Pseudolus was written by Titus Maccius Plautus and is one of the oldest plays that survives from ancient Rome. The play begins with a warning that it’s long. After that, the story opens with two characters named Calidorus and Pseudolus, who is the servant of a man named Simo, who is also Calidorus’s father from Athens.
The opening situation is that Calidorus is upset because he has a letter from his love, a slave woman named Phoenicium, that says that her master is going to sell her and tear her away from Calidorus. She asks Calidorus to buy her instead before the sale goes through, but Calidorus doesn’t have enough money.
Pseudolus assures Calidorus that he’ll just figure out some way to trick his own master, Simo, into giving them the money. A complex plot then follows, which involves creating a letter from the one who was supposed to buy Phoenicium originally. Pseudolus is able to get the sealed letter from a Macedonian soldier who is the voice for the original purchaser.
Then, Pseudolus gets a slave named Simia to deliver the sealed letter to Ballio along with money he got through a bet, convincing the slave-owner to give Phoenicium to Pseudolus.
Pseudolus, a servant of the Athenian Simo, observes one day that his master’s son Calidorus is deeply despondent about something. Questioning him on the matter, Pseudolus is given a letter from Phoenicium, a slave girl with whom Calidorus is in love. She has written that Ballio, her master, has sold her to a Macedonian military officer for the sum of twenty minae. However, the transaction is not yet complete; the officer has given Ballio fifteen minae to seal the bargain and has arranged that Phoenicium is to be delivered to a servant of his who will bring the remaining five minae and a letter bearing a seal to match the one the officer has made with his ring and left in Ballio’s keeping. This servant is to arrive during the festival of Bacchus, now being celebrated. Calidorus is thoroughly upset by this news, for he has no money with which to buy Phoenicium and no prospect of acquiring any. Desperate, he appeals to the wily Pseudolus for help. With great self-confidence, the servant promises to trick Calidorus’s father, Simo, out of the money.
Before any plan can be formulated, Ballio appears, cursing and beating some of his slaves. Calidorus and Pseudolus approach him and beg him to reconsider his bargain, pointing out that Phoenicium has been promised to Calidorus as soon as the young man can find the money to pay for her. The unscrupulous Ballio remains unmoved and even taunts Calidorus for his poverty and his inability to get money from his father. Before they part, however, he craftily points out that today is the day on which the officer has agreed to send his final installment of the payment for Phoenicium and that if the promised money is not received, Ballio will be free to sell her to another bidder.
As Pseudolus is turning over various plans in his mind, he overhears Simo talking to a friend and learns that the old man has already heard of Calidorus’s plight and has steeled himself in advance against any plea for money that his son might make. Finding his task thus complicated, Pseudolus steps forward and brazenly admits his commission, telling Simo that he intends to get the twenty minae from him and that Simo should consequently be on his guard. The slave also tells his master that he intends to trick Ballio out of the slave girl. Simo is skeptical, but Pseudolus finally goads him into promising to pay for the girl if Pseudolus is successful in getting her away from the procurer.
Soon afterward, Pseudolus is fortunate enough to overhear a newcomer identify himself as Harpax, the Macedonian captain’s messenger, come to conclude the dealings for Phoenicium. Accosting the messenger, Pseudolus identifies himself as one of Ballio’s servants and persuades Harpax to allow him to deliver the sealed letter that is to identify the rightful purchaser. Then he induces...
(The entire section is 1,219 words.)