Aulularia is a Latin play by the early Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus. The title has been translated as The Pot of Gold, and the plot revolves around a literal pot of gold that the miserly protagonist, Euclio, guards zealously. The play’s ending does not survive, though there are indications of how the plot is resolved in later summaries and a few fragments of dialogue.
Lars Familiaris, the household deity of Euclio, an old man with a marriageable daughter named Phaedria, begins the play with a prologue about how he allowed Euclio to discover a pot of gold buried in his house. Euclio is then shown almost maniacally guarding his gold from real and imagined threats. Unknown to Euclio, Phaedria is pregnant by a young man named Lyconides. Phaedria is never seen on stage, though at a key point in the play the audience hears her painful cries in labor.
Euclio is persuaded to marry his daughter to his rich neighbor, an elderly bachelor named Magadorus, who happens to be the uncle of Lyconides. This leads to much by-play involving preparations for the nuptials. Eventually Lyconides and his slave appear, and Lyconides confesses to Euclio his ravishing of Phaedria. Lyconides’ slave manages to steal the by now notorious pot of gold. Lyconides confronts his slave about the theft.
At this point the manuscript breaks off. From surviving summaries of the play, we know that Euclio eventually recovers his pot of gold and gives it to Lyconides and Phaedria, who marry in a happy ending. In the Penguin Classics edition of the play, translator E.F. Watling actually wrote the ending as it might have originally been constructed, based on the summaries and a few surviving scraps of dialogue. Other writers down through the centuries have also written endings for the play, with somewhat varying results.
The play also ridicules the ancient bachelor Megadorus for his dream of marrying the nubile and far younger Phaedria. The silly business of preparing for the marriage provides much opportunity for satire on the laughable lust of an old man for much younger flesh, in a clever parallel to Euclio’s lust for his gold. Again, Megadorus is eventually shown as sensible and kind-hearted enough to abandon his foolish dream.
The play also includes Plautus’ frequent theme of clever servants outwitting their supposed superiors. Not only does Lyconides’ slave manage to filch Euclio’s beloved gold, but Euclio’s housemaid Staphyla is shown as intelligent and kind in her attitude toward the unfortunately pregnant Phaedria.
No surviving Greek play seems to be a model for Aulularia, though the character Smicrines in Epitrepontes by Menander may have influenced Plautus’ conception of Euclio. Scholars have dated the play to roughly 195 B.C. due to an indirect reference to the Oppian Law, which was relaxed about that time. But the dating is not conclusive.