Daemones, an old Athenian exiled from Athens, has come to Cyrene to spend his waning years. He is a kindly man, and his exile has come about as a result of his excessive generosity to others and consequent indebtedness rather than from any sort of dishonorable activity on his part. Further, his impoverishment and exile are not his only misfortunes. Some years before, his daughter Palaestra, then a girl, was stolen from him and sold by the thief to the procurer Labrax, who brought her, unknown to her father, to Cyrene, where she has been reared and educated by Labrax. As Palaestra is approaching maturity, the young Plesidippus sees her and falls in love with her. Wanting to secure her freedom, he arranges to buy her from Labrax for thirty minae. He gives the procurer a retainer and binds him by oath to turn Palaestra over to him when he has paid the full sum agreed upon.
Labrax is as unscrupulous as his profession would suggest. When Charmides, a Sicilian, suggests that the procurer could get a much better price out of his women by taking them to Sicily, Labrax decides to ignore his contract with Plesidippus. He contrives to get the young man out of the way by arranging to meet him before the temple of Venus for a sacrificial breakfast. The night before, however, he moves Palaestra and her fellow slave, Ampelisca, together with all his belongings aboard ship. Then, accompanied by Charmides, he sets sail. A storm arises during the night, wrecking the ship and casting Labrax and his guest on the rocks; Palaestra and Ampelisca manage to escape in a small boat. The two young women land near the temple of Venus, not far from the house of Daemones. After asking sanctuary of the priest, they go inside.
A short time later, Ampelisca is sent to Daemones’ house for water. On her way, she encounters Plesidippus’s servant, Trachalio, who has come to the temple looking for his master. She sends him inside to see Palaestra. While Ampelisca is waiting for the servant of Daemones to bring her the water, however, she spies Labrax and Charmides, whom she had believed dead, laboriously making their way to the temple from the place where the sea washed them up on the rocks. Terrified, she hastens back to the temple to warn her friend.
When Labrax and Charmides arrive, wet and tattered, they devote most of their remaining energy to mutual recriminations for their plight until the procurer learns from a servant that his two slaves did not drown but are inside the temple. He rushes in, intent on saving at least that much of his property, and attempts to drag the two young women away from the statue of Venus at whose feet they have sought sanctuary. Trachalio witnesses this violence and calls out for someone to aid the outraged suppliants. Daemones hears him and brings his servants to the slaves’ assistance. Labrax is soundly beaten, but he remains determined to get his two slaves back. Then, while Daemones’ men hold the struggling procurer, Trachalio goes to find Plesidippus and bring him to the temple. On his arrival the young Athenian, angry at the outrageous trick Labrax has nearly succeeded in playing on him, drags the scoundrel to justice.
Daemones takes the two young women home with him; on the previous night he had dreamed that he prevented a she-ape from stealing the fledglings from a swallow’s nest. He believes that the episode with Labrax has been in some way a fulfillment of that dream and that the slaves,...
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therefore, are somehow important to him. He has no sooner escorted the two young women inside the door than his wife, jealous of their youth and beauty, creates an intolerable furor on the grounds that he has brought harlots into the house.
Meanwhile, Daemones’ servant, Gripus, is making his way home from a morning’s fishing, elated at having pulled up in his nets a large container that, unknown to him, had been lost by Labrax the night before and that contains, in addition to the procurer’s own wealth, certain tokens that will help Palaestra to identify her parents if she should ever encounter them. Gripus intends to keep the contents of the container for himself, but on his way home Trachalio overtakes him, recognizes the container, and raises such a clamor that Daemones is finally brought out to arbitrate between them. Trachalio tells the old man that the container belongs to Labrax and that it holds, among other things, the identifying trinkets of Palaestra. To test Trachalio’s story, Daemones asks Palaestra to describe the trinkets. Her description both fits the contents of the container and reveals that the slave is Daemones’ long-lost daughter. Father and daughter, united in great joy, ignore Gripus’s claims to ownership of the remainder of the container’s contents and go together into Daemones’ house.
The case of Labrax is tried by the court, and it is decided that the procurer has no legal title to Palaestra, for she was born free. Ampelisca, however, is adjudged rightfully his, and he returns to the temple to look for her. Overhearing Gripus grumbling about the container, Labrax questions him and, to his joy, learns that it was recovered. Promising Gripus a talent of silver for identifying the container’s present possessor, he is directed to Daemones, who, scrupulously honest, returns the container willingly. The procurer is about to go off when Gripus protests that the talent of silver has not yet been paid. Although Labrax swore on the altar of Venus that he would give the money to the servant, who wants to buy his freedom, the procurer is about to leave Gripus nothing for his pains when Daemones intervenes. The old man suggests that Labrax give Gripus only half a talent and give Ampelisca her freedom for the remainder. To this suggestion Labrax agrees. Even Gripus is content with it when he learns that Daemones is willing to give him his freedom for the half talent.
One of the first things that Daemones does in his newly recovered status as father is to betroth his daughter to Plesidippus. In addition, he agrees to encourage the young man to give Trachalio his freedom and permit him to marry Ampelisca if she is willing. Then everyone, including Labrax, has a hearty dinner with Daemones.