Pseudolus, a servant of the Athenian Simo, observes one day that his master’s son Calidorus is deeply despondent about something. Questioning him on the matter, Pseudolus is given a letter from Phoenicium, a slave girl with whom Calidorus is in love. She has written that Ballio, her master, has sold her to a Macedonian military officer for the sum of twenty minae. However, the transaction is not yet complete; the officer has given Ballio fifteen minae to seal the bargain and has arranged that Phoenicium is to be delivered to a servant of his who will bring the remaining five minae and a letter bearing a seal to match the one the officer has made with his ring and left in Ballio’s keeping. This servant is to arrive during the festival of Bacchus, now being celebrated. Calidorus is thoroughly upset by this news, for he has no money with which to buy Phoenicium and no prospect of acquiring any. Desperate, he appeals to the wily Pseudolus for help. With great self-confidence, the servant promises to trick Calidorus’s father, Simo, out of the money.
Before any plan can be formulated, Ballio appears, cursing and beating some of his slaves. Calidorus and Pseudolus approach him and beg him to reconsider his bargain, pointing out that Phoenicium has been promised to Calidorus as soon as the young man can find the money to pay for her. The unscrupulous Ballio remains unmoved and even taunts Calidorus for his poverty and his inability to get money from his father. Before they part, however, he craftily points out that today is the day on which the officer has agreed to send his final installment of the payment for Phoenicium and that if the promised money is not received, Ballio will be free to sell her to another bidder.
As Pseudolus is turning over various plans in his mind, he overhears Simo talking to a friend and learns that the old man has already heard of Calidorus’s plight and has steeled himself in advance against any plea for money that his son might make. Finding his task thus complicated, Pseudolus steps forward and brazenly admits his commission, telling Simo that he intends to get the twenty minae from him and that Simo should consequently be on his guard. The slave also tells his master that he intends to trick Ballio out of the slave girl. Simo is skeptical, but Pseudolus finally goads him into promising to pay for the girl if Pseudolus is successful in getting her away from the procurer.
Soon afterward, Pseudolus is fortunate enough...
(The entire section is 1013 words.)
Garton, Charles. “How Roscius Acted Ballio.” Personal Aspects of the Roman Theatre. Toronto: Hakkert, 1972. The most renowned actor of his day, Roscius played Ballio, instead of the lead role of Pseudolus. Refers to comments of Cicero and examines the role and how the actor appeared on stage.
Plautus, Titus Maccius. Pseudolus/Plautus. Edited by M. M. Wilcock. Bristol, England: Bristol Classical Press, 1987. Latin text with valuable introduction and commentary. Includes close plot analysis.
Segal, Erich. Roman Laughter: The Comedy of Plautus. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968. Valuable study of Plautus’ work, setting social and cultural contexts for the plays and commenting on their appeal to Roman audiences.
Slater, Niall. Plautus in Performance: The Theatre of the Mind. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985. Chapter on Pseudolus follows the evolution of Pseudolus’ scheme, which he concocts as he goes. Emphasizes the power of language through which Pseudolus, speaking for Plautus, constructs a metadrama (a play about making a play) by using theatrical metaphor and direct address to the audience.
Wright, John. “The Transformation of Pseudolus.” Transactions of the American Philological Association 104 (1974): 403-416. Reflects on problems with the play, including inconsistency over Calidorus’ awareness of the fact that his mistress has been sold by Ballio and the apparent weakness of Pseudolus as a fully developed character. Argues that Pseudolus is transformed by metaphoric language, being associated with such various roles as cook, teacher, and poet (playwright).