Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 206
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.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1013
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 Harpax to go to an inn to rest from his journey until Pseudolus comes to get him. When the messenger has gone, Calidorus appears in the company of a friend, and in the conversation that follows, the latter agrees to lend five minae for the execution of Pseudolus’s plot. He agrees, moreover, to allow his servant Simia to be used in the enterprise.
Once these arrangements are made, the three leave to conclude their preparations. Ballio appears in the company of a cook, and it becomes clear that it is the procurer’s birthday and that he is preparing a feast for his customers. Before Ballio goes into his house, he discloses that Simo has met him in the marketplace and warned him to be on his guard against Pseudolus’s plot.
Immediately after Ballio goes inside, Pseudolus appears with Simia. During their conversation, Simia reveals himself to be shrewd and wily, and in the ensuing confrontation with Ballio he proves as apt a dissembler as Pseudolus himself. When Ballio comes out of his house, Simia approaches him and asks directions to find the procurer. Ballio identifies himself, but, suspicious, he asks Simia the name of the man who sent him. For a moment, the eavesdropping Pseudolus is afraid that his plot has collapsed, for Simia has not been told the name of the Macedonian captain. Simia adroitly evades the trap, however, by pretending suspicion on his own part and refusing to give Ballio the sealed letter until the procurer has himself identified Phoenicium’s purchaser. Ballio does so, receives the letter and the money, and releases Phoenicium into Simia’s custody.
After Simia and Phoenicium have gone, Ballio, congratulating himself on having outwitted Pseudolus, chuckles at the prospect of the servant making his tardy effort to obtain the girl. When Simo appears, the procurer expresses his certainty that Pseudolus has been foiled and declares that he will give Simo twenty minae and relinquish his right to the girl as well if Pseudolus is successful in his plot.
At that moment Harpax enters, grumbling that Pseudolus has not come to get him as he had promised to do. Confronting Ballio, he learns the procurer’s identity and sets about to close the bargain his master had made. Ballio, convinced that Harpax is in the employ of Pseudolus, does his best to humiliate the messenger, until Harpax mentions having given the sealed letter to a “servant” of Ballio. From the description, Ballio realizes with chagrin that he has been thoroughly duped. Simo holds him to his word regarding the twenty minae and the relinquishment of his rights to Phoenicium, and Harpax, learning that the girl is no longer available, insists that Ballio return the fifteen minae the captain had already deposited.
Meanwhile, Pseudolus, Calidorus, and Phoenicium are celebrating their victory with wine. Pseudolus later meets Simo and demands the twenty minae that the old man owes him for having successfully tricked Ballio. As the money is not coming out of his own pocket, Simo turns it over with good grace. Pseudolus returns half the sum and takes his master off to drink to their good fortune.