The three characters of Plautus’s Pot of Gold (Aulularia, or the Concealed Treasure) embody three different attitudes to the concept of marriage. The rich Megadorus wants to marry his poor neighbor, Euclio’s, daughter, Phaedra. He thinks that the poor bride is not as extravagant and as lazy as the rich one. Megadorus is unwilling to marry a woman with dowry. He explains:
. . . high families, naughty pride, bountiful portions, acclamations, imperiousness, vehicles inlaid with ivory, superb mantles and purple, I can't abide, things that by their extravagance reduce men to slavery. (1, p. 132)
Though he is wealthy enough, he holds a practical view of marriage rooted in older Roman tradition of frugality and reverence of the husband by the wife. This is how he explains his preference for a bride from a poorer family:
But, in my opinion, indeed, if the other richer men were to do the same, so as to take home as their wives, without dower, the daughters of the poorer persons, both the state would become much more united, and we should meet with less ill feeling than we now meet with; both, they, the wives, would stand in fear of punishment more than they do stand in fear of it, and we husbands should be at less expense than we now are. (1, p. 149)
Such a union would ensure both the welfare of the society and the stability of the marriage. That is why he chooses to marry Phaedra. However, it is obvious that in planning to marry the young and pious girl, he seeks his own advantage, and his philosophizing about the mores and traditions may be intended only to cover his lust.
But Phaedra has been seduced by his nephew, Lyconides, and is about to give birth to a baby. Evidently, the light-minded nephew has not planned to marry her (at least, we do not know about his earlier feelings or intentions). He explains his action by the god’s prompting, but once his uncle learns of the misdeed and is persuaded to cancel his plans, Lyconides is ready to take her as wife. As he discusses this with her father, Euclio, he refers to a Roman law, according to which, when a male has seduced a freeborn female, he is obligated either to marry her or to repay her in proportion with her social status. Lyconides chooses to do the former. Though his view of marriage is flawed, he wants at least to observe decorum:
I confess that I have done wrong, and I know that I deserve censure; for that reason I'm come to beseech you, that, with feelings assuaged, you will pardon me. (1, 163)
As for Euclio, he is completely bound by his compulsive avarice. The miser does not really care about his daughter. He does not even notice that she is pregnant. He has found a pot of gold, and he is afraid that Megadorus wants to marry his daughter in order to take possession of the treasure. When Megadorus first proposes to marry Phaedra, he consents but warns him that he is not going to give him any dowry because he is poor. Euclio fears that once he becomes a relative of the rich, he will lose his social status. He will lose touch with his current associates but at the same time will fail to join the higher society. So his conception of marriage is also conditioned by his social bias and personal prejudice.
Plautus’s comedy did not survive in full, but based on some extant texts, we can conclude that the resolution of its conflicts is a happy one. Plautus shows that all of the three main characters’s views of marriage are flawed in various respects from the standpoint of the law and tradition.