Brush enters, lamenting that when he followed Menaechmus I into the assembly he lost him. He rues that men are called in to these assemblies, especially the men who have offered him dinner. He decides to go to Erotium’s house to see if there is anything left, as he is sure the dinner has already been consumed.
As he approaches, he sees Menaechmus II exit drunkenly from Erotium’s house and sighs that the dinner must be over.
Brush is listening as Menaechmus II tells Erotium he will take the dress for embroidering, and vows to get even with Menaechmus II for eating without him.
Menaechmus II marvels to himself about his good fortune and his decision to just ignore the crazy woman’s words and have a good time. He is surprised to see Brush coming right up to him, and even more surprised when Brush starts lambasting him for being “scum” and a “crook” (77) and sneaking away from him at the assembly.
Menaechmus II asks Brush why he is insulting a perfect stranger and tells him to stop making a nuisance of himself. Brush asks if he would deny his own parasite and then asks if he stole the dress from his wife to give to Erotium. Menaechmus II protests he has no wife and did not steal a dress, and orders Brush away. Furious, Brush announces he will tell Menaechmus II’s wife everything and “all your insults will come back on you” (78). He leaves Menaechmus II wondering what is going on.
Erotium’s maid opens the door and gives a bracelet to Menaechmus II, saying her mistress wants him to take this to the jeweler and have an ounce of gold added to it. Menaechmus II agrees to this, and to the maid’s claim that he stole this from his wife.
Once the maid is back inside, Menaechmus II marvels that “the gods are certainly supporting and supplying and sustaining me” (79). He decides to find Messenio and tell him of his good fortune.
Brush has just told Menaechmus I’s wife about everything her husband has done, and she is ruing her situation. Brush points out that Menaechmus I is coming towards them.
Menaechmus I complains aloud of how he was called in to the assembly to defend “one poor sinner” (80) and thus missed dinner with Erotium. It is an annoying custom for the well-to-do like himself to be called in on law-days, and he cries, “May heaven destroy the man who’s made a ruin so complete of all my day—and me, who in the law-courts set my feet!” (81).
He approaches Erotium’s house, sure that she is mad at him but hoping the dress will please her.
Brush and the Wife accost Menaechmus I before he can go inside. The Wife asks him if he really thought he could get away with all this and he pretends he does not know what she is talking about. Brush intervenes and says he did everything the Wife says, and he denied Brush his dinner.
Menaechmus I is legitimately confused when Brush mentions the dress being sent to the embroiderer’s, and when Brush accuses him of having eaten dinner already without him, Menaechmus I asserts he did not step foot in Erotium’s house today, but Brush tells him he was rude to him so he’s told the Wife everything.
Menaechmus I looks imploringly at the Wife and asks what stories Brush has been telling her and what is the matter. She is angry and says she knows about the dress being stolen from her. Brush adds that this is true and Menaechmus I took the dress to Erotium. Menaechmus I says he only lent it to her and will get it back. The Wife tells him he better or he will not be allowed in the house.
Brush asks the Wife what he gets for all he’s done for her, and she replies that “You’ll be repaid when something is stolen from your house” (84). She goes inside. Brush sighs angrily and proclaims he is done with this family. He departs.
Menaechmus I thinks to himself that he does not care if his wife kicks him out because he prefers Erotium anyway. He will asks for the dress back and buy her a better one.
Erotium comes outside and Menaechmus I asks for the dress back. Confused, Erotium says she gave it and the bracelet to him already. Menaechmus I does not understand this and says this is the first time he’s seen her since he left earlier. She believes he is trying to cheat her and angrily tells him he can keep it and he will never set foot inside this house again.
After she slams the door, Menaechmus I realizes how mad she is and calls for her to come back out. He rues that he is “the most shut out of men. They won’t believe anything I say at home or my mistress’s” (86), and decides he must go ask his friends what to do.
Both brothers endure many uncomfortable, if not downright vexing, encounters with the characters of Brush, the Wife, and Erotium. Both brothers protest rudely, splutter their indignation, and occasionally resort to insults. Menaechmus II doesn’t even stop to think that the entire reason for his journey—finding his identical twin—might be what gives rise to these odd incidents. Menaechmus I doesn’t probe deeply at all into how his “normal” life could be so turned upside down, but rather endures the oddness almost passively.
First, a word on Brush, the parasite. His name, Peninculus, means “small penis,” and his nickname of Brush references the brushing of crumbs off the table. Parasites were common figures in Greek drama, desirous only of a good dinner and willing to debase himself to attain it. The scholar David Maggard Major explains that “the Parasite was recognized immediately by his hooked nose, ridiculous padding, and dark garb.” Carl Elmer Armeling provides more background about the Plautine parasite: “The parasite is a free-born man, but has been ruined on account of his own or his father’s debt and tortured by chronic hunger which has forced him to start on the hunt of a free table . . . In return for the food treatment he receives he offers his unlimited stock of witticisms and practical jokes and particularly must he be pleased at everything on the part of his host. Outwardly submissive and full of approval and admiration, he feels himself inwardly far superior to his revered lord. Along with his cleverness and shrewdness which he makes so serviceable to his patron he also fully understands how to exploit his work for the enhanced claims of his stomach. Furthermore, his honor never deserts him . . . ”
The introduction of the Wife’s character is supposed to make Menaechmus I’s retreat into Erotium’s lair more understandable, but this whole domestic situation is a complicated one for the modern reader. The Wife endures her husband’s infidelity and lack of interest in her and their home, being told all the while that this is her lot in life and that it’s just what husbands do (this is even more forcefully expressed by the Wife’s Father, introduced later). She is caught between a rock and a hard place because if she asks him too many questions or tries to hold him accountable for his vices, she is now the nagging, needling one and apparently Menaechmus I is right to seek solace with his mistress. She is there to please her husband and take care of his needs, remaining quiet when he behaves badly because it is her sex’s fate to bear such things.
Naturally, this way of interpreting the wife’s role is not something most modern readers would approve of, but the Greeks and Romans would have been very much in the camp of seeing her as a villain and Menaechmus I as a classic, beleaguered husband. Scholar Erich Segal says the audience meets Menaechmus I “battling soldier-like against domestic oppression” and being driven to seek release. Erotium “represents [industria’s] polar opposite, pleasure personified.” The Wife and Erotium “dwell at the antipodes of human experience; Plautus states this in no uncertain terms.” Eleanor Winsor Leach agrees with Segal’s characterization of Menaechmus I, noting, “It is not, therefore, the domestic warfare itself, but the escape to the house of Erotium that gives occasion to Menaechmus’ illusions of glory. The military image belies his real situation, but expresses his wished-for image of himself.”
Additionally, the feast Erotium is preparing includes food, Segal explains, that was actually forbidden to Romans by the current laws and thus Menaechmus I was truly preparing to break the rules. Before engaging in such a feast, however, Menaechmus I is called to the commercial center to do his duty, once again stressing this duality of Roman life: “From business in the forum, he dashes to pleasure at its polar opposite: across the stage, at the house of Erotium. The antipodes of the Plautine world are industrial and volutes, forum and festivity” (Segal).