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Classical Drama and Society


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A Guide to Writing in History and Classics

 

SECTION 3: ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Reading 5: Greek New Comedy


TEXT: Menander, The Litigants (Epitrepontes), selections


Questions to Ponder Concerning This Text:

• How different is this play from the comedies and tragedies written a century before? Can you see any trends in the changes made in theatre and drama over the fourth century BCE?

• What technical elements (actors, scenery, props, crew, costumes) are necessary to produce this play?

• How "modern" is this play? Does it resemble contemporary theatre in any way? Staging? Characterization? Dialogue?

• How "metatheatrical" is this play (i.e. self-conscious that it is a play)? Is that a sign of sophistication or modernity in the playwright or the audience?


Introduction: Menander's comedy is "quiet comedy." It focuses on character, naturalism and plot as opposed to slapstick farce, overt theatricality and jokes. Out of a roster of broad character types—nefarious pimps, hapless virgins, swashbuckling soldiers—Menander forged a brand of comedy that centered on realistic characters which in some way resembled average people in his day. To generate humor, he put them in extraordinary and ludicrous situations, such as the reunion of twins who had been separated at birth.

However, such coincidences, the stock-in-trade of his New Comedy, were not the focus of but the excuse for his comedies which centered around the characters themselves. Finding themselves trapped in these situations, Menander's human creations show their true colors, for instance, the stern-talking but kind-hearted father who, when he discovers that his son is soon to become a father, storms about and lectures the boy but in the end backs down and lets him marry the girl he loves. The humor in Menander's comedy relies on our seeing ourselves in these characters who play out what we would surely do if we found ourselves in the same leaky boat. The message is the commonality of all people—rich or poor, man or woman, old or young—with the intention of making the viewer chuckle, not guffaw.

The Litigants concerns a young man Charisios ("Gracious") who has recently married a young woman named Pamphile ("All-Love") whom he loves very much. Charisios' troubles began a few months after the wedding when he was away on a business trip. While he was out of town, his wife gave birth to a child, only five months after their marriage! He would never have learned about this except that his faithful slave Onesimos ("Helpful") happened to see Pamphile's old serving woman abandon the baby in the woods with certain special jewels so that someday it might be able to prove its identity.

When Charisios returned, Onesimos almost immediately blurted out the whole thing to his master. But, instead of thanks for such a display of loyalty, Charisios rebuked Onesimos and the revelation of the truth precipitated a terrible family crisis. In stunned rage at his wife's apparent infidelity, Charisios promptly left Pamphile and moved in with his friend next door, a bachelor. In the firm conviction to drown his sorrows in partying and prostitutes, Charisios has adopted an I'll-show-her attitude but it is only a bluff. He still loves his wife in spite of her apparent misconduct, so much so that the escort he has hired, a young and well-known beauty named Habrotonon ("Soft-Sound"), has quickly learned that she is only wasting her time with Charisios, at least by the standards of her profession. He refuses even to lay a hand on her and instead spends all his time with her sobbing in grief for his broken marriage.

As it turns out, the situation is not as bad as it seems on the surface at least. Pamphile's baby, though no one knows it, is actually Charisios' child, because four months prior to their wedding, while he was out on a drunken lark—the sort of bachelor party bachelors are inclined to participate in—Charisios had stumbled across a young lady at an outdoor festival and, to put it more delicately than he did, forced himself on her. That young lady was Pamphile.

Because it was dark, however, neither recognized the other later. This is not as implausible as it sounds to us, in that a groom and bride in ancient Greece often did not meet each other before being married because parents normally arranged marriages without any input from the couple-to-be. But even if Charisios and Pamphile had met before their wedding, they probably would not have recognized each other.

As we join the story, the newlyweds Charisios and Pamphile are living apart—a situation neither is happy about!—their baby has been abandoned, and a divorce neither wants seems imminent.

