Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The plot of Plautus’s play Pseudolus, a Roman comedy set in Athens, revolves around the machinations of the title character. Pseudolus is a slave belonging to Simo and his son Calidorus. His actions center on helping Calidorus regain his beloved. A quintessential trickster character, he is not just intelligent but clever and proud of his skill at outwitting others. These include his old master, Simo, who says that in cunning he surpasses the Trojan horse. Pseudolus’s heroism, however, also derives from his good-hearted nature as he displays his loyalty to his young master.
Simo, a wealthy old man, is the owner of Pseudolus and other slaves. He embodies some contradictions of the upper classes. For example, although tightfisted, he still indulges in betting. He is also portrayed as honorable: when he loses a bet with Pseudolus, he pays and gains respect for him.
Calidorus, Simo’s son, is a young man tormented by his love for Phoenicium, a slave. Although affable he is also ineffectual, and he relies heavily on Pseudolus.
Ballio, an unscrupulous, deceitful slave merchant and sex trafficker, is the villain of the play. He owns numerous slaves, including Phoenicium. His dishonesty, prompting Calidorus to call him the ultimate in perjury, is shown by his reneging on his deal to sell Phoenicium to Calidorus. His abusive behavior toward his slaves also renders him an appropriate object of the other characters’ deception.
Phoenicium, a beautiful young woman in love with Calidorus. Initially she is a slave owned by Ballio, who sets up a deal to sell her to a Macedonian officer, Polymachaeroplagides.
Charinus is a friend of Calidorus. He aids Pseudolus in the plot to get back Phoenicium.
Simia, the slave of Charinus. He impersonates Harpax and uses a stolen letter in a ploy to extricate Phoenicium from the sale to Polymachaeroplagides.
Harpax, the servant of Polymachaeroplagides. Part of the plot turns on his delayed arrival and impersonation by Simia.