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One of only two Roman comedies to stage no female character, Plautus’ Trinummus has been dismissed as dull by scholars from Wilamowitz to Segal to Sharrock. I ar­gue that it is an overlooked source on women’s lives: in its contin­uous fuss about providing a dowry for an off-stage daughter, Trinummus offers tantalizing perspectives on women’s marriages that have been over­looked in its scanty scholarship.

The plot: as his son Lesbonicus has run through much of the family’s estate (rem confregit, 108), the senex Charmides fears po­verty for him­self and dire prospects for his daughter, who will soon be ready for marriage. He sets off to repair the family finances, entrusting her and 3,000 gold coins to his friend Callicles, with instructions to arrange a worthy match for her (dignam condi­cionem, 159) if his quest fails.

Although she remains unseen, this girl is the play’s greatest concern. Plautus surrounds her with an improbable crew of four senes—snoopy fairy god­fa­thers—and two adulescentes, working to help her. They consider her dowry a matter of broad social interest, as the sign of her family’s commit­ment to her. Its importance is marked when Callicles exclaims flagitium quidem hercle fiet, nisi dos dabitur virgini! (611). To rescue her from a bad future, Lysiteles (the neighboring adulescens) offers to marry her without a dowry. Ashamed of himself, Lesbonicus rejects the offer and promises the family farm as her dowry (507-10)—he cannot let his own irresponsibility (meam neglegen­tiam, 585) damage his sister. Even facing destitution (688-92), he won’t let her become little more than a slave to her husband (690-93; cf. Aulularia). Char­mides returns just in time, with a dowry (1159-60), to settle everything.

This plot is driven by a comic con­spi­racy of men, some guided only by interest in what is so­cially right, to put this girl into a good marriage. They want her well-treated, respected by husband, new family, neigh­bors. The poisonous ef­fects of gossip are a theme: her protectors know that an undowered wo­man faces an unhappy, in­se­cure life.

Roman comedy shows much concern about citizen daughters, chiefly in women fearing the risks of rape, pregnancy, and ruin to such girls (Hecyra, Epidicus, Cistellaria; James). Trinummus testifies to broad anxiety about daughters among men, even outside the family. Awareness that a citi­zen girl can slide into concubinage (concubinatum, 690), if her male kin neglect her, haunts this play, and the conspiracy to prevent that fate shows men­ recog­niz­ing that mar­riage affects a woman’s happiness and well-being (Phormio), as well as her general respectability. It is natural that fathers seek stable, fulfilling marriages, with respectful hus­bands, for their daughters (Andria, Hecyra). But in Trinummus, non-kin men act to secure a girl’s safety and happiness, even as they com­plain about their own wives (42-64). Their striking concern for such emo­tional issues suggests that the more tender, less utili­tarian attitude toward girls in the elite Republican family, identified by Hallett, is widespread across Roman society, extending beyond family bonds even to relative strangers.