The first passage below, the eponymous "litigation" scene of the play (in Act 2), concerns the baby which was abandoned and later rescued by two men from the country, Syros and Daos, who are now quarreling over the gold jewelry, called "trinkets," found with it. Daos has the jewels, but Syros' wife (played by a mute actor so this character does not speak in the scene) has the baby. As they argue, they see an old man named Smikrines walking toward them.

As luck would have it, he is Pamphile's father on his way to visit his son-in-law and express his stern disapproval of Charisios' behavior, especially in the hiring of Habrotonon. Note, however, that he objects primarily not on the moral grounds that Habrotonon is a prostitute, but for financial reasons because she is a high-class prostitute and very expensive! Typical of many old men, Smikrines is stingy and ill-tempered. All three happen to be on the way to the same house and so, when they meet by chance, Daos and Syros ask Smikrines to listen to their case and decide which of them has more right to the baby and its trinkets. Smikrines reluctantly agrees, unaware that the baby whose fate he is judging is his daughter Pamphile's child, in other words, his own grandson.


SYROS: (to Daos) You can't escape justice!

DAOS: That's blackmail, you bastard! You have no right to what's not yours.

SYROS: Then let's choose someone to arbitrate the matter for us.

DAOS: I'll go along with that. Let's choose someone.

SYROS: But who?

DAOS: Anyone is fine with me. I'm in the right. Oh, why did I ever agree to cut you in?

SYROS: (noticing Smikrines) Him! Are you willing to let him judge?

DAOS: (nodding) That's good luck!

SYROS: (going up to Smikrines, very formally) By the grace of heaven, my good sir, would you give us a little of your time?

SMIKRINES: You? For what?

SYROS: We're having a sort of dispute.

SMIKRINES: So? What do I care?

SYROS: We're looking for someone to judge the matter, fairly. If you're not too busy, decide for us.

SMIKRINES: Oh, why don't you go to hell! Walking around presenting cases, in your overalls!

SYROS: Well, anyway—our case is short and easy to learn. Sir, do us a favor! Don't be high and mighty, for heaven's sake! In every case, justice should prevail, everywhere, and even total strangers should recognize their lot. That's part of life, for everyone.

DAOS: (grumbling to himself) Quite a speechmaker I've fallen in with! Why did I cut him in?

SMIKRINES: So, tell me, are you going to stand by what I decide?

SYROS: Completely.

SMIKRINES: I'll hear you. No reason not to. (to Daos) You go first, the quiet one. Talk!

DAOS: (caught off guard, hunting for a good opener) A little while ago . . . Not only did my business with him happen but . . . So it'll be clear to you, too, this whole business . . . In the woods near here I was pasturing my sheep—it's been a month or so—and, good sir, on that day, all alone I found a child exposed, an infant, with a necklace and some such jewelry.

SYROS: That's what we're fighting over.

DAOS: He's interrupting me.

SMIKRINES: (shaking his walking stick at Syros) If you butt in, I'll take my stick and let you have it.

SYROS: Alright, alright.

SMIKRINES: (to Daos) Go on!

DAOS: I will. I picked it up, went home with these things (indicating the jewels). I fully intended to raise the child. It seemed like the right thing to do. That night I thought it over—night's good for that—and wondered to myself: "Why me? Child-rearing? And all its troubles? How was I going to find the money for it? Why worry myself?" That's where I was. I went out to the pasture again the next morning. He came along, (pointing at Syros) that man—he sells charcoal—to that very same spot to burn some stumps there. I'd met him before this. We talked together. Seeing me looking glum, (imitating Syros' voice) "What's wrong with Daos?," he said. "What is it?" And I said, "I'm over my head here." So I tell him the story, how I found it, how I took it. And he straight off—before I could even finish it—says (imitating Syros' voice again) "Blessings on your head, Daos!" every other word, he said, (imitating Syros again) "Give me the child! It's your happiness, your freedom. After all," he said, "I have a wife. She had a baby but it died." (pointing at Syros' wife who is holding the baby) Meaning her, the one with the baby.

