The Pot of Gold

by Plautus

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The Pot of Gold Themes

The two main themes in The Pot of Gold are irony and duplicity.

  • Irony: The play is full of irony, particularly in the constant misunderstanding of intentions.
  • Duplicity: The play features the duplicity of enslaved characters, who are often depicted as cunning in Plautus’s works.


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Last Updated on August 31, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 576

Irony and the Roman Satire

Plautus, a Roman playwright who authored many popular satires now considered classic, was very much a product of his context. His works replicate many of the standards and conventions of the time. They hinge on the expert usage of certain character tropes such as the "adulescens," the young man in love; the "servus," or cunning slave; the "senex," which refers to an older man, often a father figure or romantic rival to the adulescens; and many more. Plautus uses these tropes to didactic effect, pitting them against each other in painfully ironic turns to reveal their faults and flaws.

The construction of characters—the miserly, obsessive Euclio, the lecherous, elderly Megadorus, and the well-intentioned but irrational Lyconides—speak to a host of Roman values. Respectfully, the men of The Pot of Gold are greedy, lustful, and immature. Their actions throughout the play satirize Roman conventions and indicate to viewers how not to act. Plautus's ruthless usage of ironic circumstance, for example, Megadorus's romantic competitor is his nephew, further feed into the satirical genre to display the consequences of faulty virtue.

The Duplicity of The "Cunning Slave"

Similar to Plautus's other works and the work of his contemporaries, The Pot of Gold hinges on the actions of its enslaved characters, whose actions and intentions propel the plot and successfully unite their masters with the objects of their desire. So common was this trope that Romanists created the category of the "cunning" or "clever slave," who acts independently of their master to reconcile the play's conflict. As they act of their own accord, cunning slave characters are often seen as duplicitous and unpredictable.

Staphyla, Euclio's servant, acts the part of a loyal servant, indicating one way the trope might be subverted. However, her loyalty to the pregnant Phaedria forces her to hide the truth from Euclio, her master. As such, Staphyla's choices make her suspect and unpredictable, for although she is loyal to Phaedria, her decisions remain her own. Strobilus, too, fits into the "cunning slave" category, though he is far more unpredictable than Staphyla. His decision to not only seek but steal Euclio's pot of gold and unwillingness to return the stolen property, even after Lyconides demands he does so, mark him as exceedingly duplicitous and as a man who governs himself despite his status. 

Misinterpreted Intentions

The Pot of Gold is littered with misconceptions, featuring confusing interactions which indicate the disconnect between the characters' intentions. Each character is preoccupied with their subjective desires and personal goals, such as manically hiding a pot of gold, pursuing a much younger wife, or correcting a moral misstep. Their motivations regularly intersect in strange ways; these interactions are riddled with misconception, for each character is consumed entirely by their subjective interpretation of events.

These comical misunderstandings lead to situations such as the confession scene between Lyconides and Euclio. In loose, unspecific terms, the former confesses to mistreating the latter's daughter, a confession that Euclio interprets as an admission of guilt for the theft of his pot of gold. Only after an extended, hilarious back-and-forth conversation do the two men clarify their perspectives and grasp the nuance of their situation. Indeed, the play's conclusion, which ends happily as the two young lovers marry and Euclio gifts them the pot of gold, rides on this moment of communication. Breaking down the barriers of paranoia and fear, the misconceptions that propelled the narrative dissolve, leaving only the truth.

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