A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Glossary and Notes
The title of the play is from a line often used to open Vaudeville acts: “A funny thing happened on the way to the theater.” The story is
inspired by three farces by the Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus (c.
254–184 bc), viz., Pseudolus,
Gloriosus, and Mostellaria.
(Latinized Greek for “faker”; from Greek ψευδής
[pseudēs, “false”]): A Roman slave, owned by Hero, who
seeks to win his freedom by helping his young master win the heart of Philia.
(The clever slave is a stock character in several of Plautus’s
- Hysterium: (Latinized Greek for “hysterical”, or “anxious”, the suffix “-um” makes the name neuter, and
the character’s sex is often mistaken throughout the piece) The chief slave in the house of Senex.
- Hero (from Greek ἥρως): Young son of Senex who falls in love with the virgin, Philia.
- Philia: (Greek Φιλία, meaning “love”) A virgin in the house of
Marcus Lycus, and Hero’s love interest
(Latin for “old man”) A henpecked, sardonic Roman
senator living in a less fashionable suburb of Rome. (He is based on a
stock character in the plays of Plautus,
the senex amator, or “lustful old man.” A senex amator is
classified as an old man who contracts a passion for a young girl and who,
in varying degrees, attempts to satisfy this passion.)
- Domina: (Latin for “mistress”) The wife of Senex. A
manipulative, shrewish woman who is loathed even by her husband. (She is
based on a stock character in the plays of Plautus.)
- Marcus Lycus: A purveyor of courtesans, who operates from the house
to the left of Senex. (Name based on Lycus, the pimp in Plautus’s
can be translated as “The Little Carthaginian”, or “The Puny Punic”.]
The character of Lycus in this play is probably based on the character
Ballio, the pimp in Plautus’s
Gloriosus: (Latin for “boastful soldier,” the archetype of
the braggart soldier in Roman comedies. Miles is Latin for “soldier”; it is a relative of the word
“military”; gloriosus can mean “glorious”, “famous”,
“ambitious”, “boastful”, “bragging”, or “vainglorious”. The name is taken from the title of Plautus’s
Gloriosus, but in that play the title character has the name Pyrgopolynices,
which means something like “tower of many victories”.) A captain in the Roman army to whom
Marcus Lycus has promised Philia.
- Erronius: (Latin for “wandering”) Senex’s elderly
neighbor in the house to the right. He has spent the past twenty years
searching for his two children, kidnapped in infancy by pirates.
- Gymnasia: (Greek for “athletic”, derived from Greek γυμνός
[gymnós, “naked”], because Greek athletes trained naked.) A courtesan from the house of Lycus with whom Pseudolus falls in
- Tintinabula: (Latin for “bells”) A jingling, bell-wearing courtesan in the house of Lycus.
- Vibrata: (Latin for “vibrant”) A wild, vibrant courtesan in the house of Lycus.
- Geminae: (Feminine Latin for “twins”) Twin courtesans in the house of Lycus.
- Panacea: (Greek Πανάκεια,
meaning “cure-all”) A courtesan in the house of Lycus.
A face that can say a thousand words and a body that can hold a thousand promises.
- Proteans: Actors who play multiple roles (slaves, citizens, soldiers, and eunuchs).
They accompany Pseudolus in “Comedy Tonight”. (On Broadway, three actors played all of these roles.)
- The Muses: The Muses were, in Greek
mythology, the goddesses of inspiration of literature, science, and the
arts. They were said to be daughters of Zeus, the king of the gods, and
Mnemosyne (whose name means “memory”). They are usually identified as
nine in number. Our word music comes from muse,
but what we call music was only one of the arts they inspired.
- Thalia (Θάλεια,
Θαλία) The muse of comedy
and also bucolic poetry, architectural science, and agriculture;
her symbol is a comic mask, a shepherd’s crook, or a wreath of ivy;
her name means “flourishing”. Many
of her statues also hold a bugle and a trumpet (both used to support the
actors’ voices in ancient comedy).
- Melpomene (Μελπομένη) Originally the muse of singing, she later became
the muse of tragedy; her symbol is a tragic mask, the club of
Heracles, or a sword; her name means “singing”. She is often
represented with a tragic mask and wearing the cothurnus,
boots traditionally worn by tragic actors. Often, she also holds a knife
or club in one hand and the tragic mask in the other.
