Plautus: Pseudolus 1-38 "What's the matter, master?" (From Latin)

I have wanted to do a translation of a bit of Roman or Greek comedy for a while, and this one seems like a good candidate. It's also got some interesting history woven into it. Note that this text uses a slave to make jokes at the expense of his master, that a slave being asked to read aloud a text for said master. The former is an element of Roman comedy whereby reversal of the social order was a thing to be enjoyed for laughs. The latter reminds us that, unlike many more recent versions of slavery, Roman slaves often were more learned than their masters. (Though the setting of the play is Greece, not Rome) This play's hilarity is just not done right by any translator, in my opinion. So here's the opening of it, just for kicks. I've translated it with a bit more license than is my usual practice- changing jokes and adding new ones- partly because this kind of material requires it, and partly because I wanted to use it to poke some fun at the Romans, just as Plautus adapted plays from Greek to poke fun at the Greeks.

"What's the matter, master?"
By Titus Maccius Plautus
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

PORNOPHILUS (Calidorus in the original): The young son of an Athenian nobleman
PHELONIUS (Pseudolus in the original) : Pornophilus' slave

Dear darling audience: don't applaud us
Just take some time to shake it and yawn some.
Cause the next number is by Plautus,
And he always packs a long one.

(Approaching Pornophilus)
Master, if I could read your mind and misery,
Decipher it through all your silent sullenness,
I'd dodge a pair of troubles for the both of us:
I wouldn't have to ask. You wouldn't need to answer.
But we both know that's quite out of the question, so
I'm going to go and ask you questions anyhow.
Master, can't you tell me what's the matter with you?
What's got you sulking, skulking as if somebody
Or something had just sucked the soul right out of you,
Toting those Jovedarned letters with you everywhere
All tinkled with your tears, and won't let anyone
In on what you're thinking. For crying out loud, quit weeping.
Speak up, and put me in the know where I belong.

Phelonius, I am the wrechedest of all the wretches!

Well Sweet Jupiter on a stick!

Jupiter's juristiction is a joke to me
I am a victim of Venus... the Venereal.

Well, let me in on this Olympic ordeal of yours.
I've always been your go-to closet confidant.

And you're about to be one once again.

Well then
Mister Master, tell me what the matter is.
I'm at your service with all my money, mind and body

Take this here letter. It can do the talking for me,
And tell the mystery of the misery that's eating me.

(taking the letter.)
Thy whip is my commandment.
(Looks at the letter)
But what in Tartaration is all this?

What's wrong?

The way these letters look, all humped on one another
You'd think that they were aching for some babymaking.

Oh, that's nice. Do I get more of your stupid humor, now?

No, really sir. It's Gaulish to me! Nobody
But a team-up of Diotima and the Oracle
Could make sense of the holy mess I'm looking at.

Where do you get off insulting these teeny weeny
Lovely letters etched in a lovely letter
In such a lovely script and by the loveliest
And cutest little hands you'll ever see?

(Suppressing a snicker) Well I'll be
A Minotaur's uncle! Verily, verily
I say 'Wherefore wouldst Thou, O Master, bait me thus?'
Getting off with a "teeny" weenie? And a hand? Come, come now.
Anyway, Master, are you truly telling me
What lovely little hands hens have? Cause honestly
No hand beside a hen's could pen this chickenscratch.

You're getting on my nerves, Phelonius.
Read it now or give it back!

All right, I'll read it out, sir. Keep your tunic on.
Listen up, and don't lose your heart just yet.

My heart? Oh, it's long gone.

Well, can you conjure it back?

Nothing doing. I am fresh out of conjury.
Conjure it yourself out of that letter's wax,
Seeing how my heart has darted off to it.

Wait, Pornophilus! I think see your girlfriend,
She's waiting for your call there as per usual!

What, where? Spit it out!

Why she's right here
Spread-eagled at the bottom of this letter, see?
Relaxed and ready in the waxen chickenscratch.

(Raises his fist)
Why you.......May all the gods and all the goddesses--

(Stepping back)
....Keep me in good cheer forever? Why you,
Mister Master, are a dear as ever.

The Original:

Sī ex tē tacente fierī possem certior,
ere, quae miseriae tē tam miserē mācerent,
duōrum labōrī ego hominum parsissem lubēns, 5
mei tē rogandī et tis respondendī mihi;
nunc quoniam id fierī nōn potest, necessitās
mē subigit ut tē rogitem. responde mihi:
quid est quod tū exanimātus iam hōs multōs diēs
gestās tabellas tēcum, eās lacrumīs lavis, 10
neque tuī participem cōnsilī quemquam facis?
ēloquere, ut quod ego nesciō id tēcum sciam.
CALIDORVS Miserē miser sum, Pseudolē.
PS. Id tē Iuppiter prohibessit.
CAL. Nihil hoc Iovis ad iūdicium attinet:
sub Veneris rēgnō vāpulō, nōn sub Iovis. 15
PS. Licet mē id scīre quid sit? nam tū mē antidhāc
suprēmum habuistī comitem cōnsiliīs tuīs.
CAL. Idem animus nunc est.
PS. Face mē certum quid tibist;
iuvābō aut rē aut opera aut cōnsiliō bonō.
CAL. Cape hās tabellās, tūte hinc narrātō tibi 20
quae mē miseria et cura contabefacit.
PS. Mōs tibi gerētur. sed quid hoc, quaesō?
CAL. Quid est?
PS. Ut opinor, quaerunt litterae hae sibi liberōs:
alia aliam scandit.
CAL. Lūdis iam lūdō tuō?
PS. Hās quīdem pol crēdō nisi Sibulla lēgerit, 25
interpretārī alium posse nēminem.
CAL. Cūr inclementer dīcis lepidīs litterīs
lepidīs tabellīs lepidā cōnscriptīs manū?
PS. An, opsecrō hercle, habent quās gallīnae manūs?
nam hās quīdem gallīna scrīpsit.
CAL. ōdiōsus mihi es. 30
lege vel tabellās redde.
PS. Immō enim pellegam.
advortitō animum.
CAL. Nōn adest.
PS. At tū cita.
CAL. Immō ego tacēbō, tū istinc ex cērā cita;
nam istic meus animus nunc est, nōn in pectore.
PS. Tuam amīcam videō, Calidōre.
CAL. Ubi ea est, opsecrō? 35
PS. Eccam in tabellīs porrēctam: in cērā cubat.
CAL. At tī dī deaeque quantumst—
PS. Servassint quidem.

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