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Pseudolus is a play by the ancient Roman poet Titus Maccius Plautus . It is one of the earliest examples in Roman literature. The piece begins with the shortest prologue of all known pieces by Plautus, although it is not known whether Plautus wrote this prologue himself or whether it was added later. Pseudolus was first mentioned in 191 BC. Shown during the Megalesian festival , which was celebrated as a festival for the Greek goddess Cybele . The temple dedicated to the worship of Cybele in Rome was completed in the same year and just in time for the festival.


  • Simo - a gentleman from Athens
  • Calidorus - the son of Simo
  • Pseudolus - Simo's main slave
  • Callipho - a neighbor and friend of Simo
  • Charinus - a friend of Calidorus
  • Ballio - a pimp
  • Phoenicium - a mute girl who is counted in his possession by Ballio and is loved by Calidorus
  • Harpax - an officer candidate
  • Simia - a slave

Summary of the plot

The piece begins with the prologue, which contains a warning to the audience that the piece is long and that it is now time to stretch your legs as you will be sitting for a long time anyway.

When Calidorus and Pseudolus take the stage, Calidorus is visibly upset. When Pseudolus urges his master's son to tell him what's going on, Calidorus shows him a letter he has received. Pseudolus first makes fun of the bad handwriting and then reads the letter according to which the prostitute Phoenicium, who is Callidorus' lover, was sold by her pimp. Soon a man will come who will bring the remaining part of the purchase price for them and pick them up for their new owner. Calidorus obviously wants to save her, but does not have the means of his own to do so, and does not receive any money from his father to save her. So he asks for help from Pseudolus, who is his father's top slave. But Pseudolus does not have enough money to buy them either, but believes he can improvise a plan to get the money and save Phoenicium. At that moment Calidorus orders the pseudolus to be quiet because he hears the pimp Ballio, the "owner" of Phoenicium, coming out of the house. Ballio takes the stage, turns to his slaves and tells them that they are not worth keeping and that they have no idea how to behave. He claims that it is more painful for him to beat his slaves than they would feel it themselves, and that if only given the chance, they would steal everything from him.

Ballio begins organizing the daily routine for his slaves and making preparations for his own birthday party, and says he will go to the market first to get a deal with the fishmonger. After organizing his slaves and assigning them all specific tasks for the day, he calls his prostitutes out of the house. He orders them to make themselves the most sought-after companions for the day and, on the basis of this status, to get supplies from the men in the various markets for him - especially grain, meat, oil and lard. Ballio threatens immediate and severe punishment if his demands are not met by them.

Calidorus and Pseudolus observed Ballio from a hidden corner throughout the address, making their comments about his corruption and tyranny, and generally expressing their disgust for his entire existence. Calidorus is deeply concerned about the future of Phoenicium and asks Pseudolus what to do to stop Ballio from selling her like this "on the street". Pseudolus tells Calidorus not to worry about this and that he will deal with it by delivering "a nice, fat package of trouble" to Ballio. However, this uncertain prospect torments Calidorus very much, since he claims that it is only natural for a lover to behave like a fool.

Ballio leaves his house to go to the market with one of his slaves in the lead. Pseudolus speaks to him from hiding and asks him to talk to him. Ballio, however, strictly refuses a conversation with Pseudolus and tries again and again to evade him. Pseudolus finally manages to take him aside, but Ballio still refuses to really listen to him. At least he suggests that the prospect of a small financial donation could mean that he will listen to the requests of Pseudolus and Calidorus.

After they have awakened his business interest and drawn him into conversation, Pseudolus and Calidorus try to be nice and apologize again and again for the fact that Calidorus does not have the money to buy his lover free. But Ballio insists that Calidorus must find a way to get the money and recommends that he should be more concerned about this duty than about his love. Pseudolus implores him to give them more time to raise the money when Ballio tells them that Phoenicium has already been sold to the Macedonian officer Polymachaeroplagides for 2000 drachmas. Pseudolus and Calidorus then refer to Ballio with all the dirty names and curses they can think of. Ballio remains completely unaffected by this, however, and only tells them that Calidorus can bring him the money before the officer pays the last outstanding installment of 500 drachmas on the purchase price, so that the deal with the officer is off the table and Calidorus can get his mistress back could. He, Ballio, is going to town first to prepare for his birthday. Pseudolus has no choice but to implore Calidorus once again that he must find some astute friend as quickly as possible who could help him to raise the necessary sum to buy Phoenicium.

