Pudicitia and Power in the Curculio

Emily Jusino

University of Chicago

Plautus's Curculio revolves around the attempt of the young man Phaedromus to secure the possession of his love interest Planesium, who is a slave in the house of the hypochondriac pimp Cappadox.  Like other women in Plautine plays who are often marginalized in terms of their social status or their ability to control their own lives, Planesium initially appears to be a common prostitute who is largely powerless in her passive role.

However, Planesium's position is not what it initially appears to be.  In the first place, she differs from the typical comedic slave girl who discovers during the course of the play that she was actually born free.  Planesium is aware from the beginning that she is freeborn, but she does not reveal that information until the last act.  Secondly, there is an insistence on her pudicitia ("chastity"), not a quality one expects in prostitutes or slaves.  Phaedromus, in describing his midnight trysts with her, surprises his slave, Palinurus, by insisting they are perfectly innocent: she only kisses him and runs away (ubi saevium oppegit, fugit, 60).  Also, both Cappadox and Planesium insist she was raised "modestly" (pudice, 518, 698): although Cappadox might intend to prostitute her, he focuses on his illnesses more than his business and spends most of his time incubating at the temple of Aesculapius (698-700). 

These unusual elements are intrinsic parts of the game Planesium plays in the Curculio.  An analysis of the play in conjunction with the Cistellaria and the Rudens suggests that she is able to avoid prostitution, even to maintain her pudicitia, and actively seek a way to remove herself from her unpleasant situation before her pudicitia is gone forever.  Knowing herself to be freeborn, Planesium manipulates her situation to restore her freedom.  Her pudicitia gives her the power to entice Phaedromus into buying her, freeing her, and possibly marrying her.


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