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Aulularia is a comedic play written by Titus Maccius Plautus during a time when Athens was one of, if not the most powerful city-states in all of Europe. For this great society, historians use literary works to research and understand what the period was like. Aulularia is great play that can help historians investigate how slaves were, through Plautus’ humor you can catch how marriage and pro-creation is done and viewed in Ancient Athens.
Titus Maccius Plautus, born sometime around 254 B. C. E. , (died in 185 B. C. E. in the village of Umbria was not always known as the famous comedic play-writer, but instead as the wandering miller. However, in his early age he is thought to have fled his hometown and made it as a carpenter/mechanic on the Roman stages (Plautus, Titus M, Aulularia).
Plautus was in the great Roman army; there he was exposed to the Greek New Comedy and the plays of Menander (Plautus, Wikipedia). It wasn’t until around the age of 45 where he began writing plays while working his hand-mill, grinding corn for the households (Plautus, Wikipedia).
Plautus’ work was simply Latin adaptations of this genre of comedy. The people of Rome found everyday life very entertaining (Titus Maccius Plautus, Theatre Database). While writing these plays he had to keep in mind that most of the audience was very un-educated.
However, one thing that all Romans had in common was home and family life. Jokes were made about family life and stereotyped personalities. While politics didn’t make there way into these plays, the gods did. It was somewhat controversial in the way his characters portrayed the gods.
Characters in stories can almost always be compared to a god, which left him accused of teaching the public indifference and mockery towards the gods. It was interesting how upper class citizens belittled the gods and soldiers ridiculed them. All the while pimps, courtesans, and parasites praised the gods. Plays were never the only entertainment occurring at a given time, which forced Plautus to compete for people’s attention against chariot races, horse races, and boxing matches (Plautus, Wikipedia). He would go to great measures to entertain his audiences and demand their attention.
New Greek Comedy had plenty of slaves in their works usually being quite clever while playing the antagonist. However, Plautus used the slaves in his work a little differently in which they had much larger and active roles. Slaves were moved much further into the front of the action as a main character. This was Plautus’ best tactic in creating humor because people found it funny that slaves tricked their masters or compared themselves to gods. The inversion of roles by a devious and witty slave was comical and it wasn’t difficult to create a plot from there (Plautus, Titus Maccius, Theatre Database).
Aulularia is a comedic play that takes place in present Athens (in relation to Plautus. ) Euclio (main character) is a very poor, older gentleman that lives in Athens. Euclio’s Household God blessed him by causing Euclio to discover the treasure in his home. However, soon you realize this is hardly a blessing because he obsesses over it, keeping it safe and pretty much ostracizes himself from the rest of the community (Konstan). Megadorus a very wealthy, older gentleman decides that he would like to marry Phaedria, Euclio’s daughter.
At first Euclio is very skeptical of Megadorus because there is no reason an older rich man of Athens like himself, would want to marry a very poor mans daughter. The paranoid Euclio strongly believes that Megadorus knows of his gold. In a way he forgets about this when Megadorus tells him there is no need for a dowry to go along with the wedding that would happen that same day. Excited by this Euclio accepts the offer but no longer trusts that his home will be safe for his gold. He moves the gold to the temple of Fides. Strobilus (Lyconides’ slave) overhears Euclio talking and begins looking for the gold.
When Euclio returns he beats the slave and threatens him. Euclio has no trust in Fides and decides to move it completely out of the city to a grove of Silvanus. Strobilus is all the while out of sight but keeps an eye on Euclio and when the time was right he went and stole the gold. Euclio returns and nothing is there and is absolutely crushed. Shortly after this Lyconides approaches him and informs him that the engagement of Megadorus and Phaedria. From here Lyconides explains that he has wronged his daughter at Ceres’ festival and asks her hand in marriage.
Lyconides then comes across Strobilus who comes out and tells his master that he has found gold. The rest of the script has been lost but it is said that Lyconides returns the stolen gold to Euclio, who then gives Lyconides permission to marry his daughter. As a wedding present Euclio gives the gold to Phaedria and Lyconides (Plautus). The sole reason why Plautus created this play was for entertainment and he failed in his businesses. He became a play writer at 45 and brought a new wave of entertainment to Rome. “At all costs, he kept the pot of action boiling, the stream of gags and puns and cheap slapstick flowing.
Anything to make the audience laugh and keep them from peeking in on the boxing match next-door” (Titus Maccius Plautus, Imagi-nation. com). In Aulularia you can see that he doesn’t particularly think highly of the upper class. Megadorus is a much older man but wants to ask Euclio’s young daughter Phaedria’s hand in marriage. This is out of lust with no regard to the social conflict. Megadorus seems so desperate for the young “flesh” that he is breaking the old tradition of a dowry. Also in Aulularia, he exhibits slaves to be much smarter than any Roman man in this play.
