The Self-Tormentor

by Terence

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1004

While Chremes’s wife Sostrata is pregnant, Chremes tells her that if the child should be a girl she is to destroy it. Sostrata agrees, but when the baby turns out to be a daughter the poor woman does not have the heart to carry out her husband’s command by herself. Instead, she gives the child to a poor Corinthian woman then living in Athens, who is to leave the child outside to die. Out of superstition, she also gives the woman a ring for her finger to accompany the child when it is left exposed.

The old Corinthian woman fails to carry out her instructions. Naming the child Antiphila, she rears the girl as her own. Antiphila grows up, well mannered and comely, and she is believed by everyone to be the old woman’s own daughter.

Clinia, the son of Menedemus, sees Antiphila and falls desperately in love with her. Fearing the disapproval of his strict father, Clinia begins living with her in secret as though she is his wife. Menedemus at last discovers the affair, and by constantly chiding his son and accusing him of unmanly indolence, he finally causes the young man to go to the East and serve in the wars under the Persian king.

Shortly after Clinia leaves Athens, Menedemus comes to realize that he was unjust and cruel in his severity. To punish himself he sells all his possessions in Athens, purchases a farm in the country, and begins working both himself and his servants almost beyond endurance. Three months after his departure, Clinia returns, no longer able to tolerate his separation from Antiphila. Unaware of his father’s change of heart, he keeps his return secret from Menedemus and is entertained by Clitipho, a boyhood friend and the son of Chremes. As soon as Clinia arrives, Clitipho sends his two slaves, Dromo and Syrus, into Athens to bring Antiphila to her lover. On the same day Chremes learns from Menedemus how much he wants his son to return and how generous he is determined to be to the young man when the opportunity does finally present itself. In fear of making Clinia audacious in his demands on Menedemus, however, Chremes refrains from telling the young man about his father’s change of feeling.

That evening Syrus returns, bringing both Antiphila and a high-priced courtesan, Bacchis. Clitipho, unknown to his father, previously was deeply infatuated with Bacchis, and the cunning and bold Syrus decides that the youth’s desire to see his mistress can be satisfied if Bacchis is introduced to Chremes as Clinia’s mistress and Antiphila is to pretend to be a member of the courtesan’s retinue.

Early the next day, Chremes goes to Menedemus and tells him of Clinia’s arrival. The old man, overjoyed at the news, wants immediately to give his son full control over all his possessions. Chremes, however, counsels against such a move on the same grounds that he refrained from telling Clinia of his father’s change of heart. Moreover, Chremes believes Bacchis to be Clinia’s mistress, and he knows that her extravagant mode of living will quickly drain any admirer of all his possessions. The festivities of the night before alone cost Chremes dearly. What he does advise is that Menedemus should receive Clinia warmly, pretend to be ignorant of his affair with Bacchis, and allow himself to be tricked out of relatively small sums from time to time. This procedure, Chremes thinks, will keep Clinia at home and forestall the ruin of Menedemus.

Meanwhile, Syrus is hatching a plot to trick Chremes out of the ten minae that Bacchis demands as...

(This entire section contains 1004 words.)

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the price of her sojourn with Clitipho. The servant is gratified and amused when Chremes gives him apparent sanction for his deception by asking Syrus to contrive a way to deceive Menedemus into believing that Bacchis is not Clinia’s mistress. Syrus, agreeing, cunningly proceeds with his own plot by telling Chremes that Antiphila’s mother borrowed ten minae from Bacchis, leaving Antiphila as a pledge for the money. The old woman presumably dies, and Antiphila needs the money to purchase her freedom.

At that moment, however, Sostrata, Chremes’ wife, discovers by means of the ring that Antiphila is her abandoned daughter. When this fact is revealed to Chremes, his first reaction is to chide his wife; but he is really pleased to recover his daughter now that his condition is improved financially.

At last Syrus hits upon a plan for deceiving both fathers by telling them the truth. He proposes that Bacchis and her retinue move to Menedemus’s house on the pretext that she is Clitipho’s mistress and that her affair with Clitipho must be concealed from Chremes. In addition, Antiphila is to be passed off as Clinia’s mistress, and Clinia is to ask his father for ten minae to provide for the wedding. Chremes refuses to allow another to ransom his daughter for him, however, and gives Clitipho the ten minae. The rest of the plot proves acceptable as well, and Bacchis and her servants are moved to Menedemus’s house.

Menedemus assumes that what he is told regarding Bacchis and Clitipho is designed to deceive him, but when he sees the two entering a bedchamber together without a word of protest from the observing Clinia, he grows troubled and tells Chremes what he saw. He also points out that Clinia made no effort to get money out of his father and seemed highly pleased when Menedemus agreed to his marriage with Antiphila. Thus, the whole truth comes out. Chremes, infuriated at first, threatens to settle the whole of his property on Antiphila. The sudden prospect of being left penniless leads Clitipho to reflect seriously on his mode of life, and he promises to abandon all courtesans and marry a virtuous woman. Under the gentle persuasion of Menedemus and Sostrata, Chremes finally agrees to let Antiphila marry Clinia, and in the end he promises to forgive even Syrus.