Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 975
Chremylus, a Greek farmer, goes to the temple of Apollo in Athens and asks the oracle there how his son might attain affluence without having to resort to knavery. The oracle directs Chremylus to follow the first man he encounters as he emerges from the temple and to take the stranger home with him. The first man Chremylus sees is a blind beggar, whom he follows impatiently. At first the beggar refuses to reveal his identity to Chremylus, but when Cario, Chremylus’s servant, threatens to push the blind man over a cliff, he fearfully reveals that he is Plutus, the god of riches, blinded by Zeus for telling the god that he will favor only good men. Zeus does not want Plutus to discriminate among men. The unhappy Plutus declares to Chremylus that if he had his sight back again he would favor only the good and shun the wicked.
When Chremylus offers to restore his sight to him, Plutus expresses fear of the wrath of Zeus. Chremylus declares that if Plutus were to get his sight back, even for a moment, Zeus would be superseded, because the dispensation of all wealth, upon which Zeus is dependent for his authority, would be in the power of Plutus; money, after all, pays even for sacrifices offered up to Zeus. It would then be Plutus, according to Chremylus, not Zeus, who would be all things to all men. Plutus is delighted to hear these words.
Chremylus, after sending Cario to summon the neighboring farmers, ushers Plutus into his house. When Cario tells the farmers that Plutus is at Chremylus’s house and that he will lift them out of their poverty, they are delirious with joy. Chremylus, welcoming them, notices that his friend Blepsidemus is skeptical of Cario’s report; Blepsidemus suspects that Chremylus has stolen a treasure. Chremylus declares that Plutus is truly in his house and that all good and deserving people will soon be rich. Even Blepsidemus becomes convinced, and he agrees that it is essential to restore Plutus’s eyesight.
As Chremylus prepares to take Plutus to the temple of Asclepius to have his sight restored, the goddess of poverty, a hideous old woman, appears and objects to the prospect of being cast out of Chremylus’s house after having lived with him for many years. Blepsidemus and Chremylus are terrified at the sight of the goddess, but Chremylus quickly regains his composure and engages her in a debate over which deity, the god of riches or the goddess of poverty, is more beneficial to humanity. Chremylus declares that with Plutus once again able to see, those who deserve it will receive money; thus society will be benefited. The goddess of poverty answers that progress will come to a halt because Plutus will distribute wealth equally. The two then argue the difference between beggary and poverty, with the goddess maintaining that men who entertain her are brave, alert, and strong, whereas those who entertain Plutus are soft, fat, and cowardly. She declares that men are virtuous when she is their guest but are corrupted when Plutus is their guest.
Chremylus is not convinced by her arguments, and the goddess, having been defeated, departs in sorrow and anger. Chremylus now takes Plutus to the temple of Asclepius, the god of healing. He observes every detail of the required ritual and lays Plutus on a couch. A priest tells them to sleep. Plutus’s eyes are wiped with a cloth, and then a purple mantle is placed over his head. At a signal from Asclepius, two serpents come forth from the sanctuary and slither under the mantle. In a short time, Plutus, his sight restored, arises from the couch.
Now those people who have acquired their wealth by unfair means look with fear upon Plutus, but the poor rejoice in their new good fortune. Plutus is happy, and he vows to correct all of the mistakes he made when he was blind. Chremylus is rewarded with great wealth for his service to the god.
Later, while Plutus is a guest in the house of Chremylus, a just man comes to petition the god. In the past he helped his friends when they were in need, but they did not respond in kind when he himself became indigent. The man becomes wealthy again through the power of Plutus. He offers an old cloak and a worn-out pair of sandals as tribute to the god.
Soon afterward, an informer comes to the house and complains that he has been ruined by the change wrought in Plutus. Cario strips the informer of his fine coat and bedecks him in the just man’s threadbare cloak. An old woman, presuming to be a young one, comes to see the god. She is distressed because her young lover, who previously had flattered her in order to get money from her, has deserted her now that Plutus has made him independent. The youth appears with a wreath to give to Plutus in appreciation.
Hermes, the messenger of the gods, appears and reports that Zeus and the other gods are furious because human beings no longer make oblations to them. He declares that he himself is actually starving, as he is receiving no offerings in the form of cakes or figs or honey, and he urges Cario to succor him. Cario condescends to retain Hermes to preside at the games that Plutus surely will sponsor. A priest of Zeus also arrives and complains of hunger; when everyone is rich, there are no more offerings to the gods. Chremylus, calling attention to the fact that Plutus has now taken the place of Zeus in human fortunes, hints that the priest of Zeus would do well to become the priest of Plutus. Zeus having been deposed, Plutus is installed as the supreme god.
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