Euclio is the poor victim who only wants his gold to be safe but cannot find a proper hiding place without having a peaceful mind. Despite the viewers finding this very comical, this has something to do with the fact that Plautus was not always wealthy and it took him a long time before he was living comfortably (Plautus). Aulularia says a great deal about the time period in Athens. Euclio was a metic in Athens, he a has permanent residency in the States but is not considered a citizen (Kempf). Euclio was very poor and really had nothing of value except for his gold.
He lived a very un-easy way of life because he was paranoid that his gold would be taken from him. He lived in constant struggle and great poverty. Pythodicus says from the play, “Why, I tell you he begins bawling to heaven and earth to witness that he’s bankrupt, gone to everlasting smash, the moment a puff of smoke from his beggarly fire manages to get out of his house. Why, when he goes to bed he strings a bag over his jaws. ” Pythodicus is being a bit dramatic, but nonetheless, Euclio has to just hope that he lives to see another day because it is a constant struggle to put food on the table.
Aulularia was a piece of literature that can really say something about slavery during these times. Athenians felt that they were superior to slaves in every aspect of life, but it showed that they could be devious and witty. Every slave featured in this play (Staphyla, Pythoidcus, Strobilus) seems to have some a decent amount of intelligence. Euclio’s old slave Staphyla, responded to him when told to watch the house by saying, “You aren’t afraid anyone will walk away with the house are you? I vow we’ve got nothing else there for the thieves to take—a full of emptiness as it is, and cobwebs. This was very surprising coming from someone who was threatened just moments before (Plautus). Megadorus’ slave Pythodicus. As noted before he is explaining how poor Euclio is and jokes about it with the cooks for the wedding. He is also the person who is overlooking the cooks and making sure everything goes as planned. This could job can only be given to someone trusted and responsible enough to carry out the task at hand (Plautus). Strobilus outsmarts Euclio and knows that he has a pot of gold that he is hiding.
When he sees Euclio leaves the temple of Fides he sees him leave the city walls and climbs a tree well out of sight. He waits until after Euclio has left and digs up the pot of gold for himself. Strobilus even abandons his lookout for his master Lyconides to fetch this gold with the high hopes of buying his freedom (Plautus). The way marriage is done in Athens during this time was much different than the way that Megadorus goes about it. The Athenian marriage was an agreement between the bride’s father and the groom and sometimes the father’s brother (Kempf). This was the case in Aulularia.
However the bride is supposed to give up all of her toys, and her hair is to be cut. On the night before the wedding the bride and groom take ritual baths and sang hymns to Hymen. The father was to make sacrifices to Hera, Zeus, Artemis, Aphrodite, and Peitho (The Women of Athens). None of these rituals were even mentioned in the play by Plautus. In the play the marriage was taking place within only a few hours of agreement between Euclio and Megadorus. This part of the play was not a good way to study the way marriage was handled in Athens during this time period.
However the ending (or what remains of the ending) gives a much better idea of how the process is done. Lyconides another poor man, asks Euclio if he can marry his daughter. It was much more realistic for people to get married within their same social classes (Hunt, etc. all 98). In addition to this more realistic marriage proposal, Euclio’s dowry is the gold. In Athens during this time it was necessary for the father of the daughter to provide a dowry to the future husband (Kempf). Plautus instilled a lusty old man in almost all of his work for entertainment and this was no different in Aulularia.
The old Athenian Megadorus wanted to marry Phaedria out of pure lust, and the thought of having “young flesh. ” Eunomia says to Megadorus in Aulularia “Something that will make for you everlasting welfare. You should have children—God grand you may—and I want you to marry. ” “Oh-h-h, murder! ” Megadorus responds. In no way did Megadorus want children or have anything to do with the matter. In Athens it was the job of every man and woman to pro-create (Kempf). This does not give you the indication that this is the case at all and again is a poor piece of literature to use as a source for
Athenian life back during this time period. However, if they take into consideration that this play is a comedy and this was one of the ways Plautus provided entertainment they would realize it is a mockery. This shows that Athenians looked down upon this behavior and it was not the “status quo” in Athenian society. Aulularia is a great piece of work to analyze when it comes to slavery, marriage, and pro-creation. Plautus’ work will go down as one of the great Athenian comedies and serve as a fantastic piece of documentation on Athenian society during this time period.