Stories from the Greek Comedians - Alfred J. Church


[From  APOLLODORUS. Translated by  TERENCE]

[Illustration] from Stories from Greek Comedians by Alfred J. Church


Demipho and Chremes were brothers, respectable and well-to-do citizens of Athens. Both had occasion to leave their homes on business at the same time, Demipho going to Cilicia, where a friend had promised to find a profitable investment for him, Chremes to Lemnos, where his wife Nausistrata had a property, the rents of which he was accustomed to collect. Each brother had an only son; and both of the young men took the opportunity of their fathers' absence to get into formidable scrapes.

Chremes's son Phædria fell violently in love with a music-girl. Really she was a free-born Athenian, but she was supposed to be a slave, the property of a villainous dealer, Dorio by name, who refused to sell her for less than a hundred and twenty pounds. Phædria, who was bent on buying the girl and making her his wife, obtained the man's promise that if he could find the money, she should not be sold to any one else. For the present, however, he was penniless. All that he could do was to wait at a barber's shop which happened to be opposite the music-school where she was receiving lessons, and accompany her to her owner's house. One day, as he was looking out for her, his cousin Antipho being with him, a young man of their acquaintance came up, who had a story so piteous to tell that it moved him to tears as he spoke. "I have just had a proof," he said, "what a terrible thing poverty is. Hard by here I saw a girl mourning for her mother, who had just died. The corpse was laid out opposite the door of the house, and the poor creature had no kinsman, or friend, or acquaintance with her except one old woman; a very beautiful girl she was, too." They were all touched by the story, and Antipho said at once, "Shall we go and see her?"—"Good," said Phædria, "let us go; take us to the house." They went, and found that the girl, whose name was Phanium, was certainly beautiful. There was nothing to set her off; her hair was dishevelled, her feet bare, her clothing of the meanest. Phædria, his head full of the music-girl, said nothing more than, "She is pretty enough," but with Antipho it was love at first sight. The next day he paid another visit. The girl he did not see, but the old woman, who turned out to be her nurse, told him that she was a free-born Athenian, of good family. Antipho at once made up his mind to have her for his wife. But how was it to be managed? He was afraid to do such a thing in his father's absence, and yet he knew perfectly well that, were his father at home, he would never consent, for the girl of course had not a penny of dowry. He confided his difficulty to an acquaintance, Phormio by name, a man without either occupation or means, who contrived to pick up a living by his wits. Phormio at once contrived an audacious scheme. "The law directs," he told Antipho, "that when a citizen dies, leaving an orphan daughter, the next of kin must marry her, or provide her with a dowry. I will pretend to be a friend of her father, and will bring a suit against you. We will go into court. There I will invent a name for her father, a name for her mother, and her relationship to you. Of course you will offer no defence, and I shall win the suit." This was actually done; the suit was brought, Antipho was ordered by the court to marry the girl, and, as may be supposed, readily obeyed.

From what has been said, it will be evident that both the young men were in no small trouble; Phædria was afraid that his lady-love might be sold before he could find the money, of which indeed he saw little prospect; Antipho dreaded his father's return. The two were discussing the situation, when Geta, a confidential slave in whose charge the young men had been left, made his appearance in a state of great agitation. "Your father has arrived," he cried, when he caught sight of Antipho; "I saw him at the harbour." Antipho was in despair. His cousin and Geta implored him to screw up his courage to the point of meeting his father. "Your only chance," they told him, "is to put a bold face on it." Antipho made an effort to pluck up his spirit. "Brazen it out," said Geta, "that you were compelled by the court to contract the marriage. Do you understand? But who is that there?" he went on, looking down the street that led to the Piræus. "It is he!" cried Antipho, following the direction of Geta's eyes. "It is my father himself. I can't stand it. I am off." And in spite of all remonstrances, he disappeared. In a few minutes Demipho made his appearance. He was in a towering rage. "So Antipho has married without my leave! What audacity! And Geta, too! a pretty counsellor, indeed! Of course I know what he'll say, 'I did it against my will; the law compelled me.' Ah! but did the law compel you to give up the case without a word?"

