Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 389
The characters in Amphitryon by Plautus are a mixture of mortals and gods that have become intertwined in this story of mistaken identity and psuedo-infidelity.
Amphitryon, the play's title character, is a leader in the Theban army. When the play begins, he has recently returned victorious from war and is looking forward to visiting his home and his wife. When he does go home and finds that his wife has shared his bed with someone she claims was him, Amphitryon questions whether or not he has gone mad.
Sosia is Amphitryon's slave who accompanied the general in battle. He is a fearful man who teeters on the edge of an existential crisis after encountering Mercury, who has stolen his identity.
Alcmena is the patient, devoted, and faithful wife of Amphitryon. She has spent the night with Jupiter thinking that he was her husband. When confronted with the chaos and accusations that come with her actual husband's return, she is reasonably distraught and confused.
Jupiter, the king of the gods, has become enamored with Alcmena. He has disguised himself as Amphitryon so that he can make love to the Theban woman without her realizing who he is. He uses his power to make time stand still that night in order to maximize his time with Alcmena.
Mercury, the son of Jupiter, spends the play helping his father get away with his ruse. He also provides the audience with exposition by giving the prologue. When Sosia threatens to interrupt the love-making, Mercury intercepts him. Mercury disguises himself as Sosia, which provides a comical interaction as the real Sosia tries to make sense of what he is seeing.
Blepharo, the ship's pilot, is a minor character in the story. Amphitryon has Sosia bring him to his house in an attempt to clear up the confusion. Seeing two Amphitryons thoroughly confuses Blepharo. Blepharo is appalled at the situation he encounters and the abuse that he receives and leaves in disgust.
Bromia is Alcmena's maid and another minor character in the play. She is a nervous person who fears calamity at every turn. She relays the account of Alcmena calling down a thunderbolt and the birth of the twins. She helps put everything to right by soothing Amphitryon's worries, reassuring him of his wife's devotion, and explaining just what happened between Alcmena and Jupiter.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 505
Amphitryon (am-FIHT-ree-uhn), a Theban general. Having defeated his enemies, Amphitryon is eager to return to his home and his wife. When she says that she already has seen him, he first thinks her unfaithful or mad. Confronted by a man who looks like him and insists he is indeed Amphitryon, he begins to think that he himself has lost his mind. When he breaks down the door to his house, he is insulted by Mercury, who is disguised as Sosia, then rebuked by his wife, and finally confronted with someone who looks just like him. On his way to kill everyone inside the house, Amphitryon is knocked down by one of Jupiter’s thunderbolts. Coming back to consciousness, he is assured that his wife is innocent of any wrongdoing, and he bows to the will of Jupiter.
Alcmena (alk-MEE-nuh), the faithful wife of Amphitryon, who left her pregnant when he went to war. She believes that she has spent the night with her husband, and she has the golden cup he gave her to prove it. When he turns up again, with another golden cup, she is stunned. All she can do is deny his accusations of infidelity and conclude that he is mad. Alcmena goes into labor. She invokes the gods and, with much thunder but without pain, she produces twins, one of whom jumps up and kills two snakes. Jupiter explains that he is the father of the stronger son.
Jupiter, the chief Roman god. Desirous of Alcmena, he takes the form of her husband, spends the night with her, and impregnates her. To make the night last as long as possible, he arranges for the stars to stop in place. Jupiter returns to the house in part to tease Amphitryon; more important, he wishes to make sure that Alcmena comes to no harm, either from Amphitryon or in childbirth. He explains matters to both husband and wife and assures them of his friendship in the future.
Mercury, a Roman god, Jupiter’s son and his messenger. Disguised as the slave Sosia, he addresses the audience in the prologue, explaining the situation and pointing out that both he and Jupiter will be actors in this story. When Sosia arrives, Mercury argues with him, beats him, and sends him back to Amphitryon. Later, summoned by Jupiter, Mercury appears as Sosia. This time, pretending to be drunk, he empties a pail of water over the head of the real Amphitryon.
Sosia (SOH-see-uh), the slave whom Amphitryon took along when he went off to war. Afraid of everyone and everything, Sosia is easily intimidated, and between Mercury’s arguments and his blows, he comes to doubt his own identity. When he returns to the house, he tells his master that Alcmena must be mad. Later, he dutifully obeys Jupiter’s command and brings the ship’s pilot to the house, thus setting up the scene in which Amphitryon and Jupiter, in the guise of Amphitryon, accuse each other of being impostors.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 232
Anderson, William S. Barbarian Play: Plautus’ Roman Comedy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993. Focuses on what the author calls the playwright’s deconstruction of Menander, the ways in which he alters elements in his source to make his plays Roman instead of Greek. Good notes, thorough index, comprehensive bibliography.
Duckworth, George E., ed. The Complete Roman Drama. 2 vols. New York: Random House, 1942. General introduction provides an excellent summary of Roman drama and its cultural setting. Introduction to the Amphitryon is extremely helpful; combines facts with interpretation and includes some comments on later influence.
Hunter, R. L. The New Comedy of Greece and Rome. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Lucid discussion of forms, motifs, and themes in New Comedy, with numerous references to Plautus and Amphitryon. Extensive notes and a bibliography.
Sandbach, F. H. The Comic Theatre of Greece and Rome. London: Chatto & Windus, 1977. Both the chapter “Drama at Rome” and the chapter devoted to Plautus provide excellent overviews. Insists that Plautus was less dependent on Greek sources than is generally assumed. Essential Greek and Roman terms are defined in a glossary, which includes a thorough discussion of meter. Brief bibliography. Illustrated.
Segal, Erich. Roman Laughter: The Comedy of Plautus. Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature 29. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968. Shows how Plautus’ works reflect Roman culture and literary traditions. References to Amphitryon appear throughout the text and the notes. Carefully indexed.
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