Unsure whether this ransom of the girl can be achieved, Pseudolus hatches a plan to receive the 2000 drachmas after which he wants to steal them from Simo, the father of Calidorus. Pseudolus sees Simo coming with his neighbor Callipho, hides and listens to their conversation. The two discuss Simo's son Calidorus and the rumor that he wants to buy his loved one out. Simo doesn't think it's right that his son is in love with a prostitute and doesn't want to believe the rumor. Callipho tries to convince Simo to at least listen to his son to see if what they hear is true and to feel sorry for him because he is just in love, as he was probably as a young man also been. Pseudolus decides it is time to appear and greets them.

Simo asks Pseudolus if he wants to get the money out of him through a "cunning and devious trick". Pseudolus admits that he wants the money. But Simo refuses to give Pseudolus the 2000 drachmas. Pseudolus replies: "They will give them to me. I'm only telling you this so you can be on your guard." Pseudolus also promises that he will wage war against Ballio and get the girl from him that same day. He asks Simo if he would give him the money so that he can give it to Ballio if he can get the girl off the pimp. Simo finally agrees to this bet: the dilemma for Pseudolous is that he loses if he does not get the girl by the end of the day and only gets 2,000 drachmas from Simo if he is successful. Callipho promises Pseudolus that if he gets the girl and Simo doesn't give him the money, he will give it to himself because he doesn't want to see his plan fail.

Pseudolus sees a Macedonian soldier approaching and believes this is his chance. The two talk about the fact that Harpax, the Macedonian soldier, was ordered to meet with Ballio himself to give him the money. Pseudolus pretends to Harpax that he is Syrus, a slave of Ballio, and tries to get the 500 drachmas from Harpax by telling him that his master Ballio is working on a lawsuit and cannot see him at the time. Pseudolus says he can take the money on his behalf. However, Harpax refuses to give the money to anyone other than Ballio. Harpax says he will leave with the money and come back at another time. But he leaves Pseudolus a sealed letter from his master, the Macedonian general. Harpax informs Pseudolus that he is in an old tavern in town and asks Pseudolus to send for him when Ballio is ready to meet. Harpax exits while Calidorus arrives with his friend Charinus.

Pseudolus and Charinus immediately begin the conversation. Pseudolus describes how he pulled the fur over the ears of the Macedonian soldier, bragging about the fact that the girl who loves Calidorus will still be in his arms today. The only problem is that Pseudolus needs a few things: a smart young man, a soldier's cloak, sword and hat, and 500 drachmas. Charinus offers him the 500 drachmas. Charinus and Calidorus say they know such a clever slave who can help them. Then they set out to get the things Pseudolus needs.

As they leave, a slave boy sneaks out of Ballio's house and speaks to the audience. He says he needs to find money to give Ballio, his boss, a present before the day ends or he will be tortured. Since he is poor and has no money, he does not know what to do. Meanwhile, Ballio returns to his house with a cook. The two argue about how much the cook charges people for his services. Ballio is quite angry that he has to pay two drachmas instead of one to have a chef for his birthday party. The chef is offended and asks why he hired him then. Ballio replies that he had to do this because he was the only cook left. The chef immediately starts making his own point of view and explains in great detail why he is the best cook and that for less than two drachmas he wouldn't even get up. Ballio is still not convinced and is waiting to see for himself what the chef can really do when the time for dinner comes.

Charinus and Calidorus have had the clever boy that Pseudolus needs: Simia, another clever slave. Pseudolus and Simia discuss different plans to get Phoenician from Ballio. Pseudolus is a little concerned that Simia might manage to outsmart Ballio. Simia is self-confident to the point of arrogance and is annoyed by the fears of Pseudolus. Pseudolus takes Simia to a meeting with Ballio, and the scene alternates between their interaction and Pseudolus comments on it as he watches the course of events. The plan threatens to dissolve when Ballio asks Simia for the name of his master (whom Simia does not know). Simia turns the question around by asking Ballio to inspect the seal of the letter and give him the name of the sender so he knows that Ballio is who he claims to be. Ballio agrees and names the name Polymachaeroplagides. Ballio breaks the seal and reads the letter. Simia hands him the money that Pseudolus received from Charinus. Ballio and Simia go in to get Phoenician. Pseudolus grieves while waiting for them to come out. Eventually they'll come out. As they leave the house, Simia comforts Phoenicium, who believes she is now being led to the Macedonian general Polymachaeroplagides, by telling her that he is in fact taking her to her friend Calidorus. Pseudolus triumphs.

Ballio also triumphs and brags to Simo that the two of them won the bet because he finally and successfully sold Phoenicium to the Macedonian general and placed it safely in the hands of his soldier Harpax. While the two are discussing the matter, the real Harpax arrives. The two believe he is an impersonator hired by Pseudolus.