SMIKRINES: (to Syros) Did you ask that?

DAOS: (before Syros can answer) He spent the whole day pleading with me. His persistent begging wore me down. I gave it to him. He went off blessing me a million times, taking my hands and trying to kiss them.

SMIKRINES: (looking at Daos' hands and then Syros) Did you do that?

SYROS: I did.

DAOS: He left. Then suddenly showing up again, this time with his wife, he now demands the things exposed with the baby—little things they are, just some trifles, nothing—he wants to have them and says it isn't fair that I won't give them, that it's (pointing at the baby) the one who should have them. And I say he ought to thank heaven he got what he got when he asked for it. So what if I didn't give the man everything? Does that give him the right to cross-examine me? If he'd been there with me when I found it, by the right of salvage we would've split it down the middle. But only one of us was there. (to Syros, with indignation) You weren't present, and you still think you ought to take it all, and me not get a single thing? (calming himself down) In sum, I gave you something of mine. If it's to your liking, keep it now. If it isn't, and you've changed your mind, give it back. But don't treat me unfairly, or feel slighted. You can't have everything, not when half of it is free and half by force. I'm done with my speech.

SYROS: Is he done?

SMIKRINES: (exploding with anger) Didn't you hear him? He's done.

SYROS: Good. Then I speak next. He did find the baby by himself. Everything he said just now was right and happened just that way, good sir. I don't argue. By begging, pleading really, I got this child from him. He speaks truth. Some shepherd reported to me, with whom he'd been gabbing—one of his co-workers—he'd found it together with some jewelry. That's what, sir, (pointing at the baby) he, this baby, is here for. (to his wife) Give me the baby, wife! (taking the baby in his arms and facing Daos) The necklace and tokens are what this child is asking for, Daos. They're his, he says, put there for him as his jewelry, not your feed and fare. I am only making this request as his appointed guardian. You made me that by giving him to me. (turning to Smikrines) Now it's your job, good sir, to decide about these things (pointing to the jewels in Daos' hand), as I see it, no matter whether they're gold or not: should they should be kept for the child as the gift of his mother—whoever that may be!—until he grows up, or should this underwear snatcher have them, even if he was the first to find them. (turning back to Daos) And what about the fact that, when I took him, I didn't ask you for these things? I had no right to then. But speaking in his behalf I have now come, asking not one thing of you for myself. And the right of salvage? (to Smikrines) He didn't find anything, (imitating Daos) "not one thing," not without doing harm to someone else. Finding? No, that's stealing. (returning the baby to his wife, then addressing Smikrines) Look here, sir! Perhaps this child is above us socially, and after being raised among the working class, he grows to despise these things, aspire to his own nature. He may even dare to do a noble act, you know, kill a lion, put on armor, maybe run in races. You've seen tragedies, I'm sure, and you know what I mean. Those mythological heroes, like Neleus and Pelias that the old man found, the goatherd, in his overalls like me, when he saw that they were superior to himself, he told them the truth, (imitating Daos) "how he found them, how he took them." (note) He gave them a little bag with their trinkets, from which they learned their whole past completely and they became kings who once were goatherds. But if Daos had lifted their things, sold them to make himself a profit of twelve drachmas, they'd have spent their whole lives ignorant, although so great and so high in birth. It's not right that I care for the child in body and that Daos take its only hope of salvation and disappear, sir. A man I know almost married his sister except for such tokens. (pointing off in the distance abstractly) He found his mother and rescued her. He saved his brother. Life, precarious by nature, makes it necessary to take precautions about everything, watch out as much as possible. But (imitating Daos) "Give it back, if," he says, "it's not to your liking." He thinks he has an open-and-shut case. Hardly right! (to Daos) If they make you return any of the baby's things, will you try to get it back, too, so your kidnaping is less risky next time, since it's only luck that saved any of its possessions this round? (to Smikrines) I'm done. Make the right decision.