- Calliope (Καλλιόπη)
The muse of heroic poetry; her symbols were a tablet and stylus;
a scroll; her name means “beautiful voiced”.
- Clio (Κλειώ) The muse of epic
poetry or history; her symbols are a scroll or open chest
of books; her name means “celebrating”.
- Erato (Ἐρατώ) The muse of love
poetry; her symbol is a lyre; her name means “awaking desire”.
- Euterpe (Eὐτέρπη) The
muse of music, lyric poetry; her symbol is a flute; her name means
- Polyhymnia (Πολυύμνια)
The muse of sacred poetry; she had no symbol, but was represented in a
pensive posture; her name means “many hymns”.
- Terpsichore (Τερψιχόρη)
The muse of choral song and dance; her symbol is a lyre; her name means
- Urania (Οὐρανία) The
muse of astronomy; her symbol is a staff pointing to a globe; her name
means “heavenly one”.
- Other Greek (and Roman) deities:
- Aphrodite (Ἀφροδίτη)
is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure, and is identified with
the Roman Venus. She was either the daughter of Zeus and Dione, or
arose from the sea foam. She has as many as 11 consorts in the myths,
including Hephaestus (Vulcan, the god of the forge and of volcanoes), Ares
(Mars, god of war), Poseidon (Neptune, god of the sea), Hermes (Mercury,
the messenger of the gods), Dionysus, Zeus himself (!), and Adonis (god of
youth and beauty).
- Hera (Ἥρα,
Hēra, equivalently Ἥρη, Hērē,
in Homer) is the Greek goddess of marriage, women, and birth, and queen of
the gods. She was the wife and one one of the sisters of Zeus; she is
identified with the Roman Juno.
- Artemis (Ἄρτεμις)
is the Greek goddess of the hunt, the moon, and archery, and is identified
with the Roman Diana.
- Comedy and Tragedy: before about 1850, the chief difference between
the two was that a comedy had a happy ending, usually ending in a marriage,
and a tragedy ended in a death.
Mēdeia) is a tragedy by the great Greek dramatist Euripides (c.
bc 480-406; Greek Εὐριπίδης).
The plot concerns Medea, the barbarian wife of Jason (Ἰάσων), who has left her after
the adventure of the golden fleece, to marry Glauce (Γλαυκή), the daughter of King
Creon (Κρέων) of Corinth. Medea takes her revenge by killing Glauce and her two
children by Jason.
- Pantaloons is the style of ankle-length trousers adopted by the revolutionaries
at the time of the French Revolution. The name comes from the character Pantalone
dell’ Arte. ) Prior to that time, fashionable men wore knee-breeches.
Today, the name has been shortened to pants.
- A tunic (from Latin tunica) is the basic garment worn by
both men and women in ancient Rome. It extended from the shoulders to
somewhere below the hips to the ankles.
- A courtesan
was originally one who attended the court of a monarch or some other
important person. By the end of the medieval period, the term acquired the
additional meaning of a prostitute, especially a high-class prostitute who
attracts wealthy clients.
- A eunuch (Greek εὐνοῦχος)
is a castrated man, usually before puberty, who served in a royal court, and
often in charge of the harem. In China, and perhaps other cultures, eunuchs
had more than their testicles removed.
- A Trojan horse has come to mean any trick or stratagem that causes a
target to allow a foe into a securely protected bastion or space. Malicious
computer programs which trick users into running them as routine, useful, or
interesting are called
Trojan horses. The original Trojan Horse was a gigantic wooden horse
that the Greeks left before the gates of Troy after fighting the Trojans for
ten years. Feigning defeat, they left the horse and sailed away. The Trojans
then brought the horse into the city, despite the warning of Cassandra. But
concealed inside the horse were some Greek soldiers, who got out at night,
and opened the gates to the rest of the Greeks who had sailed back to the
city at night.
- Thespis (Greek Θέσπις;
6th century bc) is considered by legend to
be the first person to appear on stage as an actor playing a character in a play. (The first collaboration
between Gilbert and Sullivan was Thespis, or the Gods Grown Old. The
score was never published, and most of the music has been lost.)