Phædria (aside).   "That's a poser!"

Geta (aside).   "I'll answer him. Trust me."

Demipho.   "I am so annoyed that I can't bring my mind to consider what's to be done. It is always the way. When everything seems to be going well, then we must look out for trouble. A son goes wrong, a wife dies, a daughter falls ill. These are the things we must expect. Anything that doesn't happen one must count as clear gain."

Ge. (aside).   "See, Phædria, how much wiser I am than my master. I thought of all I should have to put up with when my master came back,—work at the mill, a good beating, my feet in the stocks, set to work at the farm; there is nothing that I haven't reckoned on. And whatever doesn't happen that I shall count as clear gain. But, Phædria, why don't you go forward and speak to him?"

Phæ. (advancing).   "How do you do, my dear uncle?"

Dem.   "How do you do? But where is Antipho?"

Phæ.   "I am delighted—"

Dem.   "Where is he?"

Phæ.   "At home and quite well. I hope that all is right."

Dem.   "Right indeed! A pretty match you made up between you while I was away."

Phæ.   "But surely you are not angry with him."

Dem.   "Very angry indeed, and I'll let him know it, when I see him."

Phæ.   "But he has given you no cause."

Dem.   "Oh! yes; you are all tarred with the same brush. He gets into mischief, and you stand by him."

Phæ.   "My dear uncle, if Antipho had done wrong, if he had wasted his money, or lost his character, I should not say a word against his suffering for it. But if a designing fellow plotted against his youth and innocence and got the better of him, who was to blame, he or the judges? They, as you know, are always jealous of the rich, and in favour of the poor."

Ge. (aside).   "Upon my word, if I didn't know the facts, I should think he was speaking the truth."

Dem.   "But what was a judge to do when the defendant doesn't say a word?"

Phæ.   "Your son could not say what he had prepared. His modesty struck him absolutely dumb."

Ge. (advancing).   "Very glad to see you, master!"

Dem.   "You scoundrel! you who were to take care of my house!"

Ge.   "Now, this is unjust. A slave is not allowed to plead, or give evidence."

Dem.   "That is all very well. But he was not compelled to marry the girl. Why did he not pay the dowry, and let her find another husband?"

Ge.   "But where was the money to come from?"

Dem.   "He might have found it somewhere."

Ge.   "Where? It's easy enough to say."

Dem.   "He might have borrowed it."

Ge.   "That is good. Who would have lent it while his father was alive?"

Dem.   "Anyhow, I won't allow the marriage to stand, no, not for a day. But where is that fellow?"

Ge.   "You mean Phormio?"

Dem.   "Yes, the woman's advocate."

Ge.   "Oh! he'll be here soon, I warrant."

Dem.   "Well, tell Antipho I want to see him. I shall look up some friends, and have it out with this fellow Phormio."

Geta lost no time in finding Phormio, and telling him of the old man's fury. The adventurer was very little concerned at the prospect. "I have nothing to lose," he said. "Suppose he gets a verdict against me, and puts me in prison. Well, he'll have to keep me, and I have an excellent appetite."

"Ah!" said Geta, "he's coming, and in a fine rage."

Phormio (to Geta, but speaking loud that Demipho, who has come in with his friends, may hear him).   "And he positively asserts that Phanium is not a relative!"

Ge.   "He does."

Dem. (to his friends).   "I do believe that he is talking about me. Come a little nearer."

Phor.   "And that he does not know who her father was?"

Ge.   "Just so."

Phor.   "Because the poor girl was left without money, her father is forgotten and she herself neglected. See what the love of money does!"

Ge. (who pretends to be indignant).   "Don't abuse my master, or it will be the worse for you."

Dem. (aside).   "Why, the fellow is absolutely abusing me!"

Phor.   "I have nothing to say against the young man for not knowing my old friend. He was an elderly man, always busy, and seldom coming to town. He rented a farm of my father. He used to tell me, I remember, that his kinsman Demipho took no notice of him. But what a man he was! The very best fellow I ever saw!"

Dem. (advancing).   "Young man, I have just a question to ask you. Tell me who this friend of yours was, and how he was related to me."

