In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Plautus’s Aulularia

  • Introduction
  • General Studies
  • Textual Criticism, Language, and Meter
  • The Lost Ending and Number of Slave Roles
  • Characters and Characterization
  • Sociohistorical Readings
  • Dualities and Structuralist Readings
  • Metatheater
  • Reception

Classics Plautus’s Aulularia
Emilia A. Barbiero
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0387


Aulularia begins with a prologue spoken by a Lar familiaris, the guardian spirit of the house whose goings-on are featured in this play. The god tells us that he has recently revealed the existence of a treasure to the house’s owner, the poor senex Euclio whose grandfather buried the gold long ago and left it under the Lar’s protection. This aula (“pot”), which gives the comedy its name (Aulularia is from aulula, the diminutive form of aula), is now frantically guarded by Euclio lest anyone discover his newfound wealth. And yet the Lar allowed this treasure to be found not so that it might be obsessively coveted (in fact, Euclio’s miserable character and impiety toward the gods is what led the Lar to hide it from him and his equally awful father); rather, the aula was revealed so that it might be used to help Euclio’s pious daughter, Phaedrium. The girl was raped by next-door neighbor Lyconides at a festival of Ceres and is now on the verge of giving birth. To save Phaedrium’s honor and give the play a happy ending, the two must be (re)united. Meanwhile, Lyconides’s mother Eunomia is busy attempting to arrange the marriage of her bachelor brother, the wealthy Megadorus. But in his hatred of dowered women who lord it over their husbands, Megadorus rejects the candidates suggested by his sister and instead desires to marry the impoverished (and therefore undowered) Phaedrium. Although initially suspicious of the request (does Megadorus want to marry Phaedrium because he has discovered Euclio’s hoard?), Euclio is prevailed upon to agree to the match. This conflict is resolved and the young lovers properly united in a hilarious scene of misunderstanding that revolves around the aula. When Lyconides’s slave manages to steal the pot, Euclio accuses the adulescens of having committed the crime himself. Lyconides interprets the accusations as referring to his rape of Euclio’s true treasure—his daughter. This leads Lyconides to confess to his crime and ask for Phaedrium’s hand in marriage. Euclio agrees on the condition that his new son-in-law help him find the missing aula. The play’s final scenes are lost, but it is assumed that Euclio used the treasure as Phaedrium’s dowry and was thereby cured of his obsession. This (presumed) transformation has generated much interest in the play as a character study, and scholars have sought to determine whether Euclio is truly a miser or is simply the victim of circumstance. Questions about Aulularia’s depiction of the distribution of wealth, property rights, and the social hierarchy have occupied critics, too, as has the idea that the comedy reflects contemporary attitudes about women and marriage. Much ink has also been spilled in debating the identity of Plautus’s Greek model (assumed by most to have been Menandrian) and the Plautinity of various elements of the Latin play. Although the prevailing scholarly interest in metatheater since the 1980s has seen Aulularia fall out of critical favor, the comedy enjoys a long and rich theatrical Nachleben.

General Studies

Questa 2004 and Christenson 2013 give basic introductions to Aulularia and are good starting points for those new to the play. Both are accessible to the nonspecialist but will also be helpful to more advanced readers, especially Christenson 2013.

  • Christenson, D. M. 2013. Aulularia. In The Literary Encyclopedia. London: Literary Dictionary.

    A brief and yet thorough survey of Aulularia’s plot, major themes, and the scholarly discourse. Contains a brief bibliography.

  • Questa, C. 2004. Sei letture plautine: Aulularia, Casina, Menaechmi, Miles gloriosus, Mostellaria, Pseudolus. Ludus philologiae 14. Urbino, Italy: QuattroVenti.

    A good if now outdated review of the major critical questions paired with a linear reading of the plot in which Questa speculates on what in Aulularia is Plautine and what is originally Greek. Also covers reception, focusing especially on the long theatrical and literary Nachleben of Euclio.

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