SMIKRINES: An easy decision. Everything exposed with the baby goes with it. That's my decision.

DAOS: Okay. But what about the child?

SMIKRINES: Good grief, you don't think I'm going to give it to you. You're stealing from a baby. (pointing at Syros) He came to its rescue. He prosecuted you when you tried to steal from it.

SYROS: (to Smikrines) A thousand blessings on your head!

DAOS: What a terrible decision! As god is my savior, I am the one who found everything! Now I lose everything? And someone who didn't find it gets it? You expect me to hand it over just like that?

SMIKRINES: I do.

DAOS: It's a terrible decision! Or I'm a damn fool.

SYROS: Stop stalling!

DAOS: God in heaven, the things I have to live with!

SYROS: Open up your bag and let me see. I know you've got them in there.

(Smikrines has started to leave, but Syros calls him back.)

SYROS: (to Smikrines) A moment, please! Wait! I beg you. Until he hands it over.

DAOS: (aloud to himself) Why did I ever support him?

SMIKRINES: Fork it over, you hood!

DAOS: (handing the bag with the jewels to Syros) It's awful what I have to live with!

SMIKRINES: (to Syros) Is that everything?

SYROS: (looking inside the bag) I think so. Unless he imbibed some of them, while I was speaking my case. (adds ironically) And he knew he was going to lose.

DAOS: (sarcastically, to Syros) I don't think so.

SYROS: (looking up from the bag) Well, good-bye, sir! I wish everyone made as good a judge as you.


[Smikrines exits, and with that the "litigation scene" ends. In the next scene, after Daos leaves, Syros examines the jewels in the bag. As he is looking at a particularly distinctive ring, Onesimos comes out of Chairestratos' house where his master Charisios is partying half-heartedly. Seeing Syros holding up the ring and recognizing it as Charisios', Onesimos snatches it from him. When Syros demands it back, Onesimos insists that it is not Syros', but Charisios', a ring he lost a few months ago when he was drunk. Worried more about keeping the jewels he's got, Syros lets Onesimos have it for the time being but swears to take Syros to court if he does not return it eventually, adding in aside "I've done not badly here. I think I should forget everything else and focus on a career in law. The law is our one saving grace these days." Onesimos goes inside Chairestratos' house to show the ring to his master Charisios, and Syros follows in order to keep a close eye on him and the ring. So ends the second act of the play.

At the beginning of the third act, Onesimos walks out from Chairestratos' house. Though we are to understand that some time has passed in the dramatic action, Onesimos is still holding the ring.]


ONESIMOS: (talking to himself) This ring! I've started more than five times to show it to my master, to go right up to him, and . . . as soon as I got even near him, I'd totally fall apart. What I told him before, I'm sorry I ever said. He curses me almost constantly. (imitating Charisios) "Oh that blabbermouth! For telling me this, I hope he drops dead!" And me, after he makes up with his wife, he'll make (pointing at himself) Mr. Blabbermouth, Mr. Know-It-All (snaps his fingers) disappear. I'd better just leave bad enough alone. I've got my hands full here, almost completely.

(The prostitute Habrotonon comes out of Chairestratos' house. She does not see Onesimos, nor he her.)

HABROTONON: (speaking back inside the house) Oh, let me go! Come on, please. Don't give me any trouble, will you? (to the audience) The last laugh, it seems, is on me. What a shmuck! I expected him to love me, but he hates me something awful. He doesn't let me lie down next to him—Bless me!—I sit miles away!

ONESIMOS: (absorbed in his own thoughts) So, should I give it back to the guy I got it from just now? (shaking his head) That's stupid.

HABROTONON: (absorbed in her own thoughts) He's the blessed one, that man! Why does he spend all that money? As far as this goes, I could play a virgin in the holiday pageant I'm so blessed pure! I haven't gone for three days without a man since, . . . (thinks for a moment) . . . well, it's been a while! (note)

ONESIMOS: (still wrapped up in his thoughts) But how, I ask you, how? Good god in heaven, . . . !