Ballio and Simo mock and taunt Harpax in hopes that he will admit that he is a con man sent by Pseudolus to steal Phoenicium from Ballio. Ballio begins to mock him, asking how much Harpax spent on clothes to impersonate a soldier, claiming that his hat and shoes are only for rent. Ballio asks how much Pseudolus paid him. Harpax, of course, denies knowing a pseudolus at all, and tells Ballio that he handed the letter with the seal to Ballio's servant earlier that day. Simo begins to realize that Pseudolus was there first and that Harpax has already tricked. He asks Harpax what the servant looked like whom he delivered the letter to. When Harpax describes the slave, Ballio and Simo notice that Pseudolus has tricked them. Harpax and Simo demand the money they owe from Ballio. Ballio goes to the forum to repay Harpax and tells Simo that he will pay him back tomorrow. Simo admits that he lost the bet he made with Pseudolus and goes to get the money from his house.

Pseudolus celebrates his victory and returns to his master's house drunk. He's so drunk that he keeps burping Simo's face. Finally Simo hands him the money and asks him if Pseudolus would reduce the debt. Pseudolus refuses. Pseudolus then instructs Simo to follow him. Simo believes Pseudolus is trying to embarrass him and tries to refuse; but Pseudolus insists. Pseudolus then reveals that he plans to have a drink with Simo and that he has no intention of embarrassing him. The piece ends when Simo asks if Pseudolus would like to invite the audience. Pseudolus declines because he thinks they wouldn't invite him, but invites them to applause.

Themes and motifs

The clever slave : Pseudolus and Simia are both slaves in the play and yet the cleverest characters in it. Pseudolus makes a plan to get Phoenicium for Calidorus, and Simia helps him carry out the plan. The pseudolus' plan is successful and, based on bets he made on implementing it, he also wins 4,000 drachmas in the end. The Pseudolus approach shows that wisdom and ability cannot be ruled out even by the conventional prejudices about restrictions due to class affiliation. The subject of the clever slave is thus a subject that significantly exceeds time and place, because although the slaves are at the lowest position in the class system, they are nevertheless able to act intelligently and successfully. The subject of the clever slave remains essentially an outsider story. It remains to be seen whether the class system will ever offer the successful outsider the possibility of social advancement. The figure of the clever slave thus remains a figure whose origins lie in stories that are told among the members of the class, and thus possibly offers a mental balance that does not actually exist; Plautus has adopted this regular character for his own story.

Class is not the same as intelligence: This tells the audience that the figure of the clever slave Pseudolus can actually outwit the citizens of the "upper class" Ballio and Simo, contrary to any previous assumption. Pseudolus can prove how clever he is as he can deceive several others in order to help Callidorus, his owner's son. The play thus presents itself as part of Roman popular culture, and must have developed a not inconsiderable attraction in a society in which there were large discrepancies in questions of prosperity. Because even some citizens with a little less prosperity would be happy if the slave Pseudolus could actually outsmart these greedy "high flyers" of the affluent society.

True love transcends all borders: true love has the ability to transcend borders, it means that money, poverty and class cannot limit the feelings one person has for another. Throughout the play, Pseudolus does everything he can to save the true love of his master's son, the prostitute Phoenicium, so that these two can be together. Calidorus belongs to the upper class, while Phoenicium is a slave and prostitute and belongs to the pimp Ballio. At the end of the piece, however, both are united and show that true love can actually cross all boundaries.

Women are degraded to objects: The degradation of women to objects is shown in the play primarily through the treatment of the slave and prostitute Phoenicium by her pimp Ballio. Although he has promised to sell her at most to her true lover, Ballio sells her as an object in his own property to the Macedonian soldier Polymachaeroplagides for an amount of 2,000 drachmas. His treatment of her and the other slave prostitutes, whom he threatens to hang on meat hooks if they do not deliver enough cash, clearly shows the constant abuse of his power and authority. Certainly slavery was still legal at this time. But Ballio could still show more consideration and care for his protégés and perceive them as fellow human beings. That's not the case. His abusive behavior in the situation will most likely have aroused opposition from the women in the audience even then. (see Nathan Johnston). In addition, the degradation of women to objects in the play is intensified by the fact that Phoenicium is shown as a mute person during the entire plot and does not intervene in the plot at any point in the play. This creates a figure that is defined solely by the male characters, and whose fate in life is determined solely by men.

