The Pot of Gold

by Plautus

Start Free Trial

What is the role of slaves in The Pot of Gold by Plautus?

The role of slaves in The Pot of Gold is to highlight the negative character traits of the upper classes. They are portrayed as smart, crafty, and much more knowledgeable about what is going on.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The slaves is Plautus's play The Pot of Gold help drive the plot, provide comic relief, and serve as a voice of wisdom and compassion.

Lyconides's slave is the culprit who steals the pot of gold from Euclio. His action, while sneaky and immoral, drives the play's plot to its conclusion. Lyconides is able to get the pot of gold from his slave (by giving the slave his freedom) and return the wealth to Euclio, who is so grateful that he agrees to allow his daughter to marry Lyconides. If the slave hadn't stolen that pot of gold, the play might not have found its happy ending.

The slaves in The Pot of Gold also provide some hilarious comic relief. Just look at the scene with Strobilus (Megadorus's steward) and the cooks Anthrax and Congrio. Antrhax's name is humorous to start with, for no one would want to eat a meal by a cook with that moniker! The three carry on with round after round of insults and jokes as they laugh at Euclio and each other. We cannot help but enjoy their wit as Strobilus, for instance, speaks of Euclio trying to lodge a complaint against a hawk that stole his dinner and as Anthrax calls Congrio a “fair cook” because he “can only get a job on fair-days.”

Finally, the slaves, especially Euclio's housekeeper, Staphyla, provide a voice of wisdom and compassion. Staphyla knows much more about what is going on in Euclio's own house than he does. He is so busy worrying about his pot of gold that he hasn't even realized that his daughter is pregnant. Staphyla has been caring for her and is both appalled at Euclio's detachment and sorry for her mistress's plight. Even the crazy cooks show some degree of wisdom in their hilarity, for they can identify a miser and a fool when they find one in Euclio.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

If one treats Plautus's The Pot of Gold as a satire on the manners of the Roman upper classes, then the role of slaves in the play becomes crucial. The slaves—smart, knowledgeable, and resourceful—exist largely to highlight the negative characteristics of their alleged social betters, whose greed and ignorance are there for all to see.

The intelligent servant is a stock character in ancient comedy, and is invariably contrasted positively with their masters and mistresses. In The Pot of Gold, we have Staphyla, Euclio's slave and house-servant. She knows that Euclio's daughter Phaedria is pregnant, yet Euclio himself is blissfully unaware of this.

Obsessed at guarding his hoard of gold, this greedy old miser has no time for his daughter, whom he regards as nothing more than a piece of property to be married off to some rich aristocrat. At no point does Euclio has his daughter's best interests at heart. Staphyla, by contrast, shows herself to be much more concerned for Phaedria's welfare, and is therefore much more recognizably human than her master.

Lyconides's slave Strobilus shows himself to be much more...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

intelligent than Euclio when he manages to get his hands on the old man's gold, despite the miser's best efforts to keep it hidden away. In doing so, he assists his master's plan to obtain Phaedria's hand in marriage.

When Lyconides discovers that Strobilus has stolen the gold, he returns the gold to its rightful owner. Euclio is so grateful to have his gold back that he gives his blessing to Lyconides's marrying his daughter. In that sense, one could say that the actions of a humble slave came to play a very important part in the development of the plot.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Slaves in Plautus's The Pot of Gold (called Aulularia in Latin) are far smarter than their masters and often carry out tasks that the masters are not savvy enough to accomplish. For example, Staphyla, Euclio's slave, is savvier and more intelligent than Euclio. At the beginning of the play, she wonders why her master has become so erratic in his behavior, and she worries, "Nor can I tell how best I can conceal his daughter's state." Staphyla knows that Euclio's daughter, Phaedria, is pregnant, and Staphyla cares for Phaedria when her father is not aware of his daughter's condition.

Another slave, Strobilus, who belongs to Lyconides, outwits Euclio, a miser who jealously guards his pot of gold. Strobilus knows that he must do the work for his master, who wants to marry Phaedria (and who has made her pregnant). Strobilus says in Act IV, Scene I, "The slave who wants to serve his master well/Does first his master's work and then his own." Strobilus overhears Euclio speaking about where he has hidden the gold, and then Strobilus steals the gold. His efforts allow Lyconides to return the gold to Euclio and to marry Phaedria, so it is Strobilus who manages to get his master what Lyconides wants. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As is typical of Roman comedy, several of the major characters in The Pot of Gold by Plautus are slaves. The slaves serve many different purposes in the plot and the audience experience. Like the rustics of Shakespearean comedy, the slaves are often among the funniest characters in the play, most prone to physical comedy and slapstick, and also providing much of the singing and dancing that were part of the comic spectacle. 

Next, Strobilus plays the part of the "servus callidus", or clever slave, who is an entertaining contrast with the innocence (and slight dim-wittedness) of the young lovers. Throughout the play he schemes to buy his freedom and eventually fails, something that the Romans found funny. Another classic piece of Roman humor is the subplot of slaves trying to avoid being beaten but ending up getting the beating anyway (this is not something we now would find funny -- but the Romans did). 

Both Staphyla and Strobilus  assist the young lovers in reaching their goal of marriage.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team