Pseudolus is a play by the ancient Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus. It is one of the earliest examples of Roman literature. The play begins with the shortest prologue of any of the known plays of Plautus, though it is not known whether Plautus wrote this prologue himself or if it was added later. Pseudolus was first shown in 191 B.C. during the Megalesian Festival,[1] which was a celebration for the Greek Goddess Cybele.[2] The temple for worship of Cybele in Rome was completed during the same year in time for the festival.[3]

Written byPlautus
  • Simo, Athenian gentleman
  • Calidorus, son of Simo
  • Pseudolus, slave to Simo
  • Callipho, neighbor of Simo
  • Phoenicium, prostitute
  • Ballio, pimp
  • Harpax, slave of an officer
  • Charinus, friend of Calidorus
  • Simia, slave to Charinus
Settinga street in Athens, before the houses of Simo, Callipho, and Ballio


Simo - An Athenian gentleman

Calidorus - Simo's son

Pseudolus - Simo's chief slave

Callipho - a neighbor and friend of Simo

Charinus - a friend of Calidorus

Ballio - a pimp

Phoenicium - (mute) a girl in the possession of Ballio and loved by Calidorus

Harpax - an officer's orderly

Simia - a slave

Plot synopsisEdit

The play starts with the prologue, which is a warning to the audience that the play is long and now is the time to stretch their legs because they are about to be sitting for a long time.

Once the play starts Calidorus and Pseudolus enter the stage, Calidorus is visibly upset. After Pseudolus pushes his master's son to tell him what is wrong, Calidorus shows him a letter he received. Pseudolus first mocks the poor handwriting it is written in then reads the letter, which says that Calidorus' lover Phoenicium, a prostitute, has been sold and the man who is supposed to come with the last of the money to pay for her and pick her up for her new master is coming very soon. Calidorus obviously wants to save her but he has no money of his own and his father won't lend him any to help save her. He turns to Pseudolus, who is his father's chief slave, for help. Pseudolus doesn't have the money they require to buy her, but thinks he can improvise a plan to get it and to save Phoenicium. At this time, Calidorus tells Pseudolus to be quiet, saying he hears the pimp Ballio, Phoenicium's master, leaving his house. Ballio enters the stage addressing his slaves, telling them that they aren't worth their keep and that they don't know how to behave. He claims beating them hurts him more than it hurts them and that they will steal anything if given the chance.

Ballio begins organizing his slaves and making preparations for his own birthday celebration, and says he will be off to the market to strike a deal with the fishmonger. After he organizes his slaves and assigns them all specific tasks for the day, he calls his prostitutes out of the house. He orders them to make themselves the most desirable companions for the day, and to earn him supplies based on their status with men in different markets—specifically, grain, meat, oil, and lard. Ballio promises swift and decisive punishment if his demands are not met.

Calidorus and Pseudolus have been watching Ballio throughout this entire speech from a hidden corner, making comments about his corruption and tyranny, and generally loathing his entire existence. Calidorus is deeply concerned about the future of Phoenicium and asks Pseudolus what he should do in order to keep Ballio from putting her on the streets. Pseudolus tells Calidorus not to worry about it, and that he will take care of it by delivering Ballio "a nice fat packet of trouble." This uncertain prospect is torturous to Calidorus, who claims that it's only natural that a lover must behave like a fool.

Ballio departs from his house to go to the market, with one of his slaves leading. Pseudolus calls out to him from their hiding place, and asks him to come and talk. Ballio is dismissive of Pseudolus, and tries to avoid him several times. Pseudolus finally successfully intercepts him, but Ballio still refuses to truly listen. He hints that there must be a promise of money in order for him to open his ears to Pseudolus and Calidorus' pleas.

Having appealed to his business side to pull him into conversation, Pseudolus and Calidorus try to play nice, apologizing for the fact that Calidorus does not have the money to buy his love's freedom. Ballio insists that Calidorus could have found a way to get the money and says that he must care more for duty than for love. Pseudolus begs him to give them more time to find the money when Ballio informs them that Phoenicium has already been sold for 2000 drachmae to the Macedonian officer, Polymachaeroplagides. Pseudolus and Calidorus then call Ballio all the dirty names and curses they can think of. Untouched by their words, Ballio says that if Calidorus can bring him the money before the officer pays the final amount owed, 500 drachmae, the deal with the officer will be off and Calidorus can take his love. Ballio then goes to town for his birthday preparations and Pseudolus beseeches Calidorus to find a sharp-witted friend to assist in taking Phoenicium from Ballio.

