Last week I blogged about The Pot of Gold and Other Plays by Plautus, and, almost solely because I couldn't get into him at all and don't want to deliberately carry a miserable reading experience into 2017, I decided this week I'd read the second and final collection I own (though there are more to be read). Here's what's in this collection:
- The Ghost (Mostellaria)
- The Rope (Rudens; 211 B.C.)
- A Three-Dollar Day (Trinummus)
This play is essentially about the quick thinking of Tranio, a slave owned by the Athenian businessman Theopropides. When Theopropides is away his son Philolaches throws a wild party having also borrowed a very large sum of money to buy the freedom of Philematium, a prostitute with whom he is in love. Theopropides arrives home unannounced, rather spoiling the fun, and Tranio convinces him that the house is haunted and that Theopropides should not enter. When Philolaches' debtor arrives to collect the debt, Tranio again must think on his feet, and he claims the money was used to buy the house next door belonging to Simo. Tranio's lies, however, eventually (rather slowly, actually) get found out, but this comedy - all's well that ends well.
The Rope, also known as The Fisherman's Rope, tells the story of Daemones, a retired Athenian who has lost his property and gone to live on the coast of Cyrene (now Libya) near the Temple of Venus with his slave Sceparnio. At the same time Labrax, a pimp, has bought two women - Palaestra and Ampelisca - and has too decided to settle at Cyrene. Plesidippus, another Athenian in the area, falls in love with Palaestra and raises some of the money needed to buy her freedom, and we soon learn that Palaestra is in fact Daemones' daughter who was stolen many years ago when she was a child. Though having agreed to sell her to Plesidippus, Labrax instead decides to follow the advice of his friend Charmides and sell the women in Sicily to get a better price, but as they travel over they are shipwrecked after a great storm. Palaestra and Ampelisca escape and take refuge in the Temple of Venus, however they are soon found by Labrax and Charmides. Daemones and Plesidippus protect them and, because of the discovery of lost items in the storm (pulled from the sea with a fisherman's rope), Daemones realises that Palaestra is his daughter.
A Three-Dollar Day
A Three-Dollar Day, also known as The Three Pieces of Money, sees another character called Charmides. A little like Daemones of The Rope, Charmides is an old man who has lost much of his wealth, but in A Three-Dollar Day this is because of the recklessness of his son Lesbonicus. Charmides decides to go abroad, leaving his son in Athens with his daughter, trusting his friend Callicles to keep an eye on him and, similar to Plautus' The Pot of Gold, Charmides tells Lesbonicus that there is some treasure buried in the garden, saved for emergencies.
Predictably, Lesbonicus gets through most of the little money Charmides left behind, and then puts the family home up for sale. Callicles buys it to the anger of his friends, particularly Megaronides, who believe that by buying it he is keeping the irresponsible Lesbonicus in money. In defence Callicles tells Megaronides about the pot of gold to reassure him.
Meanwhile Lysiteles, a young man from a wealthy family, falls in love with Charmides daughter and his father Philto asks Lesbonicus if Lysiteles may marry her. Seeing the money coming his way he consents on the condition he is given some land. Lysiteles refuses this condition, so, to secure the marriage Callicles comes up with a plan: he uses the buried money as a dowry, pretending that it comes directly from Charmides as a dowry so that Lesbonicus does not suspect the buried treasure. As the plan takes place however, Charmides arrives home unexpectedly...
Amphitryo, also known as Amphitruo or Jupiter in Disguise, is the final play of the collection and it's actually my favourite. It is, I believe, the only example of Plautus using material from mythology. It starts with a prologue from Mercury who tells the audience Amphitryon and his slave Sosia have been at war and are now returning to Thebes. In their absence Jupiter has seduced Amphitryo's wife Alcmena disguised as Amphitryo, with Mercury, disguised as Sosia, keeping watch at the door. Amphitryo however returns. Sosia goes to the house to announce his master's arrival where he meets Mercury, still disguised as Sosia. Mercury attacks Sosia, who escapes and tells Amphitryo of what is happening. The next day Amphitryo, annoyed with Sosia for what he thinks is a foolish lie, returns home moments after Jupiter has left. Alcmena, clearly very confused, gives him a strange greeting, which Amphitryo takes as proof that she has been unfaithful. From here there is yet more confusion and becomes similar in a way to Plautus' The Brothers Menaechmus, twins whose identical appearance causes some upheaval, but, just before the couple are about to part ways, Alcmena has twin boys - Hercules and Iphiclus. Jupiter then reconciles the couple by explaining his actions, and Amphitryo is proud to have shared his wife with a god.
These plays were, as I've said, hard work. Some comedy simply doesn't work for a modern audience, though I dare say watching any of the plays I've read by Plautus performed would be more beneficial. I've now read nine and there are another eleven surviving plays, but at this point I think it's prudent to cut my losses! If, however, I happen to stumble across some I haven't read I won't rule out trying them in the future. For now, it's always at the very least interesting to read the classics, so despite not enjoying them so much I still think it was beneficial.
Now, a slight change of subject: this is more than likely going to be the last title I read for my Ancient Greek and Roman Challenge for this year. I started in May 2015 and I've now read 79 of the 150 listed (I think I started having read three or so), so over the half way mark! I can say with absolute certainty it will take a lot longer than 18 months to read the final half, the majority of what I've read so far have been plays so it's been easy to read a title a week. For 2017 however my goal is a little more modest: so far I've read, with the exception of two titles, everything listed from the 8th Century B.C. to the 5th Century B.C. Next year, the plan is to read those two remaining titles (Histories by Herodotus and Ichneutai by Sophocles), then focus on the 4th Century B.C. to the 2nd Century B.C. That's just 20 titles (hopefully I'll manage a couple more shorter works from 1st Century B.C. too), but they're pretty dense - a lot of Aristotle, Plato, and two of Xenophon, so you can see why I won't be reading a title a week as I have done this year! If I could read everything up to 1st Century B.C. I'd be very happy, but for now the goal is the 20 titles from 4th-2nd Century B.C. So wish me luck!