different names of the same fish, but in realty, the occhiata belongs to the family Sparidae, the order Perciformes; and the lamprey (lampreda), on its part, to the familyPetromyzonidae, the order Petromyzoniformes .
If there are divergence and confusion amongst the scholars, some dictionaries accord with each other on interpreting ophthalmias as oculata, and quote often Capt. 850 and Plin. Nat. hist. 32, 149 . Translating oculata of Pline with “le gros-yeux” , E. de Saint-Denis commentated as follows: “cf. ὀφθαλμίας, latinisé en ophthalmias, Pl., Capt., 850 […] ὀφθαλμίας = oculata= melanurus. Oculata a donné ogiá en gênois, oublada, blada en proven-çal, et c’est bien l’oblata melanura” .
Following the dictionaries cited in the note 19 and the scholars like N. E. Angelio, F. Leo, L. Havet, M. Scàndola, J. André and de Saint-Denis, we prefer to interpret ophthalmias as “occhiata” rather than “lamprey”.
3. Un probably word-play
Finished our identification of these two fish, we shall find out what probable word-play could hide under the l. 850 emendated by us: capito has a large head, and its eye “è
has a “capo piccolo” () but its eye is “grande ed arro-tondato” (). So we could interpret capitonem
atque ophthalmiam in this way: piscem a magnitudine capitis atque piscem
ab oculorum magnitudine, that is to say: “(order someone to buy) a capito,
the fish with large head (and small eyes), and an ophthalmias,
the fish with big eyes (but small head)”. From the etymological contrast of
these two words and the contrast of the physical characteristics of these two
fish, both so evident, could derive a certain comic effect.
Besides the evident contrast between capito
and ophthalmias, the word-play
might hide more profoundly under these two words: united by atque,
ophthalmias might allude respectively to Philocrates and Hegio: the first,
agile like a capito, slips out of
the hands of the second, who is blind like an ophthalmias.
Capito-Philocrates: Figuratively anguilla (capito)
means, since the Antiquity, a person extremely agile, cunning and deceitful. We
can find an example properly in Plautus: quid quom manufesto tenetur? anguillast,
elabitur (Pseud. 747) (). Now we shall see how capito
and l’adulescens are similar: the
fish, “sin dall’antichità, ha sempre esercitato un fascino irresistibile”
(), due to its metamorphoses, thank to which the fish
changes considerably its aspect: “Quando nasce, l’Anguilla ha una forma
totalmente diversa dall’adulto […]. A mano a
mano che la metamorfosi procede, questi animali si trasformano in Anguilla dal
corpo cilindrico” ().
Philocrates, on his part, was not born capito,
but becomes an “eel” only after his “metamorphosis” in Tyndarus, and only in
this case he is able to escape. But Philocrates is not a capito
whatever, he is a capito “prognatum genere summo et summis
ditiis” (l. 170), that is to say, expensive. Hegio, having acquired a number
of prisoners with a huge sum of money, says: “ibo
intro atque intus subducam ratiunculam, / quantillum argenti mi apud tarpezitam
siet” (ll. 192-193). If Philocrates escapes, together with him will be lost
the money of Hegio, as predicts one of Hegio’s lorarii:
“at pigeat postea / nostrum erum, si uos
eximat uinclis, / aut solutos sinat quos argento emerit” (ll. 203-205).
After the discovery of the truth, the poor senex,
very angry, blames Tyndarus in this terms: “quia
me meamque rem, quod in te uno fuit, / tuis scelestis, falsidicis fallaciis /
delacerauisti deartuauistique opes. / confecisti omnis res ac rationes
meas”(ll. 670-673). Now the capito
Philocrates has become for Hegio his lost argentum.
Let’s return again to the fish: after the second metamorphosis the eels become
“nero-argentato per cui sono dette «Anguille argentine»” ().
Argenteus, which derives from argentum, is in fact an other name of
capito, more specifically an other
name of Philocrates for Hegio.
Ophthalmias-Hegio: The word ὀφθαλμία,
whose genitive is orthographically identical with the name of the fish ὀφθαλμίας,
means not only the disease “ophthal-mia”,but also “blindness” (). In his etymological analysis P.
Chantraine explained the name ὀφθαλμίαςmaking reference to the eyes
of the fish: “avec le suffixe caractéri-sant -ίαςqui forme entre autres des noms
d’animaux, ὀφθαλμίας m. nom […] d’un poisson (Plaute), p.-ê. à cause de son
regard fixe” (). So we could say that ophthalmias
is a blind fish, and under this word could hide an ironic allusion referring to
Hegio: Tyndarus and Philocrates have exchanged their identities, but the senex could not perceive their deceit.
Isn’t it Hegio who, believing still that Aristophontes is in error, says to this
last one: “quem uides, eum ignoras:
illum nominas quem non uides” (l. 566)? In realty it is himself who non uidet atque ignorat. Isn’t is
always Hegio who, having disco-vered the truth, blames himself: “ad
illum modum sublitum os esse mi hodie! / neque id perspicere quiui”(ll.