Phor.   "As if you didn't know!"

Dem.   "I know!"

Phor.   "Of course you know."

Dem.   "I declare that I don't."

Phor.   "Not know the name of your own cousin?"

Dem.   "Tell me yourself."

Phor. (in a whisper to Geta).   "I have forgotten. What was it?"

Ge. (in a whisper).   "Stilpho."

Phor.   "Well, if I must tell you, it was Stilpho."

Dem.   "What did you say?"

Phor.   "Stilpho; do you know the name?"

Dem.   "I never heard of the man, and certainly never had any relative of the name."

Phor.   "But if he had left three thousand pounds—"

Dem.   "Confound you!"

Phor.   "1 warrant you would have had his whole pedigree at your fingers' ends."

Dem.   "But you haven't told me how the girl was related to me."

Phor.   "I explained the matter quite satisfactorily to the right persons,—that is, the judges. If it was not true, why did not your son disprove it?"

Dem.   "My son, indeed! the poor fool!"

Phor.   "Very good; if you are so wise, go to the court, and ask for another trial. You are master here; and though no one else can have a cause tried twice over, you must have your own way."

Dem.   "Well, I know that I've been cheated. Still, to save trouble, I will suppose that the girl is related to me. Take her away, and I'll pay twenty pounds."

Phor.   "A pretty story, indeed! A girl is married, and you propose to give her a paltry sum of money, and send her away!"

Dem.   "Well, I'll manage it somehow, and not rest till I have."

Phor.   "Demipho, I have nothing to do with you. It is your son that is concerned, not you. You are too old to marry."

Dem.   "I shall turn him out of my house, if he objects."

Phor.   "My dear sir, would it not be better to put up with what can't be undone? Let us be friends."

Dem.   "Friends! As if I wanted to be friends with you!"

Phor.   "Make it up with her, and she'll be such a comfort to your old age. Remember your years, my dear sir."

Dem.   "She may comfort you; I don't want her."

Phor.   "Don't be angry!"

Dem.   "Enough of this! Except you take the woman away immediately, I'll turn her out of doors. That is my last word, Phormio."

Phor.   "Lay a finger on her, and I'll have you up before the court. That is my last word, Demipho."

The old gentleman now proceeded to ask his friends what they thought about the matter. The first thought that what had been done in Demipho's absence might be considered null and void; the second that a legal decision once given could not be invalidated; the third suggested that the matter should be postponed. Demipho was no wiser than before, and resolved to refer the matter to his brother, who was hourly expected to return.

Meanwhile Phædria's love affair had gone wrong. The music-girl's owner had received a good offer for her, and declared that he should accept it. "You," he said, brutally, to the young man, "are all tears and no money. I have found some one who is all money and no tears. You must give way to your better." Nothing could persuade him. "Pay the money to-morrow, or she'll be sold," was his last word as he turned away. Phædria was in despair; without the girl, he felt life was not worth living. The only scrap of comfort he got was that Geta declared that, by hook or by crook, he would get the money for him.

While this was going on, Chremes had returned from Lemnos. It must be here explained that, some years before, he had contracted a secret marriage in that place, and had had a daughter born to him. His brother knew all about it, and it had been arranged between the two that Antipho should marry his unknown cousin. Chremes had intended to bring the girl home on the present occasion, but found that she and her mother had disappeared. They had gone to Athens, so he heard from their neighbours, to look for him. This was disturbing news, and it was met by the equally unwelcome intelligence which Demipho had to communicate, that the intended bridegroom had made another match.

While they were considering what should be done, Geta approached. He had been talking, he said, with Phormio, and that ingenious adventurer had devised a scheme which would get rid of the difficulty and at the same time be of advantage to himself. "I long wanted "—this was the substance of Phormio's words, as the slave reported them—"to marry the daughter of my old friend. I saw how unsuitable it would be that a penniless girl should enter a wealthy house such as your master's. But to tell you the truth, I wanted a wife who would bring me something to set me free from sundry difficulties. I have my eye upon a girl who would suit me; but if Demipho will make it worth my while, I will throw her over and marry Phanium. I have mortgaged a little property that I have for fifty pounds."

