Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1195
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 denied by her father, he, in order to be close to her, had himself sold as a slave to Archidamus. His chief reason for stirring up the rebellion was to advance his suit of Cleora, although he also felt sympathy for the bondmen. The ill-treated slaves, easily moved to insurrection, encountered no difficulty in taking the city.
With Pisander in Syracuse was his sister Statilia, also disguised as a slave. At Pisander’s request, Statilia rendered an exaggerated account to Cleora of the insolence, bloodshed, and rapes that had accompanied the bondmen’s victory. She also stated that Pisander had devised the plan so that he might rape her. Cleora was terrified by this announcement, but her fears were promptly allayed by Pisander himself. Treating her with great respect, he vowed his love but denied any intention of taking her by violence. Although Cleora, because of her vow, did not speak to him, she appeared to be moved by his generosity.
Adversity affected the citizens in various ways. Cleon, Corisca, and Asotus were brought closer together by their misery. While Cleon still displayed his selfishness and Asotus his cowardice, Corisca was radically changed. Accepting her position as a just punishment for her lust and pride, she rejected her former life as a courtesan and turned to the solace of a stoic philosophy.
In the meantime the army under Timoleon had been victorious over Carthage, and in the action Leosthenes’ heroism had been outstanding. He, however, was unable to take joy in his feats because of the remorse he felt for having wronged Cleora’s innocence.
On returning home, the soldiers expected a glorious welcome. Instead, they were shocked to find the gates of the city closed and the walls armed by their slaves. Pisander, who had inspired the bondmen to take a stand against their masters, demanded that they be given their liberty as a condition for surrendering the city. Timoleon, regarding the terms unreasonable, gave orders to attack. The slaves at first made a valiant stand against the army, but when, at the suggestion of the general, their masters exchanged their swords for whips, they immediately surrendered.
Leosthenes was fully convinced that Cleora, if she had not submitted willingly, had at least been raped. Only after the repeated protestations of Cleora and Statilia did he abandon his belief. When he asked Cleora who her preserver had been, she, having had her gratitude increased by Statilia’s accounts of Pisander, gave a glowing report of her benefactor. The passion of her speech again filled Leosthenes with jealousy and doubt.
Pisander, after the defeat of the bondmen, hid himself in Cleora’s chamber. Discovered, he was seized and taken to prison. Cleora, whose interest in Pisander continued to increase, asked her father to intercede for him. Told that he was being tortured, she rushed to the prison.
When Leosthenes and Timagoras, Cleora’s brother, heard of her action, they too hurried to the prison. There they found her comforting Pisander and even offering some encouragement to his suit. Timagoras, infuriated that his sister could associate with a bondman, was preparing to kill her when Archidamus and the officers arrived and restrained him. In answer to Leosthenes’ claim on Cleora, Archidamus said the matter must be decided in court.
At court, Leosthenes and Pisander were permitted to speak in their own behalf. Leosthenes, stressing the degradation of having to argue with a slave, accused Cleora of being ungrateful and of having loose desires. Pisander, in contrast, spoke of the pureness of his love for Cleora. Timagoras, indignant at the impertinence of a slave, suggested that he be whipped. Pulling off his disguise, Pisander revealed his reasons for coming to Syracuse. Leosthenes had once been plighted to Statilia. After he had deserted her, Pisander had come to Syracuse to kill the false suitor, but love for Cleora had stayed his intent. Now, having undergone danger and suffering, he felt that he had a just claim to her. With her father’s blessing, Cleora readily consented to marry him. Leosthenes returned to Statilia. The slaves, ably defended by Pisander, were given full pardon.
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