Illustration of Plautus with red robes and hat


(c. 254 BC - c. 184 BC)

The comedies of the playwright Plautus are the oldest surviving complete works of Latin literature. Adapted largely from older Greek material, they brought him financial success and a lasting reputation as one of ancient Rome’s greatest comedians.

All Writing

’Tis a portentous sign / When a man sweats and at the same time shivers.

—Plautus, c. 180 BC

It is wretched business to be digging a well just as you’re dying of thirst.

—Plautus, c. 193 BC

The gods play games with men as balls.

—Plautus, c. 200 BC

He that would eat the nut must crack the shell.

—Plautus, c. 200 BC

To blow and to swallow at the same time is not easy; I cannot at the same time be here and also there.

—Plautus, c. 200 BC

Man is no man, but a wolf, to a stranger.

—Plautus, c. 200 BC


Niccolò Machiavelli, author of The Prince, was well known in his lifetime as a comic dramatist. An early performance in Florence of The Mandrake caused Pope Leo X to insist that its actors and scenery be brought to Rome in 1520. In the prologue to Clizia, a play inspired by Plautus, Machiavelli wrote, “Comedies were invented to be of use and of delight to their audiences.”

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