(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

The people of Syracuse suffered from too much success. Years of wealth and easy living had made them soft, self-indulgent, and indifferent to the act of government. Now, under the threat of war with Carthage, they called upon Timoleon, the great Corinthian general.

When Timoleon arrived in Syracuse, he admonished the citizenry, especially the rich and the powerful, for slothful habits and lack of public spirit. Strict obedience to his commands he made a condition for his help. The people enthusiastically approved of his leadership—until he gave his first command. When he ordered that private money be confiscated, there was great lamentation. But the complaints were silenced by Cleora, daughter of the Praetor of Syracuse, who made an impassioned appeal to their sense of honor and patriotism. Timoleon next turned his attention to the formation of an army. To his disgust, they suggested that slaves and laborers be used to fill the ranks. A second appeal by Cleora, however, inspired the men to volunteer their services. An army was formed to take immediate action against the Carthaginians.

Among the most eager to go to war was Leosthenes, who saw in martial glory a chance to win the hand of Cleora. She had encouraged his suit, but her father, Archidamus, had prevented their marriage. At their parting, Leosthenes expressed his love for her and also revealed his fear that during his absence she would not remain chaste. With her father, her brother, and her lover gone, he doubted her ability to resist the enticements of a seducer. Deeply wounded by his distrust, she had him bind her eyes with a scarf, and she pledged not to remove it nor to utter a word until he returned.

After the army had gone, the city was populated by women, slaves, and men too old or too weak to fight. Among the men who remained were miserly Cleon and his cowardly son Asotus. The indignities that Asotus suffered because of his craven nature, he compensated for by his cruel treatment of slaves. The slaves fared little better with his stepmother, Corisca. The war was hard on Corisca. Married to an impotent old man, she was accustomed to entertaining young men. But the war left her only with slaves, who did not appeal to her, and with Asotus, who was a bungler. She decided one day to help Asotus overcome his awkwardness by enacting with him a love scene. In this practice session, Corisca played the part of Cleora, whom Asotus for a long time had been wooing unsuccessfully. So proficient was Corisca in her part that Asotus was inspired to perform his role effectively. Soon he began to think of Corisca as herself rather than as an actress. But they were prevented from playing the final act by the arrival of Cleon.

Unknown to their masters, the slaves were preparing to shake off their bonds. The revolt was led by Pisander, a Theban gentleman disguised as a slave. Having fallen in love with Cleora and having had his suit...

(The entire section is 1195 words.)