783-784)? Hegio is blind just like an ophthalmias.
Philocrates capito argenteus, caecus ophthalmias Hegio.
After this long analysis, we could say that, despite the
apparent banality of the l. 850 in its corrupt status, the
conjecture capitonem could offer us
one more occasion to admire the uncommon linguistic talent of Plautus.
4. The use of capito
Unfortunately there is only one occurrence of capito
in Plautus:neque is
cognomentum erat duris
60) (). This line is quoted frequently in the dictionaries
under the lemma “capito”, for its
common sense “magnum habens
caput” and for the Roman cognomen
(). To our knowledge, non scholar had made references to
the fish capito commentating duris Capitonibus;
however, this reference is not impossible: the l. Persa
60 is pronounced on stage by the parasite Saturio who “dedicates” durus
capito as a nickname to his
ancestors, which were all parasites themselves; it is possible that the Poet had
chosen here a name of fish to nickname his characters; there could be a
word-play in duris Capitonibus
Even if duris
Capitonibus did not regard at all
the fish capito, it must not be
absolu-tely impossible that Plautus had usedcapitonem
in Capt. 850, at the place of
the proble-matic pernam, as the Poet
knew undoubtedly the fish capito:
the witness unquestionable is properly anguilla of Pseud.
747, which is, fortunately, a good reading (). And capito, other name of anguilla,
was used already by Cato the Censor (), contemporary of Plautus.
For estimating the probability of our conjecture, it
seems little one occurrence only of capito in Plautus. But it is worth
noting that, among the seven words of the precedent conjectures, pernula,
perca and perita
were never used by Plautus. For the others, perna
was used nine times () in the following lines: Capt.
903, 908 (different lections in the manuscripts),
Curc. 323, 366, Mil. 759
(different lections in the manuscripts), Persa105, Pseud.
166, Stich. 360, Tru.
598 (lection uncertain); muraena,
four times: Amph. 319,
Aul. 399, Persa 110, Pseud.
382; pecten, two times (but always
in the sense of “comb for the hair”,not “mollusc”): Capt.
268 (different lections in the manuscripts), Curc.
577; sepiola, one time only: Cas. 493.
In comparison with this seven words, we could say that,
according to the usus scri-bendi
of Plautus,capito should not be
considered as the least probable for emendating Capt.
addition, the word-play, which might exist in capitonem
atque ophthalmiam, could be in favour of the probability ofcapitonem.
5. The analyse
of the corruption
In the whole classic Latin literature there are very few
occurrences of capito used as the
fish name. In Thesaurus linguae
Latinae, apart from Cat. Agr.
158, 1, we can find only two other testimonies: Auson. Mos.
85, Theod. Prisc. Log. 101
(). Pline, perhaps the greatest erudite of the imperial
period, used only three times anguilla in Nat.
hist. 32 (16, 138, 145), but never capito. It might not be wrong to say
that the word perna, thanks to the
ham, was more familiar than capito
(). Then, could it be possible that the scribe,
responsible of the corruption, had permitted himself to eliminate the true
reading, unfortunately unknown to him, and to insert pernam
in the text, after having just copied porcinam, agninam
and pullos gallinaceos? Difficult to
say. In the past, at least Havet considered the corruption of the l. Capt.
850 might be due properly to an error of this kind (), proposing as conjecture peritam,
a name of fish which seems more rare even than capito,
and does not appear neither in Pline. We must admit that, if the corruption
were caused by such an elimination, peritamis palaeographically more
attracttive than capitonem.
() G. Goetz - F. Schoell (ed.), T. Macci Plauti comoediae, Lipsiae
1892-1907, t. ii, p. 98. Other
Plautine lines quoted are those
of W. M. Lindsay, Oxonii 1904-1905.
() The precedent conjectures, to our
knowledge, are eight: pernas Bothe;
muraenam Fleckeisen; percamque
Brix; sepiolam Schoell;
pernam o pernam
<alium> Chauvin; peritam
() Apart from the conjectures cited
in the note 2, cf. E. Cocchia (ed.), I
Captivi di M. Accio Plautus, Torino 1886,
p. 92; B. Lavagnini (ed.), Plautus. I
Captivi, Firenze1926, p. 68; L. Havet
(ed.), Plaute. Les Prisonniers,
Paris 1932, p. 85 bis. For the opposite opinions see above all J. P. Waltzing
(ed.), Plaute. Les Captifs, Paris
1920, p. 109. It is worth noting that, besides “ham”, perna
means also “a sea-mussel shaped like a ham” (Oxford
Latin dictionary, Oxford 1968, p. 1348). Some scholars preferred to
interpret pernam of Capt.
850 as “see-mussel”. Cf. A. Ernout (ed.), Plaute.
Comédies, Paris 1932-1961, t. ii, p. 136; J. André, L’alimentation
et la cuisine à Rome, Paris 1981, p. 105, p. 142.