- A bust
is a cast or sculpted representation of a human head, neck, and (usually)
shoulders, usually mounted on a plinth. (I suspect the authors may have
another meaning in mind as well!)
- Minae is the plural of mina, a Greek weight equivalent to 100 drachmas. From
(mnâ). The word was borrowed from
Semitic sources, and occurs in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. It
was one of the words in the handwriting on the wall in Daniel 5.25: “And this is
the writing that was inscribed: mene,
mene, tekel, and parsin.” In
the 1st century ad, a mina was
the usual wages for an agricultural worker for three months.
- A drachma (Greek: δραχμή) in ancient Greece and Rome was a silver coin usually considered equivalent to
the Roman denarius. In the 1st century it was the usual daily wage for an
agricultural worker. (The English word dram [1/16 ounce] is a
derivative.) The modern drachma was introduced in 1832 as the monetary unit
for Greece just prior to the establishment of the modern Greek state.
Because of hyperinflation during the period of German-Italian occupation, in
1944 a new drachma was introduced at the rate of 50 billion old drachmae to
1 new drachma. Again in 1954 the drachma was revalued at 1000 to 1. In 2002,
the drachma was demonetized and replaced by the euro.
- When a slave was made free, he did not thereby become a citizen.
- In ancient Rome, many slaves were Greek, which may explain why Pseudolus
and Hysterium have Greek names.
- Today, a distinction is made between a democracy and a republic.
But the two words have similar derivations. Democracy is from Greek δημοκρατία
of the people”, and republic
from Latin res publica, literally
“the public thing”. Modern Greek uses the word δημοκρατία
to translate the word republic: the official name of the Republic of
Greece is the Hellenic Republic (Ελληνική
- Carthaginian elephant breeder is a reference to Hannibal’s campaign
in the Second Punic War. He successfully brought elephants from Africa over
the Alps, although many died in the crossing, and the last of them died of disease in the Po valley.
Hannibal won many victories in Italy, but was never able to defeat them
completely. Finally the Romans laid siege to Carthage itself, and the
Carthaginians recalled Hannibal to Africa. At the battle of Zama (bc 202),
Hannibal had about 80 elephants, but the Romans successfully countered them,
and won the battle, ending Carthage as a serious threat to Rome. The North African elephants
were smaller and easier to tame than the elephants from southern Africa or
Asia, but they were hunted to extinction during Roman times. By the 6th
century ad, the Christians of
the Arabian peninsula were subject to persecution by the pagan Arabs. The
Christian ruler of Yemen, a vassal of the King of Ethiopia, sent against
Mecca an army which included at least one elephant. But he could not take
the city because of a plague. The inhabitants of Mecca had never seen an
elephant, so that year became known as the Year of the Elephant. According
to legend, this was the year that Mohammed was born. (Modern historians now
believe that the elephant appeared about a decade before the birth of
- Nubia was an ancient region of the Nile Valley between the first
and sixth cataracts. During the time of Old Kingdom Egypt, the first
cataract was the boundary between the two countries. But Egypt expanded
southward and began to control portions of Nubia. During the Middle Ages,
both Egypt and Nubia were conquered by the Arabs. Today, what was considered
Nubia is divided between the modern countries of Egypt and Sudan.
- Aqua Salina is Latin for “salt water”.
- A gaggle is a term
of venery for a flock
of geese that
is not in flight; in flight, the group can be called a skein. In
terms of geese, a gaggle is equal to at least five geese.
- Rome was built on seven hills in the time of the Roman kingdom: the Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinal, and Viminal.
Rome was enclosed by a wall ad
271-275. After (old) St Peter’s Basilica was sacked by the Saracens in
846, Pope Leo IV commissioned a wall to enclose the Vatican Hill: this is
known as the Leonine wall and was built 848-852.
- The harbor of Rome was at Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber, about
19 miles northeast of Rome. Due to silting, Ostia is now 2 miles from the
- The first known reference to the Turks is in the 6th century ad.
Thus the reference by Miles is an anachronism.
- According to the Bible: 44
He is a leprous
man, he is unclean: the priest shall pronounce him utterly unclean; his
plague is in his head. 45 And
the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his
head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean,
unclean. 46 All
the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is
unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.
