The Character of the Young Protagonists in Plautus' Mostellaria and Trinummus
A common motif in the Roman palliata is the conflict between generations. While the fathers usually uphold conventional morality and display frugality bordering on miserliness, the sons indulge themselves in their absence, squandering money, drinking, and consorting with meretrices, usually with the complicity of a clever family slave. Since the comedy genre depicts an upside-down, Saturnalian world, the final victory belongs to the son and slave as the comic protagonists. Now and then, however, the son is made to express an untypical sentiment which shows him in a more responsible light. Plautus' most notoriously 'moralising' comedy is Trinummus, but moralising passages and character traits may likewise be traced in another Plautine play starting from a similar situation, the much rowdier Mostellaria. A comparison between the young protagonists of Mostellaria and Trinummus reveals that while the latter play is indeed more inclined to moralise, not even the former can be regarded as a pure farce in the tradition of Asinaria. While the father and son of Asinaria, struggling for the same meretrix, seem to invite nothing but ridicule, the young protagonist of Mostellaria, his best friend, and his mistress display some character traits which should have found favour even with a Cato Censorius.