The Evil of Greed: Ballio, the local pimp, exemplifies the concept of greed manifested in man. He continually claims that anything unrelated to exchanging money is not worth his time, and even insists that he will stop sacrificing Jupiter if he comes across a proposal that is his time is worth. That greed has tarnished his reputation, personal relationships, and even self-image, considering he just ends up indulging in his own malice. An example of his widespread greed emerges at the beginning of the play when he agrees to sell Phoenicium to the Macedonian officer Polymachaeroplagides. Although he has a previous agreement with Calidorus, a promise that if he saves enough money, Calidorus can buy Phoenicium, in the face of another offer, Ballio shows no loyalty or consideration for Calidorus, the person the girl really loves. When Ballio later learns that Pseudolus is planning to win the girl and hears about his bet with Simo that he will actually do so on the same day, Ballio also agrees to a bet with Pseudolus without thinking about it much. Because of his arrogance and greed, he is ready to take a bet for nothing. He only hears about the money and his greed has made him deaf. This consequence of greed and the just punishment for it (he loses the bet) is something that has surely received a lot of resonance in Roman popular culture and with a Roman audience, as it is sure to be pleased to see a member of the greedy classes of a lower one Slaves was defeated.

Comradeship as redemption : Phoenicium is a slave owned by Ballio. Calidorus, the son of the power man Simo, is in love with Phoenicium. The hero Calidorus doesn't have the money to save Phoenicium. The slave Pseudolus finds out Calidorus problem and persuades the two to unite. This union is necessary for the hero Calidorus to be successful. Pseudolus uses his cunning and cunning mind not only to get the money from Simo, which Calidorus had previously failed, but also to outsmart Ballio for the purpose of freeing Phoeniciums. Without Pseudolus, Calidorus is therefore unable to achieve salvation by liberating Phoeniciums. Their union and upcoming companionship lead to the hero's happiness.

Greed represents decline : slavery was a common practice in ancient Greece and Rome. Pseudolus is a wise slave who portrays greed as synonymous with decline throughout the play. Simo and Ballio, the two greedy and powerful citizens in the play, are all about money. Neither people nor true love are important to them. Pseudolus takes advantage of this personal mistake to take money off the two. Only this excessive greed pushes Simo and Ballio to make a bet with Pseudolus for 2,000 drachmas, which they both lose. This bet would never have come about if Simo had been so noble as to help his son Calidorus win back his true love, Phoenicium, and if Ballio had stuck to his original agreement of only selling Phoenicium to Calidorus. Ballio loses his bet and more money as he also has to repay the 1,500 drachmas to Harpax, which the "owner" of Harpax, the Macedonian general Polymachaeroplagides, had already paid Ballio as a deposit for the purchase of Phoenicium. The only wealthy person who has not succumbed to greed is Charinus, Calidorus' friend, who lends Pseudolus 500 drachmas to help him win back Phoenicium.


Plautus was known for promoting religious skepticism through his comedic works. By reducing the deities to a human level, Plautus draws comparisons between the gods and mortals, thereby showing a lack of respect. The pattern of sarcasm and frivolous remarks about oracles and religious law reveals a persistently commentary attitude that the author has toward the close relationship between society and its reliance on divine guidance. His play "Pseudolus", which expresses the playwright's doubtful attitude, is almost representative of this skepticism. The figure of Ballio represents Jupiter, the king of the gods. Ballio is a despicable character who takes almost sadistic pleasure in abusing the gullible and romantically inclined Calidorus. The slave Pseudolus represents the voice of human reason. Pseudolus is able to detect Ballio's fraud and ultimately manipulate Ballio to serve his own ends and human decency. In this way we still experience the triumph of mortals over the corruption of the gods.

Quotes from the work

  • Pseudolus: "Suppose I promise that I will bring your girl back to you today or give you two thousand drachmas - how is that supposed to work?"
  • Ballio: "Your girl is no longer for sale."
  • Pseudolus: "Before the end of the day you will give me the money with your hands."
  • Pseudolus: "You will get your girl free today and hold her in your arms."
  • Pseudolus: “What is it now? Don't you want to give me some money? "

Stage editing and film

  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum - Musical by Stephen Sondheim (music and text), premiered in 1962. The basic plot of the piece and the character Pseudolus were adopted. In addition, parts from other pieces by Plautus have been added, including Miles Gloriosus and Mostellaria.
  • The old Romans had a great time - film adaptation from 1966, directed by Richard Lester, with music by Stephen Sondheim


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Roberta Stewart: Who's Tricked: Models of Slave Behavior in Plautus's "Pseudolus" . In: Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome. Supplementary volumes . 7, 2008.