One day the wealthy Athenian Simo confides in a servant that he had been pleased with his son Pamphilus until that very afternoon, when Simo discovered that his son was in love with Glycerium, the sister of a courtesan who has recently died. Simo, who wishes to marry his son to Philumena, the daughter of his friend Chremes, sees in his son’s love for Glycerium a threat to his plans.
Later Simo encounters his son’s slave, Davus, and threatens him with severe punishment. Simo is afraid that Davus, a clever fellow, will help Pamphilus thwart his father’s plans for his future. Davus immediately sees that some scheme will have to be put into action quickly before the love between Pamphilus and Glycerium ends in marriage. Glycerium is already pregnant by Pamphilus.
Pamphilus’s own scheme is to acknowledge the expected infant and then claim that Glycerium is actually an Athenian whose father was shipwrecked on Andros and that she was reared by the family of the courtesan as a foster child. Davus laughs at the story and says that no one will believe it.
Pamphilus, warned that his father wants him to marry that day, is greatly troubled. He is put at ease, however, when Davus hears that the approaching marriage to Philumena has been refused by the young woman’s father. Chremes has also learned of the affair between Pamphilus and the courtesan’s sister. Davus tells Pamphilus to agree to the marriage for the time being. Before long, he reasons, some way out of the predicament will be found.
Charinus meets Davus and Pamphilus and tells them that he is in love with Philumena. Pamphilus says he had no desire to marry the woman and that Charinus is welcome to her. Not knowing the true reason for Pamphilus’s assent, Charinus is thrown into despair later when he hears Pamphilus (following Davus’s advice) agree to marry Chremes’ daughter.
Later, while Pamphilus’s father, Simo, and Davus stand before the door of Glycerium’s residence, they hear the servants send for a midwife. Simo is angry, thinking that Davus is trying to trick him into believing that Glycerium is having a child by his son. A short time later Glycerium is delivered of a baby boy. When Simo hears the news, he still thinks Davus is trying to trick him and refuses to believe what he has heard.
Meanwhile, Pamphilus waits patiently, believing that no marriage with Chremes’ daughter has been arranged. While he waits, however, Simo meets Chremes on the street, and they agree once more to marry their children to each other. When Davus reports the latest development to Pamphilus, the young man is furious. It now seems certain he will never be able to marry the woman he loves. Glycerium, from her confinement bed, sends for Pamphilus to learn what progress he is making in his plans to marry her.
Davus, to prevent the marriage between Pamphilus and Philumena, has Glycerium’s maidservant lay the infant on a bed of verbena in front of Simo’s door. Chremes comes up the street and sees the child. Davus, pretending that he does not see Chremes, begins to argue with Glycerium’s servant. During the argument the fact that the child is the son of Pamphilus and Glycerium is shouted aloud. Chremes storms into Simo’s house to withdraw his offer of marriage between Pamphilus and Philumena.
Soon afterward Crito, a cousin of the dead courtesan, comes looking for the house of his dead cousin. As soon as he finds it, he asks the maidservant if Glycerium ever found her parents in Athens. Davus, looking after Pamphilus’s interests, overhears the conversation and enters the house.
When Davus leaves the...
(The entire section is 946 words.)