At this point Demipho broke in impatiently:

"Well, I don't mind so much. I will give him the fifty pounds."

Geta went on with his report: "Then I have a house mortgaged for so much more."

Dem.   "That is too much."

Chremes.   "Hush! He may look to me for this fifty."

Geta continued: "My wife must have a maid. I shall want a little more furniture. Then the marriage expenses will be something. Suppose we say fifty pounds more."

Dem.   "The scoundrel! Let him do his worst!"

Chr.   "Do be quiet. If only Antipho marries the girl that you and I mean for him, it will be well. I'll pay this fifty, too. Happily I have some money of my wife's in hand. I'll tell her that you wanted it."

Unluckily Antipho had overheard the dialogue, and was furious at the thought that he was to be robbed of his wife. No sooner had the old gentleman disappeared than he rushed at Geta, and struck him. The slave had no little difficulty in pacifying him. "It's only a scheme for getting the old men's money," he said. "The marriage will never come off; of that you may rest assured." With this assurance Antipho had to be content.

While this was going on a mutual recognition had taken place. Phanium's nurse, Sophrona, had heard of Demipho's indignation at his son's marriage with her charge, and was terribly alarmed at the prospect of trouble that seemed in store for the young bride. Her only hope was in finding the missing father. At this moment she heard her own name softly called. It was Chremes. "Look at me," he said.

Sophrona.   "Is that Stilpho?"

Chr.   "No."

Soph.   "You deny it?"

Chr.   "Come away; never call me by that name again."

Soph.   "What? are you not what you always said you were?"

Chr.   "Hush!"

Soph.   "Why do you look at that door? What are you afraid of?"

Chr.   "I have an angry wife inside there. I called myself Stilpho over at Lemnos, lest the affair should reach her ears."

Soph.   "And so that's the reason why we could never find you."

Chr.   "Where are they?"

Soph.   "Your daughter is alive. Her mother died a little time ago."

Chr.   "That is a bad job."

Soph.   "What was I to do? I had nothing; nobody knew me; I married your daughter to the young man who is master of the house there."

Chr.   "What? to Antipho?"

Soph.   "Yes—his name is Antipho."

Chr.   "Has the fellow two wives, then?"

Soph.   "No; certainly not."

Chr.   "What about the other—the cousin, then?"

Soph.   "Why, it's the same person. That is your daughter Phanium."

Chr.   "Heaven be thanked! That's exactly what I wanted, and it has all come to pass without my doing anything."

Demipho had by this time paid the money agreed upon to Phormio. The arrangement only half pleased him. "We encourage these fellows to be scoundrels by our easiness," he said. Still, he could only hope the best. The next thing he had to do was to persuade Chremes's wife Nausistrata to undertake the unpleasant task of breaking the thing to Antipho's young wife. She had already helped him more than once, and this would be another act of kindness.

"You are very welcome," replied Nausistrata; "I only wish I could have done more, but my husband is a very poor man of business. He does not manage things as my father did. He used to get nearly five hundred pounds out of the property, and that when prices were much lower than they are now."

"Five hundred pounds!" said Demipho.

"Yes," said Nausistrata, "I only wish that I had been born a man. I would show them."

As she spoke she saw Chremes, who was, of course, greatly excited by the identification of his missing daughter with the orphan girl whom Antipho had married.

"Have you paid the money?" he asked his brother.

Dem.   "Yes, I have."

Chr.   "I wish that you had not. Ah! there is Nausistrata."

Dem.   "But why not?"

Chr.   "It's all right."

Dem.   "How about the girl?"

Chr.   "She can't be sent away. The young people love each other too much."

Dem.   "But what does that matter to us?"

Chr.   "Very much. She is a relative, after all. There was a mistake about the father's name."

Dem.   "What? she did not know her own father?"

Chr.   "Oh! she knew it."

Dem.   "Then why did she say something else?"

Chr.   "Don't you understand? You are ruining me."

Nausistrata.   "What is it all about?"

Dem.   "I am sure I don't know."

Chr.   "If you must know, as I am alive, she has no nearer relatives than you and me."