(Syros storms out of Chairestratos' house. Neither sees Habrotonon who steps back and watches their confrontation.)

SYROS: (to himself) Where is he, that man I've been running around the house looking for? (sees Onesimos) Hey, you! Give it back, mister! That's my ring! Or show it to the man you said you want to. We have to settle this. It's time for me to go.

ONESIMOS: This is the situation, fellow! It's my master's, that I know! This is Charisios'! But I'm not showing it to him, because it's like saying he's the baby's father—well, nearly—if I take this to him, since this was found with it.

SYROS: What?

ONESIMOS: Look, you cretin, he lost this a while ago at the Tauropolia festival. (speaking slowly with pauses so Syros can follow) Which lasts all night. Which involves women. Logic dictates that there was an assault. On a virgin. Who gave birth to this baby. And exposed it, obviously! Now if someone can find the girl and take this to her, we'd have clear proof. Now all we have is suspicion and turmoil.

SYROS: (clearly lost) Why don't you take care of that? But if this is all some song-and-dance and you expect me to pay you to get this ring back, even one small obol, you're crazy. I don't have that sort of sharing in me.

ONESIMOS: And I'm not asking you to.

SYROS: Alright then. I'll be back very soon. (imitating Onesimos, speaking slowly) I'm going into town now. And about this business. I'll find out what I need to do.

(Syros exits for the marketplace. As Onesimos stands there shaking his head, Habrotonon walks up to him.)

HABROTONON: This child? (pointing off in the direction in which Syros) The one that man's wife is nursing. (Onesimos isn't listening) Onesimos!

(Suddenly realizing Habrotonon is there, Onesimos jumps back startled.)

HABROTONON (con't.): (persisting) Inside there! Did that charcoalman find something?

ONESIMOS: Yes, so he says.

HABROTONON: (looking into the house and referring to the baby) Such a pretty thing, bless me!

ONESIMOS: (thrusting the ring at her) And this ring here! It belongs to my master.

HABROTONON: (ignoring the ring and still looking off into the house) Oh, the poor little thing! (turning back to Onesimos) Well then, if it really belongs to your house, are you going to see it raised like a slave? I expect you ought to die for that? And rightly, too?

ONESIMOS: (ignoring her) As I was saying, no one knows the mother.

HABROTONON: And he lost it, you say, at the Tauropolia, that ring?

ONESIMOS: Well, he was drunk. So he told me, the kid who went with him.

HABROTONON: Obviously, then he fell in among the women staying up all night, and him all by himself . . . Well! I was there once when the same thing happened. A different time.

ONESIMOS: You were there?

HABROTONON: Last year! Yes, at the Tauropolia. I was hired to sing for some kids, girls. And I went out and played with them, too. (hesitating over how to say this) I wasn't . . . I hadn't yet . . . you know, known a man, . . . (looking back inside Chairestratos' house) and what they're like.

ONESIMOS: (sarcastically) Oh? Right.

HABROTONON: By Aphrodite, I . . . !

ONESIMOS: (interrupting) The girl! Do you know who she was?

HABROTONON: I could find out. The ladies who hired me, she was related to them.

ONESIMOS: Her father's name, did you hear that?

HABROTONON: No, I didn't. Except, if I saw her, I'd know her. An attractive person, oh goodness! And a rich person, so they said.

ONESIMOS: (to himself) It probably is her!

HABROTONON: (overhearing) I'm not sure. She wandered off, after she got there with us, and then suddenly she ran up crying, all alone. She was tearing out her hair, and her gown, very nice, sheer cloth—oh goodness!—it was totally ruined. It looked like one big remnant.

ONESIMOS: (holding up the ring) And did she have this?

HABROTONON: (joyfully) Yes! (looking closer and frowning) Maybe. She didn't show it to me. I can't lie.

