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In this play we have two brothers, Demipho and Chremes. Chremes had married a lady of property, named Nausistrata, whose estates lay in the island of Lemnos, and by whom he had a son called Phaedria. Once a year Chremes used to go to Lemnos to collect his rents, and used to stay there on each occasion rather longer than was necessary, while the rents which he brought home to his wife were less than in former times when the prices of farm produce was not so high as at this time (compare v. 8. 23, 24, and v. 3. 4--8), which appeared unaccountable to his wife, who did not however suspect him of any thing beyond carelessness and indolence in the management of her business. But it had happened that about fifteen years before the events of this play he had fallen in love with a Lemnian woman, by whom he had a daughter called Phanium. So for fifteen years he had two wives and two establishments, with perfect secrecy, for at Lemnos he went by the name of Stilpho; while he put off his wife's complaints about the short rents by excuses of bad times, ill health, and so on. His brother Demipho had a son named Antipho, and they had agreed that Chremes should now go to Lemnos, and bring over his wife and daughter, and that the cousins should be married at once, Phanium passing for the daughter of a friend. With this object Chremes now makes his yearly visit to Lemnos; and Demipho at the same time goes to Cilicia, where he expects to find a large fortune; while their two sons, Antipho and Phaedria, are left under the charge of Geta, an old family servant of Demipho's, who acted as their paedagogue. At first Geta endeavoured to discharge his duty to his master faithfully; but finding that this conduct got him nothing but abuse, he altered his line, and gave his two pupils every indulgence they demanded. This soon produced the results which might have been anticipated. Phaedria fell madly in love with a music girl, whom he diligently escorted every day to and from the school where she used to go for her finishing lessons; but his case was desperate, for he had not a farthing, and she could not be got from Dorio, the 'leno,' without hard cash. Nor was it long before Antipho got into a similar scrape, which had a very different end, but one quite as embarrassing to him. For when Chremes reached Lemnos he found that his birds had flown. Phanium and her mother, tired of waiting for him, now that Phanium was grown up, had started for Athens in search of him, with their nurse Sophrona. They inquire every where for Stilpho, but no such person is to be heard of, and they are reduced to great distress, in consequence of which the mother dies soon after their arrival. By a singular chance Antipho happens at this moment to see Phanium, as she is lamenting the death of her mother, and falls desperately in love with her at first sight. He goes to Sophrona, who will not consent to allow any acquaintance but on condition of marriage; and Antipho will sacrifice himself to a girl without a penny rather than lose her altogether. But how is the marriage to be brought about without exposing Antipho to his father's most severe censure? It is managed in the following way. Phormio, a parasite, who seems to have been under considerable obligations to these young men in the way of good living (see ii. 2. 22), gives him this advice. There is an Athenian law, that orphans should be taken in marriage or portioned out by their nearest relation. He will pretend to be Phanium's guardian, and will bring an action against Antipho, as her nearest relation, and as Antipho has no money he will of course be obliged to marry her. So Demipho will not be able to say a word. The plan succeeds to admiration. Phormio gains his suit, and Antipho immediately marries Phanium. He is devoted to his wife, but lives in continual dread of his father's return; and is quite as wretched in consequence of his success as Phaedria is because his case is hopeless.

At this point (Act i. Sc. 4) the action of the play commences. Demipho comes back from Cilicia, and immediately hears the unwelcome news that his son has married a pauper; and he at once attacks Geta, Antipho having made a hasty retreat, who defends himself as best he can, and begins the second plot which they have in hand for obtaining money for Phaedria, who is now driven to the last extremity; for Dorio has given him notice that if thirty minae are not forthcoming by the next day, Pamphila, the music girl, will be sold. Geta pretends therefore that Phormio will be very glad to take Phanium off their hands if they will make it worth his while to do so; for he has certain debts, and is already under an engagement to marry a lady who will bring him a sufficient portion to enable him to clear them off. He must therefore have thirty minae, and he will settle the matter for them. After some trouble the affair is arranged. Phormio receives the money, and at once carries it off to Phaedria, who purchases his Pamphila at once, and is made supremely happy; while poor Antipho is more wretched than ever, and accuses Geta of blundering stupidity in thus arranging to get rid of his wife for him. Chremes, meanwhile, has returned from Lemnos, and is in great perplexity about his wife and daughter. He is as anxious as Demipho can be to get rid of this wife of Antipho's, and does his best to persuade his brother to arrange matters with Phormio. After this affair is settled he goes to make inquiries for his family from Lemnos, when he falls in with Sophrona, and finds to his unbounded astonishment that this wife of Antipho, whom they have been so anxious to get rid of, is no other than his own daughter Phanium. This discovery is imparted to Demipho after an amusing scene of hints rendered necessary by the presence of Nausistrata (Act v. Sc. 3); and the two old men are now as anxious to be off their bargain with Phormio as they were to make it, and above all to get back the thirty minae which the parasite had taken as Phanium's portion. But they do not find it very easy to manage their scheme. Phormio is ready enough to give up Phanium, but has no intention of parting with the money; and when the old men attempt by fair means or foul to get it back, Chremes discovers to his horror that Phormio has discovered the secret of Phanium's parentage, which Geta had overheard when Chremes first recognized his daughter in Demipho's house. The result of all is that Phormio tells the whole story to Nausistrata. Chremes is utterly confounded, and is quite unable to blame his son for his amour with the music girl, when Phaedria describes to Nausistrata the purpose for which the thirty minae were obtained. The play ends with a conditional forgiveness of Chremes, and an invitation to supper for Phormio.

In the character of Phormio Terence copied from an original, in which the standing idea of the parasite was strictly observed. See notes on Act ii. Scene 2. We have seen a very different idea, though with the same fondness for good living, worked out in the Eunuchus. See the Introduction to that play. Phormio is, however, a very capital specimen of his class, and shows far more readiness and amiability than most of the tribe. It is not unworthy of remark that this play is said by some to have been acted four times in one year. At all events, this and the Eunuchus, the two most spirited of Terence's plays, came on the stage within six months.

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