Phormio is a comedy that centers on the romantic prospects of two young men, Antipho and Phaedria, and their beloveds. One couple, Antipho and Phanium, has secretly married while his father, Demipho, is out of town. The other father opposes Phaedria's chosen girlfriend, Pamphilia, because she is a slave. Phaedria must try to buy her. The plot has some unexpected developments before the lovers' plights are happily resolved.
Phormio, the title character, is an attorney and a specialist in fixing complicated situations. He apparently agrees to work for Demipho in breaking up his son's marriage, but instead he takes the fee he was paid and uses the money to help the other young lovers.
The plot further thickens when it is revealed that Chremes had a long lost daughter, and coincidentally she is none other than Phanium. Now he can gladly endorse his nephew's choice of bride and be reunited with his daughter.
Demipho and Chremes, two wealthy Athenian brothers, leave the city on journeys and entrust the welfare of their two sons to Geta, a slave belonging to Demipho. For a time, the two young men, Antipho and Phaedria, who are both of exemplary habits, give the slave little trouble. When both fall in love, however, before their fathers return, Geta’s troubles begin. His sympathy for Antipho and Phaedria causes him to help both of them, but he realizes only too well that both fathers will be angry when they learn what has happened.
Phaedria, the son of Chremes, has fallen in love with a lovely young harp player owned by a trader named Dorio, who refuses to part with the girl for less than thirty minae. Unable to raise the money, Phaedria is at his wits’ end. His cousin Antipho has fallen in love with a young Athenian girl of a good but penniless family.
Antipho has already married the girl, even though he knows that his father, who is something of a miser, will be furious to learn that his son has married a girl who brings no dower. Geta, in an effort to smooth out the problem, has contacted a parasitical lawyer named Phormio, who brings suit against Antipho under an Athenian law that makes it mandatory for an unprovided-for girl to be married to her nearest relative. Antipho does not contest the suit, and so he has the excuse that he was forced by the court to marry the young woman.
Shortly after the wedding, the two older men return. As soon as he learns what had happened, Demipho orders his son to give up his wife, whereupon Antipho and Geta again call on Phormio for assistance. Phormio warns the old man that he will be unable to avoid keeping the girl, even though Demipho claims that the girl is not actually a relative. Phormio contends that the girl is indeed a relative, the daughter of Demipho’s kinsman, Stilpo, who has lived in Lemnos. Demipho declares he never had a relative by that name.
During this time, Phaedria is trying desperately to raise the thirty minae to purchase his beloved harpist from Dorio, who has given him three days to find the money. Then Phaedria learns from a slave that a sea captain, about to sail, wants to purchase the girl and that Dorio, anxious to make a sale, has promised to sell the girl to him. Phaedria appeals to Dorio, but he promises only to hold off the sale of the slave girl until the following morning.
After seeing Phormio, Demipho goes to his brother Chremes and talks over the situation with him. They finally agree that the only answer to the problem of Antipho’s wife is to send her away with a sum of money. Chremes agrees to have his wife, Nausistrata, tell the girl that she is to be separated from her husband. While they are planning, Geta visits Phormio once again.
Phormio hatches a plan to satisfy everyone and make some money for himself. He offers to marry Antipho’s cast-off wife if he is given a large sum of money. With part of that money he expects to have a good time, and with the rest, which he is to turn over to Phaedria, that young man is to purchase his beloved harpist. Geta...
(The entire section is 1,209 words.)