ONESIMOS: (moving away from her, to himself) What should I do now?

HABROTONON: That's your business, . . . (following him) . . . but if you had any sense, and listened to me, you'd make all this known to your master. If the child's mother is well-born, why should he hide what happened?

ONESIMOS: The mother first! (wheedling) Habrotonon! Let's find her. Come on, just this once, be a pal!

HABROTONON: I can't, not before I know the man who attacked her, who he is for certain. I'm afraid to say anything that can't be proven to those ladies I mentioned. Who knows? He might have pawned it to someone, a friend maybe, and that person lost it? He could have gambled with it, cashed it in for chips? Or being pressed about something, felt cornered and gave it up? Thousands of other things just like this are always happening. Before I know who did it, I'm not going to hunt for that girl, or say a word to anyone. No!

ONESIMOS: (depressed) You're right. What can anyone do?

HABROTONON: But let's see, Onesimos, whether you like my idea or not. I'll make this my personal business, I will. I'll take this ring here and go inside to him.

(She points in the direction of Chairestratos' house. A long pause. She reaches for the ring, but he holds it back.)

ONESIMOS: Say what you mean. I follow you, I think.

HABROTONON: (pretending to put on the ring) He'll see me with it and ask me where I got it. I'll say (overplaying the tragedy slightly), "At the Tauropolia, when I was still a girl . . ." (she chokes up, but recovers quickly) And everything that happened to her, I'll make my own. Most of it I know.

ONESIMOS: (aside) She's something else!

HABROTONON: (continuing without dropping a beat) If he's the one who really did it, he'll show his guilt immediately. After all, he's drunk now. He'll tell me everything. It'll pour out of him. And when it does, I only have to agree with what he says. I won't say anything wrong, if I let him speak first.

ONESIMOS: You're right! Great day in heaven!

HABROTONON: (by now completely swept up in the fantasy) I'll use the standard rap, play it sweet and stupid. He'll never suspect. "Oh, you were such a brute! And so quick!"

ONESIMOS: Oh right!

HABROTONON: "You forced me to the ground. You hurt me. My dress was ruined. Why me?" That's what I'll say. But before that I'll pick up the baby and start crying and kissing it and ask whoever's holding it where she got it.

ONESIMOS: My goodness!

HABROTONON: And the piece de resistance! "This baby, you know," I'll say, "is your son, Charisios!" And I'll show him everything we found.

ONESIMOS: That's crafty! And underhanded, Habrotonon!

HABROTONON: So then if we're right about this and he turns out to be its father, we can hunt for the girl at our leisure.

ONESIMOS: You neglect to add that you'll win yourself liberty. If he thinks you're the mother of his child, he'll set you free immediately.

HABROTONON: (shaking her head) I'm not sure. (smiling) But it wouldn't hurt.

ONESIMOS: Oh, you're not sure, are you? So what are you going to do for me, Habrotonon?

HABROTONON: (turning on the charm she will use on Charisios) Goodness, I'm the first to admit it. You made me what I am today.

ONESIMOS: (brushing her off) And what if you decide to stop hunting for her? Just quit and slam the door in my face? What happens then?

HABROTONON: Don't be stupid! Why should I? Do I look like I want children? Goodness gracious, all I want is to be free! I'd take that as my payment.

ONESIMOS: Then let's do it!

HABROTONON: Are you happy with my plan?

ONESIMOS: (smiling sarcastically) I'm happy! Oh so happy! (suddenly serious) But if you try anything underhanded, I'll take you down with me! And I can do it. (lightening up again) Now, for the time being, let's see if it's his.

HABROTONON: You'll go along with this?

ONESIMOS: Yes, yes!

HABROTONON: So, give me the ring! (he hesitates) Come on!

ONESIMOS: (handing the ring to her reluctantly) Take it.

HABROTONON: (with the ring clenched tight in her fist, going to the door to Chairestratos' house) O goddess of persuasion! Stand by me! Fight with me! Make the words I say hit home!