Uncertain as to how to get the girl, Pseudolus hatches a plan to obtain the 2000 drachmae by stealing it from Simo, the father of Calidorus. Pseudolus sees Simo coming with his neighbor Callipho, and hides and listens to their conversation. The two are discussing Simo's son, Calidorus, and the rumor that he wants to buy his true love's freedom. Simo doesn't think that it is proper for his son to be in love with a prostitute and doesn't want to believe the rumor. Callipho is trying to convince Simo to at least listen to his son to see if what they are hearing is true and to take pity on him because he is a man in love just like he was when he was young. Pseudolus decides to appear and greets them.

Simo asks Pseudolus about getting the money out of him by performing a "crafty and underhand trick." Pseudolus admits to wanting to get the money from him. Simo refuses to give Pseudolus the 2000 drachmae. Pseudolus retorts, "You'll give it to me. I'm only telling you, so that you can be on your guard." Pseudolus also promises that he will wage war on Ballio and get the girl from him on that very day. He asks Simo to give him money so that he can give it to Ballio should he succeed in winning the girl from the pimp. At long last Simo agrees to the bet: the treadmill for Pseudolous if he fails to get the girl by day's end and 2,000 drachmae from Simo if he succeeds. Callipho promises Pseudolus that if he gets the girl and if Simo does not give him the money, he will himself because he does not want to see his plan fail.

Pseudolus sees a Macedonian soldier approaching and figures that this is his chance. The two talk about how Harpax, the Macedonian soldier, has been ordered to meet with Ballio himself to give him the money. Pseudolus tricks Harpax into thinking he is Syrus, a slave of Ballio, and tries to get the 500 drachmae from Harpax by telling him that his master Ballio is working on a court case and can't meet with him at this time. Pseudolus says he can receive the money on his behalf. Harpax refuses to give the money up to anyone but Ballio. Harpax says he will leave with the money and come back at a different time. He leaves Pseudolus with a sealed letter from his master, the Macedonian general. Harpax tells Pseudolus he is staying in town in an old tavern and asks Pseudolus to send for him when Ballio is ready to meet. Harpax leaves and Calidorus arrives with his friend Charinus.

Right away Pseudolus and Charinus begin talking. Pseudolus is describing how he has pulled the wool over the Macedonian soldier's eyes, and boasts that the girl Calidorus loves will be in his arms today. The only problem is that Pseudolus requires a few things: a clever young man, a soldier's cloak, sword, and hat, and 500 drachmae. Charinus offers him the 500. Charinus and Calidorus say they know of just the clever slave who can help them. They then depart to go and collect the things that Pseudolus requires.

As they depart a slave boy creeps out of Ballio's house and speaks to the audience. He says that he needs to find money to give Ballio, his boss, a present before the day is over 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 are arguing about how much the cook charges people for his services. Ballio is quite angry that he has to pay two drachmae instead of one to be able to have a cook for his birthday celebration. The cook is insulted and asks why he hired him. Ballio replies that he had to, because he was the only cook left. The cook immediately starts to make his own case, explaining in great detail why he is the best cook and that he doesn't even stand up for less than two drachmae. Ballio remains unconvinced and waits to see for himself what the cook can really do when the time for dinner comes.

Charinus and Calidorus have gotten the clever boy Pseudolus is in need of: Simia, another clever slave. Pseudolus and Simia discuss plans for getting Phoenicium from Ballio. Pseudolus is a bit anxious about Simia succeeding in duping Ballio. Simia is confident to the point of arrogance and is annoyed by Pseudolus' anxieties. Pseudolus takes Simia to meet Ballio and the scene switches between their interaction and Pseudolus' commentary as he watches the events unfold. The plan threatens to come unraveled when Ballio asks Simia the name of his master (which Simia does not know). Simia turns the question around by demanding that Ballio inspect the letter's seal and tell him the name of the sender so that he knows that Ballio is who he claims to be. Ballio consents and gives the name, Polymachaeroplagides. Ballio breaks the seal and reads the letter. Simia hands over the money gotten by Pseudolus from Charinus. Ballio and Simia go inside to retrieve Phoenicium. Pseudolus frets as he waits for them to come out. Eventually they do. As they exit the house, Simia consoles Phoenicium, who thinks she is being led to the Macedonian general, Polymachaeroplagides, by telling her that he is in fact taking her to her boyfriend Calidorus. Pseudolus is triumphant.

