The miserly trap

The Pot of Gold - Plautus

Sometimes I wonder why we have so few Roman plays, and that the plays that we do have are mostly comedies, and rather dull ones at that. Maybe it is because Rome was not the type of place where you could produce plays the likes of Aristophanes where the playwright is having a dig at the movers and shakers of the Republic, or maybe it is because the audience preferred New Comedy as opposed to Old Comedy. However I will leave this discussion until I review the collection of plays in The Pot of Gold and Other Plays.

The Pot of Gold, otherwise known as the 'Aulularia' is a classic example of New Comedy, though I suspect that by this time it is simply seen as 'Roman Comedy'. The play is about a not so wealthy man named Euclio who obsesses about a pot of gold that he has in his house. In fact he is so obsessed with this gold that he is almost too scared to leave his house, and when he does he pretty much runs back inside almost instantly. Throw in a beautiful daughter and a suitor and you have all the ingredients of a, well, Roman play.

The theme behind this play is the absurdity of holding onto wealth and the fact that in the end our wealth dominates us as opposed to us being able to be secure despite having wealth. This is the trap that a lot of people with wealth fall into (and I know it because I go through this as well) and that is that the wealth provides us not only with security, but also with identity, and because it gives us that sense of security and identity we begin to fret over what would happen if it was taken away from us. As such we literally go into a tail spin either trying to add to it so that we can then enjoy it without running out, or developing ever elaborate methods in protecting it so that we do not lose it.

While Euclio may in some ways be an extreme example of this type of character, I sometimes wonder if that is really the case. I think of the story of the miser whom Jesus speaks off that saved up all of his wealth to live a comfortable life when he retires only to have it all taken away from him when he dies the day beforehand. Here we have the example of the person who goes without his entire life (though I suspect that Jesus was referring to a wealthy landowner as opposed to somebody who squirrels away their wealth, living a barebones existence so that they may have plenty in retirement) with the mistaken belief that he can enjoy his golden years of retirement.

The play itself is incomplete, though we are able to reconstruct the ending using some outlines that have passed down to us. However I did notice that in the edition that I read there was a significant difference between the translated text and the reconstructed text. To me it felt as if a well rounded and animated character (who was threatening to sue everybody who even thought of stealing his gold) suddenly became little more than a cardboard cutout.