This quote is taken early in the play when Menaechmus I exits his house. The words here are addressed to his wife, who is interested in finding what her husband is doing, where he is going and other details about his day. Menaechmus I gets angry, feeling as if he is interrogated by his wife. Menaechmus I criticizes her and claims he owes her no explanation because he takes care of her needs and offers her everything she could every want. This shows that for the men of that age, providing food and other necessities for their wives was enough and they did not felt the need to give them other details. In this sense, the wife and the husband lived separate lives, not getting involved in the activities performed by the other.
The woman flatters him, as long as she sees what he's stolen.
These words are uttered when Menaechmus I presents Erotium with the dress he stole from his wife. When she sees her dress, her behavior changes in a matter of minutes and she becomes sweet and loving. The reason why she acts in such a way is because she wants to profit from Menaechmus I and get the dress even though she knows it once belonged to Menaechmus I's wife. This shows that for Erotium, money and financial gain are the most important things in the world, and that she does not care if a man loves her or not, as long as he gives her what she wants.
The lowly, lazy louts get whips and chains,
And milestones, great starvation, freezing cold.
The price for all their misbehaviors: pains.
The words from above are uttered by a slave, someone whose whole purpose in life is to serve a single person. Messenio knows how "bad’’ servants are treated and he reveals their situation through the quote above. The servants during that time had no human value for their masters. More than often, the servants were treated worse than animals, being abused physically, mentally and even sexually. The reason why the servants listened to their masters most of the time was not because they loved them, but because they were afraid of them and of what would happen to them if they were to disobey. Thus, their service was often the result of fear.
That's why this place is called Epidamnus; scarcely anybody can come here without getting damned.
Messenio warns his master of this place upon their arrival, telling him about cheats and whores and other licentious figures. Menaechmus II is ironically concerned for Messenio, but then turns out to be the character who most succumbs to the Epidamnian wares. In reality, this tells us more about Menaechmus II than the town, for every place has such vices if you're willing to look. Menaechmus II only resists a little bit before allowing himself to be lured in Erotium's house, even though he suspects her of madness and has no claim to what she offers. Menaechmus I may be a wayward husband, but his twin is also an immoral character.
The gods are certainly supporting and supplying and sustaining me.
This is an amusing and ironic comment on the part of Menaechmus II. After securing the favors of Erotium and her table, he marvels at his fortune. However, he concludes, perhaps erroneously, that the gods are setting these wonderful things up for himself. In reality, the dinner and the woman were intended for his twin brother, Menaechmus I, and there is nothing special about Menaechmus II other than that he is indeed a twin. Yet, we must pause and consider what has happened and wonder if since the gods can see everything and affect everything, did they not allow this to happen for Menaechmus II? Was there some divine intervention we are not privy to? He did indeed get these wonderful things and did not have to pay anything for them, so perhaps he is favored by the gods.
The pirate ship has got the pinnace steered straight on the rocks!
Messenio watches his master succumb to the wiles of Erotium, even though he does not know her and thinks her crazy, and bemoans his master's fate. He compares Menaechmus II to a pirate ship about to crash itself on the "rocks" of Erotium. The critic Maria Marsilio notes the Greek word used for ship—nauis—is used over one hundred times in Plautus, and suggests that here particularly it is laced with sexual double entendre. Messenio also wails, "The way things look so far, there's booty to be had!" (75), affirming the multiplicitous meaning of the language.
After today you won't set foot inside this house again—don't fool yourself. You trifle with the affections of an innocent woman! Unless you bring me money, you haven't got a chance to see me again.
Erotium is a prostitute, yes—she has sex with men for money and gifts and compliments. However, she is arguably a more powerful woman than the Wife is, for she controls her own house, calls her own shots, speaks boldly when she pleases, and shows her emotions. Here she lambasts Menaechmus II, thinking it is Menaechmus I, revealing her autonomy and conviction. She doesn't need him, and she will be just fine without his obtrusive behavior. For a woman in ancient Greece, this is about as close to power as a woman can get.
Menaechmus I: I suppose you know why the Greek used to call Hecuba the bitch?
Menaechmus I: Because she acted just like you: she showered abuse on everybody in sight. That's how she got to be called the bitch—and she deserved it, too.
There are numerous allusions to characters and figures from ancient Greece, all of whom would have been very familiar to the contemporary Plautine audience. Here Menaechmus I tells his wife she is like Hecuba the bitch, referring to King Priam's wife and mother to Andromeda, Hector, Paris, and Cassandra, among others. After the Trojan War she was taken prisoner by Agamemnon. She was later turned into a dog for her angry and vengeful behavior in putting out Polymestor's eyes and killing his two sons after they betrayed her own son who'd been in their care. While many consider her a moving and compelling character, Menaechmus I is using the "bitch" part of her story to insult his Wife.
Apollo from his oracle bids me burn her eyes out with flaming torches!
Another charge at him, Apollo, to the death? (Pretending to have a change of fit). But who is this who drags me from the chariot by the hair? O edict of Apollo, thy command is maimed!
When Menaechmus II is trying to convince the Wife and the Father that he is crazy, he utters such phrases as the one above. It is well known that Bacchus is associated with madness and frenzy, but Apollo? Why invoke the god of wisdom? The critic Lydia Baumbach puzzles over this as well, but concludes that the answer probably lies in the commonly-accepted dual natures of the gods. She writes, "Artemis, e.g., is both huntress and protectress of wild animals. So Apollo is seen (e.g. in the first book of the Iliad) as both bringer of plague (the Far Shooter) and the healer. Here Apollo may be seen as the bringer of madness, but also as the one who restrains Menaechmus from attacking the old man."
Has he the lethargy, or the subcutaneous humours?
Some modern readers/audiences may not be familiar with the humours and thus not understand why the Doctor wonders if Menaechmus is afflicted by them. The four humours, according to ancient and medieval medicine and most likely first explicated by Hippocrates, were: (1) Melancholic, or black bile; associated with old age, the Earth, Winter, and cold and dry qualities; (2) Phlegmatic, or phlegm; associated with maturity, Water, Autumn, and cold and moist qualities; (3) Choleric, or yellow bile; associated with childhood, Fire, Summer, and hot and dry qualities; (4) Sanguine, or blood; associated with adolescence, Spring, Air, and hot and moist qualities. Thus, the Doctor sees a potential humour imbalance, causing Menaechmus's putative madness.
The Brothers Menaechmus Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Brothers Menaechmus is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.