Study Guide

Amphitryon

by Plautus

Amphitryon Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Amphitryon, a Theban, joins the army of Thebes to fight against the Teloboans. When he leaves for the wars, his wife Alcmena, daughter of Electryon, is pregnant. Nevertheless, in the absence of Amphitryon, Jupiter falls in love with Alcmena and decides that he must enjoy her favors. Disguising himself as Amphitryon, Jupiter appears to Alcmena as her husband, just returned from a battle with the Teloboans. Alcmena is unable to recognize the impostor and welcomes Jupiter as her husband. Because Jupiter wishes to enjoy Alcmena as long as possible, he has the sun, moon, and stars remain fixed, and so the night he spends with Alcmena is long enough for her to conceive and be ready to bring forth a child by Jupiter at the same time she gives birth to the child by her husband.

In the meantime Amphitryon’s ship returns to Thebes. It is still night, so Amphitryon’s slave, Sosia, fearfully walking the streets of the sleeping town, tries to console himself with the pleasantness of the news he is bringing to its citizens. He thinks how well his master, Amphitryon, handled the war with the Teloboans, how the enemy refused to arbitrate the dispute over lands, how the battle was joined, and how Amphitryon was awarded the golden cup of Pterela as a token of the valor displayed in the battle.

While Sosia soliloquizes, Mercury, disguised as Sosia, is listening to every word. Mercury assumes the disguise to aid his father, Jupiter, in the latter’s scheme to make love to Alcmena. As Sosia comes through the streets to Amphitryon’s house, Mercury, in the guise of Sosia, is guarding the house and the inmates against any disturbance. When Sosia sees Mercury he is afraid, but he goes up to the door and tries to enter. Mercury, as Sosia, tells him to be gone and beats him with his fists. When Sosia cries out that he is a slave named Sosia who belongs to the household, he receives another drubbing.

Sosia, confused, then asks the stranger who he is. Mercury replies that he is Sosia, a slave of the household. Looking closely, Sosia sees that the person in front of him is dressed and looks exactly like himself. When Sosia goes on to ask questions about the household, Mercury answers each one satisfactorily. Sosia asks about his own conduct during the battle; Mercury replies that he was drinking. Knowing that the answer is correct and sure that someone stole his identity, Sosia runs off to the ship, leaving Mercury to chuckle over the ruse that will prevent Amphitryon from spoiling Jupiter’s night with Alcmena.

Eventually Jupiter takes leave of Alcmena, after telling her that he must return to his army, lest the...

(The entire section is 1077 words.)