In Plautus' A Pot of Gold, how is family portrayed? What is the nature of love?
Plautus' Pot of Gold (Latin: Aulularia) was first written around the 190s BCE. Plautus wrote his play in Latin for a Roman audience, but it was based on a Greek original. The names of the characters in the play are Greek and the play's setting is Athens.
Other than the household god who delivers the play's prologue, all of the other characters in the play are humans. Half are freeborn citizens and half are slaves. Most of the lines in the play are spoken by male characters. Of the ten human characters in the play who have a speaking part, seven are males.
These statistics hint at the male-dominated family relations in the play. Much of what happens in the play revolves around the marriage of Euclio's daughter Phaedria, but she never appears before the audience and only has one line in the play (an off-stage cry caused by her labor pains). As was common in ancient marriages in both Greece and Rome, the marriage of Euclio's daughter is an event whose details are worked out by men (Euclio, Megadorus, and Lyconides). Phaedria has no say in the matter. Lyconides' mother Eunomia, however, does apparently serve as her son's confidant (Lyconides, while drunk, had impregnated Phaedria nine months earlier) and also as an intermediary with his uncle Megadorus, who early in the play had arranged to marry Phaedria (much to Lyconides' dismay).
Thus, given the male-dominated and business-like nature of Phaedria's marriage, I would say that, at least from the perspective of the elder male citizens in the play (Euclio and Megadorus), the concept of love really does not enter into the equation. Indeed, Euclio is more worried about someone stealing his pot of gold than about his daughter who is about to give birth inside his house. Lyconides may truly love Phaedria (he tells Euclio that he does in a single line), but we are not given a clue as to her feelings about Lyconides or any other male in the play.
In the culture presented in this play, the two families are dominated by elder males and the families become linked through arrangements that must ultimately be "signed off on" by males.
Aulularia or The Pot of Gold by Plautus is a Roman comedy based on an earlier Greek play by Menander and thus mixes Greek and Roman elements. As was typical of Greek New Comedy and Roman Comedy, the main theme of the play revolves around romantic love, with the treatment being domestic and quasi-realistic rather than heroic. The main characters in the play are ordinary citizens rather than mythic heroes, and the comedy is gentle, with the characters' foibles being mocked somewhat affectionately rather than being sharply satiric in the manner of Old Comedy or Juvenalian satire.
The first element of the family as portrayed in the play is gender inequality. Women have less power than men, but at times wealth can invert this typical gender hierarchy. Although this play lacks a wealthy "matrona" (older woman) figure, Megadorus' speeches about the unsuitability of rich women as wives highlights an underlying anxiety in which the prerogatives of masculinity are threatened by the possibility of rich women using wealth to usurp male authority.
The next important element in the portrait of family is the power of the father (patria potestas) over every aspect of the lives of unmarried children. The older characters in the play, Euclio and Megadorus, think of marriage primarily in economic terms, and use the power of age and wealth to try to compel Phaedria to marry Megadorus. By contrast, the younger characters such as Phaedria, Eunomia, and Lyconides are more strongly influenced by love and sexual desire.
Finally, slaves are shown as integral parts of the household, who, although without legal power, still operate to manipulate the outcome of events through their knowledge of other members of the household and their own intelligence and initiative.