The Pot of Gold

by Plautus

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The Pot of Gold Summary

The Pot of Gold is a play by Plautus. It is a comedy about a man who tries to hoard his wealth and the various people who attempt to steal it from him.

  • Euclio’s household god reveals to him the location of a pot of gold, which Euclio then jealously guards.
  • Phaedria, Euclio’s daughter, is pregnant by Lyconides but betrothed to Megadorus, whom Euclio suspects of wanting his gold.
  • Phaedria ultimately marries Lyconides instead, and Euclio gives the couple the pot of gold as a wedding gift after recovering it from Strobilus.

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The play begins with a monologue by Euclio's household deity. He explains that Euclio's grandfather once entrusted him with the guardianship of a pot of gold. The god has protected the secret of the pot of gold until now, as he chooses to reveal the treasure's location to Euclio to ensure the health and happiness of Euclio's devout daughter, Phaedria.

The household deity tells readers he is greatly pleased by Phaedria, as she is pious and more than devoted to him, but reveals that she has been ravished and impregnated by a gentleman of high rank. Her adverse circumstance is the only reason the deity has given up the location of the gold, so he can ensure Phaedria's marriage to Lyconides, the man who seduced her.

Euclio is entirely unaware of the drama unfolding before him, as he is obsessed with his newfound pot of gold. Extremely paranoid and fearful of harm befalling this wondrous item, Euclio fears that his servant, Staphyla, will learn of its whereabouts. His fear is wholly unfounded, for Staphyla is more concerned by her knowledge of Phaedria's pregnancy. Despairing about her mistress's fate, she bemoans the pregnancy and fails to notice Euclio's paranoia.

We next meet the elderly bachelor Megadorus and his sister, Eunomia. The siblings discuss marriage, and Eunomia indicates her desire to see Megadorus married. However, Megadorus declares he has no use for ladies of rank with high dowries. Instead, he wants Phaedria, Euclio's daughter. She is his junior by many years, an age difference indicated by her affair with Lyconides, who happens to be the wealthy Megadorus's nephew.

Having decided on his course of action, Megadorus meets with Euclio and asks for Phaedria's hand in marriage. For his part, Euclio thinks that Megadorus has discovered the secret of his treasure, and he panics. Megadorus, of course, knows nothing about the gold and merely wishes to marry the beautiful (and much younger) Phaedria. Miserly and stubborn, Euclio declares that he does not care what Megadorus does—whatever happens, he explains, he will not provide a dowry.

Exultant, Megadorus agrees to his terms, and the union is decided. The pair, as Euclio tells Staphyla, are to be married that day. The servant is distressed by her master's news, for she knows her mistress is already carrying Lyconides's child. Phaedria's soon-to-be husband, Megadorus, is clueless about her predicament and gleefully sets about hiring caterers and entertainers for their wedding.

While Megadorus spends a small fortune on preparations, Euclio is such a miser that he only purchases some frankincense and a wreath of flowers for his daughter's wedding. As the cooks and entertainers the prospective groom hired begin arriving, Euclio becomes progressively more anxious. He thinks that Megadorus has set up the staff to steal his gold, so Euclio decides to carry the pot of gold around on his person.

Megadorus is immensely pleased with his match and asks Euclio to share a celebratory drink with him, which the paranoid man characteristically refuses. Overpowered by fear, Euclio adjourns to the Temple of Faith and hides the gold there. However, Euclio is unaware that Lyconides's servant, Strobilus, had followed him and is snooping around the temple for Euclio's hiding spot.

For once, Euclio's paranoia is warranted, as he doubles back to the temple to check on his gold and catches Strobilus mid-search. He attacks the servant and searches him, but upon realizing that he was not successful in finding the gold, Euclio allows him to leave. His hiding spot compromised, Euclio moves the pot of gold and hides it in the Grove of Silvanus. This time, the sneaky Strobilus manages to locate Euclio's hiding spot and steals the gold from the grove.

As Megadorus prepares for the wedding and Euclio combats Strobilus, an anxious Lyconides confesses his misdoings to his mother, Eunomia. He tells her he wishes to marry Phaedria, for he is responsible for her pregnancy. An aghast Eunomia agrees to help her son, and they ensure the marriage does not occur. Megadorus renounces his claim on Phaedra, and Euclio is stunned by the revelation that his daughter will not be wedding the wealthy older man.

Euclio's frustration is further compounded when he discovers that his pot of gold is gone. He blames Lyconides, who vehemently denies any knowledge of the gold. Meanwhile, Strobilus tells Lyconides what he has found. For his part, Lyconides orders Strobilus to hand the gold over. The two argue, but Lyconides prevails. He returns the gold to Euclio, who is so happy to get his treasure back that he agrees to the marriage between Lyconides and Phaedria. Ironically, Euclio later bequeaths the pot of gold to the couple as a wedding gift.

The ending of the play has been pieced together from surviving manuscripts, reviews, and summaries, for the original material has been lost to time. Several translations include different iterations of possible endings, but the broad narrative flow remains the same: after Lyconides returns the gold to Euclio, he marries Phaedria, and Euclio is uncharacteristically joyful and gifts the newlyweds the gold.

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