() With capitonem
the fifth foot of the l. 850 is an anapaest. In this place the Plautine trochaic
septenaries admit all kinds of substitutions. Cf. C. Questa, Introduzione
alla metrica di Plautus, Bologna1967, p. 184.
() Cf. Thesaurus
linguae Latinae, vol. iii,
col. 349; Æ. Forcellini, Lexicon totius
Latinitatis, Bononiae , t. i, p.
() For more information on the order
Anguilliformessee B. Grzimek
(dir.), Vita degli animali: moderna
enciclopedia delregno animale, Milano 1969-1974, t.
iv, pp. 190-209.
() S. Battaglia (dir.), Grande
dizionario della lingua italiana, Torino
1961-2002, t. ii, p.
() Cf. A. Palombi-M. Santarelli, Gli animali commestibili dei mari
d’Italia, Milano 1986 , p. 209.
Dupont, La vita quotidiana nella
Roma repubblicana, Roma-Bari 20022, p. 290.
A. Levi, Roma antica,
Torino 1976, p.
Battaglia, op. cit., t.
ii, p. 696.
() In reality, the sea and the river
(lake) are two habitats of the same eels in their different periods of life. Cf.
della lingua italiana, Bologna 2000, p. 98.
() Edigeo, Enciclopedia
Zanichelli 2000,Bologna 1999, p. 99.
() F. Costa, Atlante dei
pesci dei mari italiani. Milano 1991, p. 25.
() Cf. E. Cocchia, ed.
cit., p. 92; B. Lavagnini, ed.
cit., p. 68; E. Paratore (ed.), Plautus. Le commedie, Roma 1976,
20043, t. ii, p. 95.
For further information on the lamprey see B. Grzimek, op.
cit., t. iv, pp. 39-45, p.
() Cf. N. E. Angelio (ed.), Le commedie di M. Accio Plautus,
Venezia, 1847, col. 368; F. Leo (ed.), Plauti comoediae, Berolini 1895-1896,
t.i, p. 213; L. Havet, ed.
cit., p. 85 bis; J. André, op.
cit., p. 100; C. Questa-G. Paduano-M. Scàndola (ed.), T.
Maccio Plautus. I Prigionieri, Milano 20002, p.
() Cf. A. Ernout, ed.
cit, t. ii, p. 136; G.
Augello (ed.), Le commedie di Tito
Maccio Plautus, Torino 1968-1972, t. i, p.
() Cf. F. Costa, op.
cit., p. 186.
() Cf. H. Estienne, Thesaurus
Graecae linguae, Graz , t. vi, col. 2444; Æ.
Forcellini, op. cit., t.
iii, p. 468, p. 496;
Oxford Latin dictionary, p. 1238, p. 1253.
() E. de Saint-Denis (ed.), Pline l’Ancien. Histoire naturelle, Livre
xxxii,Paris 1966, p. 73.
() F. Costa, op. cit.,
() C. Pipitone-M. Thomas-M. Reina, I
pesci delle acque costiere italiane, [Palermo]
1995, p. 65.
() F. Costa, op.
cit., p. 186.
() It seems superfluous to note that
anguillast, elabitur has become a
locution. Similar proverbs exist in many modern languages.
() F. Costa, op.
cit., p. 24.
p. 25. However, we don’t know whether this name existed already at the time of
() Cf. F. Montanari, Vocabolario
della lingua greca, Torino
20042, p. 1522. See also H. Estienne, op.
cit., t. vi, coll.
() P. Chantraine, Dictionnaire
étymologique de la langue grecque: histoire des mots, Paris 1968, t. ii,
() Cf. G. Lodge, Lexicon
Plautinum, Lipsiae 1904-1933, t. i, p.
() Cf. Thesaurus linguae
Latinae, vol. iii, col. 349; Thesaurus
linguae Latinae: onomasticon, vol. ii, col. 157; Æ. Forcellini, op.
cit., t.v: Onomasticon
(A-I), p. 329.
() The other occurrence of anguilla, in “Fr. ii.
(Fest. 166, 26), derives from a modern
() Cf. Cat. Agr. 158, 1.
The capito mentioned by Cato is most
probably the marine eel.
() Except Capt. 850 and
the conjecture of Goetz - Schoell for Capt.847. Perna
appears in two fragments as well: “Fr. i. 49”(Fest., 446, 1), “F. i. 101”(Varro, L.
L. 7, 61).
() Cf. Thesaurus
linguae Latinae, vol. iii,
() Note the numerous occurrences
in Plautus, in the sense of “ham”.
() Cf. L. Havet, ed.
cit., p. 116.
In the Section “Elimination de mots rares” of the “Catalogue des fautes”, Havet listed
more than 60 lines, of Captiui, in
which the French erudite believed having found an error due to an elimination of
this kind. See also L. Havet, Manuel de
critique verbale appliquée aux textes latins, Paris 1911, pp.