Egeon and Emilia have set sail from Epidamnum on the Adriatic. Their destination is Syracuse, their home town. The couple take with them four children: the twin boys born to Emilia and another pair of baby twins born to a poor couple who sold them to Egeon and Emilia. These boys will grow up to be slaves to Egeon and Emilia's own children.
Disaster strikes when, far from Syracuse, their ship springs a leak. The crew make good their escape, leaving Egeon and his young family behind. To save their children, Egeon and Emilia each tie two infants to the mast, one of their own children together with one of the slaves. They then secure themselves to the mast in the hope that they will escape death. However, the ship hits a rock and splits in two. Emilia and two of the children are swept away in one direction, Egeon and the other two in another. Emilia winds up having her children taken away from her by some Corinthian fishermen, whereas Egeon is more fortunate, returning to Syracuse, where his son Antipholus grows up alongside his slave, Dromio.