The Rudens or “The Rope” is one of the plays whose prologue is spoken by a deity, in this case Arcturus, the brightest star in the constellation Boötes. Arcturus informs us that, like other constellations, he descends from heaven in daytime to see which humans are good and which are bad. The good receive divine reward, the bad retribution. Our play is set on the coast of Cyrene, a city in what is now Libya; here there is a good man called Daemones and a bad man called Labrax. Daemones is an Athenian who had to emigrate because he lost his money by helping others. Daemones and his wife have a daughter, but she was kidnapped when she was a small child and could not be retrieved. Labrax is a pimp who bought the daughter of Daemones from a pirate. He did not know whose child she was, and to stop her finding her parents again kept a little box with her valuable miniature tokens safely stowed away; such miniature tokens were often given to children in case they got lost, as a means of finding their relatives again. When Palaestra, the daughter of Daemones, was older, a young Athenian called Plesidippus fell in love with her and asked the pimp if he could buy her. An agreement was reached and Plesidippus paid a deposit. The pimp, however, did not intend to keep the agreement. Rather, he decided to emigrate to Sicily, as a guest of his, a certain
Charmides, told him that he could make great profit there. Plesidippus was supposed to meet Labrax at the temple of Venus, but Labrax loaded all his possessions, including Palaestra and her companion Ampelisca, onto a ship and left together with Charmides the night before our play begins. As the constellation Boötes was in antiquity considered to cause storms, Arcturus raised one that damaged the house of Daemones but, more important, destroyed the ship of Labrax. The two girls managed to escape on the ship’s boat, whereas the two men had to try to swim to the shore.
Our play begins with Daemones and a slave of his, Sceparnio, repairing the house. While they are working, they encounter Plesidippus and his friends, who have got wind of Labrax’s actions and are trying to find him. Neither Daemones nor Sceparnio has seen anyone fitting the description given by Plesidippus, but since they spot people trying to swim to the shore, Plesidippus and his friends rush there. After Daemones and Sceparnio go back into their house, Palaestra appears; because she has lost Ampelisca and cannot find any signs of human habitation, she is in despair. Some time later we see Ampelisca, who has also survived and is looking for her companion. They eventually meet and find the temple of Venus, where they are received hospitably by the priestess Ptolemocratia.
Next we come across fishermen describing their hard lot. Trachalio, a slave of Plesidippus, asks them for information about the pimp and about his master, but they have not seen anyone. However, when Ampelisca is sent to the house of Daemones, Trachalio meets her and hears about the goings-on the night before. It becomes apparent that he is in love with Ampelisca. He goes into the temple