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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 341

The Brothers revolves around the lives led by two brothers, Micio and Demea; two brothers who are, more or less, polar opposites of each other. Demea lives in the countryside whereas Micio lives in Athens; Demea has two children whereas Micio is a bachelor; Demea lives a life of strict...

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The Brothers revolves around the lives led by two brothers, Micio and Demea; two brothers who are, more or less, polar opposites of each other. Demea lives in the countryside whereas Micio lives in Athens; Demea has two children whereas Micio is a bachelor; Demea lives a life of strict austerity whereas Micio lives a life of relaxed indulgence. Things get complicated because Micio adopts Demea's older son, Aeschinus. The younger son, Ctesipho, stays with his father in the countryside.

From the beginning of the play onward, Aeschinus continues to test his gentle adoptive father's patience: he rapes a virgin and then abandons her even though she is pregnant, he roughs up a pimp, and steals a music-girl (whom his younger brother falls in love with). In spite of all this, Micio continues to support him, emotionally and materially. Demea comes to Athens and attempts to tell his brother that he is spoiling Aeschnius but Micio tells him that, even though Aeschinus may be Demea's biological son, it is he, Micio, who has brought him up and Demea should not interfere in his upbringing.

The central conflict is a conflict about the right manner in which to raise a child. One of the central themes that runs through all of this is also the nature of paternal love and the ways in which love both saves us and ruins us. His love for Aeschinus ultimately costs Micio everything: all his money and even his home. In the end he even loses the freedom of his bachelor life as he marries the widow Sostrata (the mother of the woman whom Aeschinus raped and later married) at Aeschinus's behest. The play ends with multiple marriages: Aeschinus to Pamphila and Micio to Sostrata. Even Demea softens his earlier stance and allows Ctesipho to be with the music girl he'd fallen in love with. The final message comes from Demea who, even though he is no longer as strict as he used to be, cautions his friends and relatives and urges them to exercise moderation.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1016

Micio is an aging, easygoing Athenian bachelor whose strict and hardworking brother Demea permits him to adopt and rear Aeschinus, one of Demea’s two sons. Unlike his brother, Micio is a permissive parent, choosing to let pass many of Aeschinus’s small extravagances on the assumption that children are more likely to remain bound to their duty by ties of kindness than by those of fear.

Micio comes to wonder if his policy is the better. One day, shortly after Aeschinus tells him he is tired of the Athenian courtesans and wants to marry, Demea comes to Micio and informs him angrily that Aeschinus broke into a strange house, beat its master, and carried off a woman with whom he is infatuated. It is a shameful thing, Demea says, especially since Aeschinus has such a fine example of continence and industry in his brother Ctesipho, who dutifully spends his time working for Demea in the country. It is also shameful that Aeschinus was reared the way he was, Demea observes, with Micio letting the youth go to the bad by failing to restrain his excesses.

After quarreling about their methods for rearing children, the two men part. Demea agrees not to interfere, and Micio, although confused and grieved by Aeschinus’s apparent change of heart and failure to inform him of the escapade, determines to stand by his adopted son.

As it turns out, however, Demea’s report of Aeschinus is correct only in outline. The house into which the young man broke belongs to Sannio, a pimp and slave dealer, and the woman carried off is a slave with whom, ironically, the model son Ctesipho fell in love but cannot afford to buy. Demea’s restraint is more than Ctesipho can bear, and because he is afraid to indulge himself before his father, he chooses to do so behind his back. Aeschinus agrees to procure the woman for his brother but keeps his motives secret in order to protect his brother from Demea’s wrath.

Sannio, furious at the treatment he received, hounds Aeschinus for the return of the slave. Sannio is soon to leave on a slave-trading expedition, so he has no time to prosecute the case in court; moreover, an obscure point of law creates the possibility that the slave might be declared free and that Sannio could lose his entire investment. In consequence, he finally consents to sell her for the price he paid for her.

Meanwhile, other complications arise. Long before the slave episode, Aeschinus fell in love with Pamphila, the daughter of Sostrata, a poor Athenian widow. Aeschinus promises to marry Pamphila and they anticipate this union, with the result that she is about to be delivered of his child. Then, while she is in labor, it is reported that he abducted the slave girl and is having an affair with her. The mother and daughter are, of course, extremely upset at Aeschinus’s apparent faithlessness, and in despair Sostrata relates her dilemma to her only friend, Hegio, an impoverished old man who was her husband’s friend and who is also a friend of Demea. Hegio, indignant, goes to Demea to demand that justice be done. Demea, having just heard that Ctesipho played some part in the abduction and assuming that Aeschinus seduced the model son into evil ways, is doubly furious at Hegio’s news. Immediately he goes off hunting for Micio, only to be misdirected by one of Aeschinus’s slaves, who is attempting to prevent the old man from discovering that Ctesipho and his mistress are both in Micio’s house.

A short time later Hegio encounters Micio, who, having learned the truth regarding the abduction, promises to explain everything to Sostrata and Pamphila. As he is leaving the widow’s house, he meets Aeschinus, who is himself coming to try to explain to the women the muddle in which he finds himself. Pretending ignorance of Aeschinus’s situation, Micio mildly punishes the young man for his furtiveness by pretending to be at Sostrata’s house as the representative of another suitor for Pamphila’s hand; but when he sees the agony which the prospect of losing Pamphila produces in Aeschinus, Micio puts an end to his pretense and promises the grateful and repentant youth that he can marry Pamphila at once.

Demea, finally returning from the wild-goose chase that the servant sent him on, accosts Micio in front of his house. Although Micio calms his brother somewhat by telling him how matters really stand, Demea still retains his disapproval of Micio’s parental leniency. The crisis occurs shortly afterward when Demea learns the full truth about Ctesipho—that the model son was a party to the abduction and that the whole affair was conceived and executed for his gratification. At first the knowledge nearly puts him out of his wits, but Micio gradually brings his brother to a perception of the fact that no irreparable harm was done. Also, since Demea’s strictness and severity ultimately did not succeed, perhaps leniency and generosity are most effective after all in dealing with children. Demea, realizing that his harshness made Ctesipho fearful and suspicious of his father, decides to try Micio’s mode of conduct, and he surprises all who know him by his cheerful resignation. Indeed, he even goes so far as to have the wall between Micio’s and Sostrata’s houses torn down and to suggest, not without a certain malice, that the only truly generous thing Micio can do for Sostrata will be to marry her. At first Micio hesitates, but when the suggestion is vehemently seconded by Aeschinus, Micio at last gives in.

Demea also persuades Micio to free Syrus and his wife Phrygia, his slaves, and to give Hegio some property to support him in his old age. Then he turns to his sons and gives his consent to their amorous projects, asking only to be allowed in the future to check them when their youthful passions threaten to lead them astray. The young men submit willingly to his request.

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