(Habrotonon runs inside the house. Onesimos is alone.)

ONESIMOS: The little thing's a whiz, isn't she? When she saw pursuing love was not the way to freedom—oh no! that way leads to madness—she turns and takes the other road. And me? I'll probably be a servant all my life. Drooling, brain-dead, never coming up with things like that! But then I might get some of the good that falls out from her, perhaps, if she succeeds. It's only fair. (shaking his head) Empty dreams! That's all they are. I'm a fool, if I expect to get a favor from the woman. I only hope I don't get punished. It's a treacherous business. After all, this matter concerns my mistress Pamphile. If some girl is found, the daughter of a nobleman and the mother of this child just born, Charisios will marry her and divorce Pamphile . . . <the text is defective> . . . and leave this crowd inside here(?). Well, I gracefully side-stepped that, I think. No one can blame this mess on me. Good-bye, Mister Busybody! If anybody sees me go out on a limb or keep sawing away on this subject, I give him leave to cut off my acorns!


[Onesimos sees Smikrines returning and rushes off stage. In the next scene Smikrines learns from a cook that the party in Chairestratos' house has been broken up by "some prostitute" (Habrotonon) claiming that she's had Charisios' baby. Smikrines, already incensed at his son-in-law's behavior, explodes. At the beginning of the next (fourth) act, he tries to convince his daughter to abandon her philandering husband, but she resists. He leaves and she runs into Habrotonon coming out of Chairestratos' house with the baby. Habrotonon recognizes Pamphile as the girl she saw at the festival, and Pamphile recognizes the baby as her own. Thus, the confusion is untangled, and all that's left is to inform Charisios that his wife and child are safely his again. But he is distraught and it takes some convincing to assure him that everything is all right now. Habrotonon's persuasive skills come into play a second time, and she resolves the crisis at the end of the fourth act.

The text of the last act of the play is intermittent because the papyrus is badly damaged. Apparently, Chairestratos (Charisios' bachelor friend next-door) becomes the focus of attention. It seems he has fallen in love with Habrotonon earlier in the play and is now depressed because he thinks he has lost her since she has claimed to be the mother of Charisios' child. He decides to do the right thing and not pursue her since she rightfully belongs to his friend.

In the first scenes of Act 5, Onesimos and Charisios apparently inform him of the truth and reunite him with his beloved Habrotonon. Then Smikrines reappears. Unaware that the situation has already been resolved, he has brought along Pamphile's old nursemaid Sophrone to persuade his daughter to come home with them. When he arrives at Charisios' door, instead of separation and grief, he finds a celebration going on in Charisios' house. Believing that the servants are rejoicing in their masters' absence, he knocks furiously on the door. No one answers. He knocks louder and yells inside. Finally, Onesimos comes to the door and greets him. The slave, who seems bolder now, has probably been dipping into his master's wine. The following is what remains of the play's finale.]


ONESIMOS: (opening the door of Charisios' house) Who's knocking at our door? Oh! Smikrines! (aside) Mister Mellow! (to Smikrines, smugly) Coming for your dowry and your daughter?

SMIKRINES: (trying to push Onesimos aside and get in) Yes, I am, you multiple pervert!

ONESIMOS: (blocking his way inside the house) Oh, you know me! Smart man! Very deep thinker! (Smikrines hits him) In a hurry? Lost something? Oh my heavens! Isn't it amazing?

SMIKRINES: (raising his hand to strike Onesimos again) May the gods have mercy . . . !

ONESIMOS: (interrupting) Gods! . . . don't have time for that. You think they spend their days bestowing good and bad on all of us one by one, Smikrines?

SMIKRINES: What are you talking about?

ONESIMOS: I'll tell you. Sus-stink-ly.

(Onesimos pulls the door shut firmly and walks away. Smikrines rushes up to it but finds it locked. As Onesimos speaks, Smikrines wrestles with it, trying to get it open.)