- Her religion forbids
the drinking of wine: In the ancient Mediterranean world, there was
not much else suitable to drink besides wine, and on Crete, the cult of
Dionysus always involved the drinking of wine!
- Myrrh is the aromatic resin of a number of small, thorny tree species of the genus
Commiphora, which is an essential oil termed an oleoresin. Myrrh resin is a natural gum. It has been used throughout history as a perfume, incense and medicine. It can also be ingested by mixing it with wine.
It was one of the three gifts to the infant Christ by the Magi (Matthew
- Thrace is a region in southeastern Europe now divided between
Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. İstanbul is its chief city.
- Gaul (Latin Gallia) was a region in western Europe that
included all of modern France, Belgium, and Luxembourg, most of Switzerland,
parts of northern Italy, and those parts of The Netherlands and Germany on
the left bank of the Rhine. All of Gaul came under Roman rule: Gallia Cisalpina
(the part in northern Italy) was conquered in 203 bc
and Gallia Narbonensis in 123 bc. Julius Caesar finally subdued the remaining parts of Gaul
(Gallia Aquitania, Gallia Celtica, and Gallia Belgica) in his campaigns of 58 to 51
bc. (The opening words to
Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico are familiar: Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli
appellantur.) The name Gaul was used for the successor kingdoms in what
is now France for both the Merovingian and Carolingian houses, but under the
House of Capet beginning in ad 987 the name France (Latin Francia)
began to be used. (Today, some still divide France into three parts: the
France of wine, the France of beer [the northeast, near the German and
Belgian borders], and the France of cider [Normandy and Brittany].) (Despite
their similarity, the words Gaul and Gallia are not related.)
- In Roman times, Spain referred to the modern countries of Spain and
Portugal. The Romans first moved into Spain at the time of the Second Punic
War, but it took about two centuries for them to completely conquer the
peninsula. At first they divided it into two provinces: Hispania Citerior
and Hispania Ulterior. Around the time of the beginning of the rule of
Octavian, who became Caesar Augustus, Hispania Ulterior was divided into Baetica and Lusitania, while Hispania Citerior was renamed Tarraconensis.
- A pyre (from Greek πυρ, pýr, fire), also known as a funeral pyre, is a structure, usually made of wood, for burning a body as part of a funeral rite or execution. As a form of cremation, a body is placed upon or under the pyre, which is then set on fire.
Cremation was the normal method of disposing of the bodies of the deceased
in ancient Rome.
- I have returned
this day from Crete, says Miles Gloriosus. With the kind of sailing
ships of the period, and with favorable winds, it would take 12-14 days to
sail from Crete to Rome! (Plautus set his plays in Athens; but it would take
2-3 days with favorable winds to sail from Crete to Athens. See this web
- The Etruscans flourished in the area of Italy now known as Tuscany
before the rise of Rome. The three peoples said to have been the original
inhabitants of Rome were the Latins, the Sabines, and the Etruscans. As Rome
grew, they absorbed the Etruscans altogether. According to Roman legend, the
fifth, sixth, and seventh kings of Rome were of Etruscan origin. The last
was Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (in English, Tarquin the Proud), who became
king by assassinating his predecessor. He ruled as a tyrant, and when his
son Sextus raped Lucretia, a noblewoman of virtue, Tarquin was deposed, and
the Roman monarchy abolished.
- Socrates (Σωκράτης:
bc 470-399) was an ancient Athenian philosopher who is one of the
founders of Western philosophy. He left no writings, but is known mainly
through the writings of his students Plato (Πλάτων, Plátōn, meaning “broad”:
bc c 427 - c 347) and Xenophon (Ξενοφῶν),
and the comedy playwright Aristophanes (Ἀριστοφάνης:
bc c. 486- c. 386). After
Athens was defeated by Sparta in the Peloponnesian war, Socrates was
condemned to death for corrupting the youth of Athens and for impiety (not
believing in the gods). He could have escaped, but chose to accept his
sentence: drinking hemlock.
Please send comments, corrections, and suggestions for this glossary to tf_mcq
- Last updated: 08/08/2014.
- For additions, suggestions, corrections,
or comments on this glossary, please email me: tf_mcq
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