Chremylus (KREH-mih-luhs), an old Athenian husbandman. Poor but honest, he has consulted the Delphic Oracle to determine whether his only son should be taught virtuous ways or the knavery and double-dealing by which successful men acquire their wealth. The god tells him to follow the first person he meets after leaving the temple. He does so, even though that person is a blind and wretched beggar. When this unfortunate reveals himself as Plutus, Chremylus conceives the idea of restoring his sight so that the God of Wealth can distinguish between the just and the unjust. Chremylus is a simple, friendly fellow, unselfish enough to invite his neighbors to share his good fortune, but he also admits that he loves money, and he loses no time in converting the divine favor he has won into hard cash and luxuries. Like all the playwright’s comic protagonists, he roundly condemns the evils of Athenian society and lashes out particularly against informers, grafters, and voluptuaries.
Cario (KAR-ee-oh), Chremylus’ slave. He is a broadly comic figure, well aware of his master’s shortcomings, wryly stoical about his own lot in life, and sometimes impertinent. He is perhaps at his best in describing a night in the Temple of Aesculapius, when he had pretended to be one of the holy serpents so that he could filch some pap from an old woman.
Plutus (PLEW-tuhs), the God of Wealth. Because he had said that he would favor only the wise, the just, and the virtuous, Zeus, jealous of humankind, had taken away his eyesight so that he would be unable to tell good men from bad. He has wandered in rags, ill treated by those he benefited and, because of his fear of Zeus’s anger, unwilling to have his vision restored. Chremylus convinces him that he is the source of all power, even the power of Zeus. Plutus thus accompanies Chremylus to the Temple of Aesculapius, is there cured, and afterward rewards the just and reduces the unjust to the penury they deserve.
Blepsidemus (blehp-SIH-deh-muhs), a friend who helps Chremylus to convince Plutus of his rightful place in the order of things.
Poverty, who protests that a great injustice has been done her through the rehabilitation of Plutus, as she will be banished from the land. She argues that she is the source of the public weal: Through her, artisans work, men stay fit, and politicians remain uncorrupted. Chremylus rejects her arguments because he knows the horrors that poverty can bring.
A Just Man
A Just Man, who brings his outworn clothes, evidence of his former wretchedness, to dedicate to Plutus.
An Informer, who accuses Chremylus of stealing his money. He is driven off by Chremylus and the Just Man.
An Old Woman
An Old Woman, who protests that her young lover, who no longer needs her bounty, has deserted her. When she joins the celebration of the god’s installation, however, Chremylus promises that her lover will be restored to her.
A Youth, formerly the Old Woman’s lover.
Hermes (HUR-meez), a messenger of the gods. He complains that neither he nor the other gods are receiving sacrifices because men now realize that before Plutus’ ascendancy the Olympians had governed poorly. He applies for a place in Chremylus’ new establishment and is put to work by Cario washing the entrails of the sacrificial victims.
A Priest of Zeus
A Priest of Zeus, who also comes to seek service with Plutus, now Lord of the Universe.
Dover, K. J. Aristophanic Comedy . Berkeley: University of...
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California Press, 1972. Useful and authoritative study of the plays of Aristophanes. Chapter 16 gives a synopsis of the play, discusses the role of slaves in this new genre of comedy, and comments on the connection between wealth and morality that is made in the play. An essential starting point for study of the plays.
Harriott, Rosemary M. Aristophanes: Poet and Dramatist. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986. A study of Aristophanes. The plays are discussed not in individual chapters but as each illustrates the central themes and techniques of Aristophanes’ work.
McLeish, Kenneth. The Theatre of Aristophanes. New York: Taplinger, 1980. An overview of the dramatic technique of Aristophanes. Useful for understanding the magnitude of the changes from Old to Middle Comedy.
Murray, Gilbert. Aristophanes: A Study. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1933. Contains valuable insights into all the plays of Aristophanes. Chapter 10 offers an excellent discussion of Plutus.
Spatz, Lois. Aristophanes. Boston: Twayne, 1978. A reliable introduction to the comedy of Aristophanes for the general reader. Chapter 9 discusses the themes of the play and emphasizes its differences from earlier Aristophanic comedy.