ONESIMOS (con't.): There are all these cities, so to speak, thousands. Thirty-thousand people live in each. Can the gods be smiting or delivering to salvation every single person in them? How? That sounds like a pretty long workday! (quoting the ideal conversation partner) "Then I suppose the gods don't care about us?," you might say. (lecturing) To each of us they gave a character to serve as sentinel. This, stationed inside us, smites us if we defy it, or delivers us from evil. This is our god, responsible for our successes and our failures, everyone of us. Invoke that, if you want to avoid mistakes and stupidity. That's the path to success.

SMIKRINES: Oh, so you think my "character" is acting stupid, huh? Body-snatcher!

ONESIMOS: It can't be easy on you having it.

SMIKRINES: (aside) Why did we give them freedom of speech?

ONESIMOS: So then, driving your daughter away from her husband, you think that's right, Smikrines?

SMIKRINES: What's right got to do with it? (going back to the door and yanking furiously on it) Like there's a choice?

ONESIMOS: That's the way you see it, huh? (to the audience) This man thinks misfortune is unavoidable. I ask you, can it be anything but character that ravages him? (going up the door and addressing Smikrines) And now as you hurtle into misery, life all on its own has saved you. You've come just in time to catch the resolution and dénouement of these our travails! But I'm warning you: don't let me see you leap before you look again, Smikrines!

(Smikrines has been working on the door and ignoring Onesimos, who now reaches down and opens the door effortlessly.)

ONESIMOS (con't.): (holding his arm out) Now, stop invoking! Pick up your grandchild inside here and say hello!

(Smikrines runs inside Charisios' house, and then immediately back out.)

SMIKRINES: My grandchild? You, felon, . . .

ONESIMOS: You are dense, aren't you? Think you're so smart. Is that any way to watch over a young girl? No wonder we have so many teen pregnancies! And five-month "miracles"!

(Sophrone claps her hands in delight.)

SMIKRINES: What are you talking about?

ONESIMOS: (pointing to Sophrone) The old woman understands, I think. (to Sophrone) It was my master at the Tauropolia, Sophrone, who . . . chose that girl out of the chorus, if you get my drift. (Sophrone nods in delight.) Yes! And now they've had their recognition scene and everything's happy.

SMIKRINES: (to Sophrone) What are you keeping from me, you old grave-robber!

ONESIMOS: (in high tragic style) "The will of nature heeds no mortal law. It's woman's lot . . . (et ceteRA, et ceteRA)." (note) (in normal speech again) You're such a clod! I'll quote you the tragedy, a whole speech from Euripides' Auge, if you still don't get it yet, Smikrines.

(Sophrone dances about in silent but obvious glee.)

SMIKRINES: (to Sophrone) You make me want to kick you when you dance like that! (chasing her around the stage) It's obvious you know what this person's talking about.

ONESIMOS: (laughing) She does. Take my word for it: she figured it out before you did!

(Smikrines, suddenly realizing what Onesimos means, stops the chase and stares at him in horror. Onesimos smiles and nods.)

SMIKRINES: That's terrible! You mean . . . ?

ONESIMOS: Could anything be luckier? (shaking his head) Nothing.

SMIKRINES: If that's true, what you say, the child's . . .

[Here the text of the papyrus breaks off permanently. The fifth act has been going on for a while; therefore, there cannot be much more of the play left, probably eighty lines at most. What happened in this end is entirely lost. W.G. Arnott, a translator and commentator on this play, notes "<a> new character in all likelihood then joined them [Onesimos, Smikrines and Sophrone] (otherwise why was it necessary in the preceding scene for Sophrone to be played by a mute?), but we can only speculate as to his or her identity." Possibly, Charisios came out and invited his father-in-law into the party and, as is customary, the play ended in riotous delight and happiness.]


Course Description
Class Grading and Projects
Chapters
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A Guide to Writing in History and Classics

 

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