Pamphila, the daughter of a respected but miserly Athenian citizen, is raped by a drunken young man of ordinarily good behavior during the night festival of the Tauropolia. The only clue she has to his identity is a signet ring that he leaves in her possession. A short time later, Pamphila is married to the young man, an Athenian named Charisius; Smicrines, her father, provides a good dowry for his idealistic but rather priggish son-in-law. Pamphila, who soon begins to love her husband, gives birth to her child during his absence and, acting on the advice of her nurse Sophrona, exposes the infant and leaves with the baby a pouch containing assorted tokens, including the ring. Charisius, learning of the birth from his servant Onesimus, decides that the child cannot be his. Instead of repudiating Pamphila, however, he leaves home and begins to waste his substance in rich feasts given at the home of his friend Chaerestratus, who lives next door. Pamphila is distracted because the husband she loves deserts her for the company of hired dancing girls and harp players.
That is the way matters stand when Smicrines comes to investigate reports of Charisius’s conduct; he hears that his son-in-law is spending every night for a hired harp player a sum sufficient to feed a slave for a month. Just before his arrival a conceited, loud-mouthed cook named Carion, on his way to prepare a meal in the house of Chaerestratus, vainly questions Charisius’s servant Onesimus about his master; the cook also wants to know why Charisius neglects his wife and pays twelve drachmas a night to be entertained by the lovely harp-playing slave Habrotonon. While Carion and Onesimus are talking, the musician is delivered by her master. The slave dealer manages to persuade the bemused Charisius that he owes money for several previous nights’ entertainment. Charisius pays, but wily Onesimus recovers the overpayments for himself.
When Smicrines appears, Onesimus manages to befuddle the anxious, angry father with the story that it is Chaerestratus who is giving the parties and that Charisius attends only to protect his friend’s possessions and good name. After Smicrines goes into his son-in-law’s house, two of Chaerestratus’s tenants appear to pay their rent. They are Davus, a goatherd, and Syriscus, a charcoal burner accompanied by his wife carrying a baby. While they wait they argue over another matter. A month earlier, Davus came upon a baby exposed in the hills. His first impulse was to adopt the foundling, but then, having calculated the cost of rearing a child, he began to think of...
(The entire section is 1058 words.)