Dem.   "Good heavens! Let us go and see her. We all ought to know whether this is true or not."

Chr.   "Stop! stop!"

Dem.   "Well, what is to be done about our friend's daughter?"

Chr.   "All right."

Dem.   "We are to drop her?"

Chr.   "Yes."

Dem.   "And the other girl is to stop?"

Chr.   "Certainly."

Naus.   "I think that would be best, for she seemed a very ladylike young person, when I saw her."

So saying, Nausistrata disappeared into the house. Chremes made sure that the door was shut, and then turning to his brother, exclaimed: "It is an interposition of Providence; Antipho's wife is my daughter Phanium."

Geta had contrived to overhear what had been going on, and was not long in telling the news to Antipho. The only difficulty that remained, concerned the money that the two old men had paid to Phormio as a consideration for marrying the girl whom, before they knew who she really was, they had been so anxious to get rid of. Phormio, true to his character, took the bull by the horns. He called at Demipho's house, and inquired for the master.

Dem. (coming from behind).   "Ah, Phormio! we were just on our way to you."

Phor.   "I dare say on the same business that brought me here. Well, gentlemen, I am a poor man, but I have always kept my promises. I came to say that I am quite ready to marry."

Dem.   "Well, to tell the truth, we have thought it over again. It might have been done before the girl was married to Antipho, but it would hardly do to turn her out. Just what you said yourself, you remember."

Phor.   "This is pretty treatment, gentlemen."

Dem.   "How so?"

Phor.   "Because now I have lost the other girl. How can I go back after I have jilted her?"

Dem.   "The truth is that my son won't give up the girl. To cut it short, I want you to pay back the money."

Phor.   "If you are ready to hand over to me the wife you promised me, very good; I will marry her. Failing that, I keep her dowry. It is only fair, because I gave up for her another girl who had just as much."

Dem.   "Pay me the money, you scoundrel!"

Phor.   "Give me the wife."

Dem.   "Come along to the magistrates."

Phor.   "Now, if you are going to be troublesome, I have something to say. I know a lady whose husband—"

Chr.   "How!"

Phor.   "Had another wife at Lemnos."

Chr.   "I am undone!"

Phor.   "And had a daughter by her."

Chr.   "For heaven's sake, don't say anything about it."

Phor.   "Oh! you are the man, are you?"

After some more angry parleyings, the two old men caught hold of Phormio, and tried to drag him away; Phormio, on the other hand, struggled to get to the door of Chremes's house. Finding that the two were too strong for him, he shouted out, "Nausistrata!" at the top of his voice. "Stop the villain's mouth!" cried Chremes. "I can't," said Demipho, "he's too strong." —"Nausistrata!" shouted Phormio again, and Nausistrata appeared. "Who calls me?" she asked, "and what is all this disturbance about?" Phormio told the story, Chremes cowering in abject fear. Demipho's intercession and her husband's misery, along with the reflection that what was done could not be undone, did something to mitigate Nausistrata's wrath; but before she had brought herself to forgive the culprit, Phormio thought it well to secure himself and his young friend Phædria. "Nausistrata," he said, "I got one hundred and fifty pounds from your husband by a trick, and gave them to your son. He spent them in buying a wife."

Chr.   "What do you say? Buying a wife?"

Naus.   "Pray why not? If an old man has two wives, may not a young one have one?"

Dem.   "He will do what you like."

Naus.   "Well, I sha'n't forgive him, till I hear what my son has to say. He shall decide. And you, sir, what is your name?"

Phor.   "My name is Phormio; a friend of your family, madam, and a particular ally of your son Phædria."

Naus.   "Phormio, rely on my doing hereafter all I can for you."

Phor.   "I am greatly obliged to you, madam."

Naus.   "The obligation is with us, sir."

Phor.   "Would you do something that would please me and make your husband's eyes smart?"

Naus.   "Certainly."

Phor.   "Then ask me to dinner to-day."

Naus.   "I shall be happy to see you, sir."

Dem.   "Let us all go in."

Chr.   "But where is Phædria, who is to be my judge?"

Phor.   "He'll be here before long, I warrant."