Ballio is also triumphant, boasting to Simo that they have won the bet because he has finally and successfully sold Phoenicium to the Macedonian general and placed her safely in the hands of his soldier Harpax. As the two discuss the matter the real Harpax arrives. The two think that he is an impersonator hired by Pseudolus.

Ballio and Simo ridicule and poke fun at Harpax in the hopes that he will admit that he is an imposter sent by Pseudolus to steal Phoenicium from Ballio. Ballio begins to mock him and asks how much this Harpax has spent on clothing to impersonate a soldier, claiming that his hat and shoes are rented. Ballio asks him how much Pseudolus has paid him. Harpax, of course, denies even knowing a Pseudolus and tells Ballio he delivered the letter with the seal to Ballio's servant earlier that day. Simo begins to realize that Pseudolus has been there first and has already tricked Harpax. He asks Harpax what the servant he gave the letter to looked like. As Harpax describes the slave, Ballio and Simo realize that Pseudolus has tricked them. Harpax and Simo then demand the money that is owed to them from Ballio. Ballio heads to the Forum to pay Harpax back and tells Simo he will pay him tomorrow. Simo admits that he has lost the bet he made with Pseudolus and goes to get the money from his house.

Pseudolus celebrates his victory, returning to the home of his master drunk. He is so drunk that he constantly belches in Simo's face. Eventually Simo hands him the money, asking if Pseudolus will cut the debt down any. Pseudolus refuses. Pseudolus then tells Simo to follow him. Simo believes that Pseudolus is attempting to embarrass him and tries to refuse; but Pseudolus insists. Pseudolus then reveals that he plans to go drinking with Simo and has no intent of embarrassing him. The play ends when Simo asks if Pseudolus would like to invite the audience. Pseudolus declines because he believes they wouldn't invite him, but does invite them to applaud.


The clever slave: Pseudolus and Simia are both slaves in this play and are both the smartest characters. Pseudolus comes up with a plan to get Phoenicium for Calidorus, and Simia helps carry out the plan. Pseudolus's plan is successful, and as a result of wagers made along the way, he gains 4,000 drachmae in the process. Pseudolus's machinations show that wisdom and ability are blind to strictures of class. The theme of the clever slave is one that transcends time and place because even though slaves are the lowest on the class system they still are intelligent and successful. The theme of the clever slave is essentially an underdog story. The clever slave character is one whose origins lie in stories told among members of the slave class; Plautus has here adopted this stock character for his own story.[4]

Class does not equal intelligence: With the stock character, the clever slave (played by Pseudolus), the audience gets a glimpse that, despite the assumptions that Pseudolus, a slave, cannot possibly outwit the upperclass citizens, Ballio and Simo, this indeed does occur. Pseudolus is able to prove just how clever he is by fooling multiple others in order to help his owner's son, Calidorus. This play, a part of Roman popular culture, would have wide appeal in a society where there was much discrepancy of wealth. Those of the less wealthy would be happy to see Pseudolus the slave outwit his monied owners.

True love crossing boundaries: True love has the ability to cross boundaries, meaning that money, poverty, and class cannot restrict the feelings one person has for another. Throughout this play, Pseudolus does everything he can to rescue his master's son's true love, the prostitute Phoenicium, so that they can be together. Calidorus is of the upper classes, while Phoenicium is a slave and prostitute and is owned by the pimp Ballio. At play's end the two are united, showing that true love indeed can cross all boundaries. (Plautus, The Pot of Gold and Other Plays, Pseudolus)

Objectification of Women: Objectification of women in Pseudolus is represented mainly through the pimp Ballio's treatment of his slave and prostitute, Phoenicium. Ballio sells her, though he has promised to sell her to her true love, like an object of property, to the Macedonian soldier, Polymachaeroplagides, in exchange for 2000 drachmae. His treatment of her and of his other slave prostitutes whom he threatens to put on meat hooks if they do not provide enough cash show the abuse of his power and authority over them. Certainly slavery is legal at this time. But Ballio could still show some consideration and care for his charges as fellow human beings. Such is not the case. His abuse would most likely have resonated with other women in his audience. (Nathan Johnston). In addition, the objectification of women in the play is accentuated by Phoenicium's being mute and a non-actor throughout the plot. This creates a character defined by the male characters who determine her lot in life.

