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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The themes of Plautus’s Amphitryon include gods disguising themselves—sometimes for the purpose of bedding a woman (as often in the case with Jupiter) and sometimes simply to manipulate mortals as a ruse (in the case of Mercury). As such, deception is the primary and overarching theme.

The title character, Amphitryon, is a Theban warrior absent on a campaign while his already pregnant wife, Alcmena, is seduced by Jupiter, who disguises himself as her husband. When Amphitryon returns, the confused dialogue that results reveals Alcmena’s supposed infidelity.

In a characteristic demonstration of his Greco-Roman gods’ behavior is ambivalent—neither entirely bad or entirely good—Jupiter once again disguises himself as Amphitryon and apologizes for getting angry. He also (ironically) intercedes on behalf of Alcmena with Amphitryon, who accepts his wife once again.

This play is also significant for its alternate account of the birth of Hercules, who is born alongside Alcmena’s mortal son, fathered by Amphitryon. In the accounts of Hesiod and Ovid, Hercules’s birth was thwarted by Hera or extremely difficult, respectively.

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