The evils of greed: Ballio, the local pimp, exemplifies the concept of greed manifested in man. He constantly asserts that anything not involving the exchange of money is not worth his time, even insisting that he will halt in the process of offering a sacrifice to Jove if he comes across a proposition worth his time. This greed has stained his reputation, his personal relationships, and even his view of himself, considering that he revels in his own wickedness. An example of his far-reaching greed makes its appearance at the beginning of the play when he agrees to sell Phoenicium to the Macedonian officer, Polymachaeroplagides. Although he has a previous arrangement with Calidorus, a promise that Calidorus can buy Phoenicium when he saves enough money, in the face of another offer, Ballio shows no loyalty or consideration for Calidorus, the person who truly loves the girl. Later when Ballio finds out that Pseudolus plans on winning the girl and his bet with Simo that he will indeed do so that very day, Ballio also agrees to a wager with Pseudolus with very little thought. His arrogance and greed make him willing to make a bet without giving it any consideration. He has ears for the money and greed has made him deaf. This undercurrent of greed and the just deserts that follow (he loses the bet) is one that would resonate with Roman popular culture and with an audience that would be happy to see the monied classes bested by a lowly slave.

Companionship as salvation: Phoenicium is a slave girl who is owned by Ballio. Calidorus, the son of Simo, a power individual, is in love with Phoenicium. The hero, Calidorus, does not have the money to save Phoenicium. A cunning slave, Pseudolus, finds out Calidorus's problem and convinces the two to unite. This unification is necessary for the hero Calidorus to be successful. Pseudolus uses his cunning and crafty brains to not only get the money from Simo, where Calidorus had failed, but furthermore to trick Ballio into freeing Phoenicium. Therefore without Pseudolus Calidorus is not able to achieve the salvation of getting Phoenicium. Their unification and forthcoming companionship lead to the hero's happiness.

Greed as downfall: In Ancient Greece and Rome slavery was a common practice. Pseudolus is a clever slave who throughout the play uses greed as a downfall. The monied and powerful citizens in the play, Simo and Ballio, only care about money. Neither cares about people or true love. Pseudolus exploits this fault to bilk money from them both. The fault of greed urges Simo and Ballio each to make a bet with Pseudolus of 2,000 drachmae that they both lose. This bet would not have happened if Simo had been noble enough to help his son, Calidorus, obtain his true love, Phoenicium, and if Ballio had kept to his initial agreement to sell Phoenicium only to Calidorus. Ballio loses his bet and additional money to boot since he also has to pay back to Harpax, the 1500 drachmae that Harpax's owner, the Macedonian general, Polymachaeroplagides, had already made to Ballio as down payment for the purchase of Phoenicium. The sole wealthy individual who does not fall to greed is Calidorus' friend, Charinus, who loans 500 drachmae to Pseudolus to help get Phoenicium back.

Various interpretationsEdit

Plautus was known to encourage religious skepticism through his comedic works.[citation needed] By reducing deities to the human level, Plautus draws comparisons between the gods and mortals, showing a lack of respect. A pattern of sarcasm and flippant remarks towards oracles and religious law reveals a continual commentary on the intimate relationship between society and its reliance on divine guidance. Representative of this skepticism is his play, Pseudolus, which gives expression to its playwright's doubts. The character Ballio represents Jupiter, the king of the gods. Ballio is a detestable character, gaining almost sadistic pleasure from abusing the gullible and romantic Calidorus. The slave Pseudolus represents the voice of mortal reason. Pseudolus is able to recognize Ballio's deceit and ultimately manipulate Ballio to serve his own purposes and human decency.[5] By doing so mortals are seen to trump the corrupt gods.


  1. Pseudolus: "Suppose I promise to get your girl back for you today or give you two thousand drachmas--how will that do?"
  2. Ballio: "Your girl is not for sale any more."
  3. Pseudolus: "Before the end of this day, you'll be giving me money with those very hands."
  4. Pseudolus: "You're going to have your girl free and in your arms today."
  5. Pseudolus: "Well then? Aren't you going to give me some money?"



  1. ^ a b Plautus (1965). The Pot of Gold and Other Plays. Penguin Classics. pp. 216. ISBN 978-0-14-044149-9.
  2. ^ "Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898), M, Mecyberna, Megalesia". Retrieved 2016-02-02.
  3. ^ "LacusCurtius • Roman Religion — The Megalensia (Smith's Dictionary, 1875)". Retrieved 2016-02-02.
  4. ^ Stewart, Roberta (2008). "Who's Tricked: Models of Slave Behavior in Plautus's "Pseudolus"". Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome. Supplementary Volumes. 7: 72. JSTOR 40379348.
  5. ^ Tolliver, Hazel M. (November 1952). "Plautus and the State Gods of Rome". The Classical Journal. 48 (2): 49–57.

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