The Hecyra was a failure at its first two stagings. The first in 165 BC was disrupted, when a rumor spread that a tightrope-walker and boxers were about to perform. In 160 BC the production was cancelled when the theater was stormed by a group of rowdy gladiator fans. It was presented successfully only at its third attempt later that same year.
A musical phrase accompanying a single line of Hecyra was copied in the 18th century by Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli from a 10th-century manuscript and was for a long time believed to be all that remains of the entire body of ancient Roman music. However, musicologist Thomas J. Mathiesen comments that it is no longer believed to be authentic.
The son of the elderly Laches and wife Sostrata, a young man named Pamphilus is enamored with a prostitute, Bacchis, yet in a drunken fit one night, he decides to debauch a young woman named Philumena, the daughter of Phidippus and Myrrhina. After a struggle, he rapes Philumena and from her finger tears a ring that he afterwards gives to his girlfriend, Bacchis.
After some hesitation, Pamphilus finally consents to an arranged marriage. By chance, the woman chosen for him is Philumena, and she alone knows that she had been raped by an unidentified man, and she hopes that her disgrace is concealed. After the young man and woman are married, Bacchis rejects Pamphilus, and the latter becomes more and more enamored with his new wife.
Next, Pamphilus is called away from the city, and Philumena finds herself pregnant from the rape. She fears detection, and she especially avoids her mother-in-law, Sostrata. She returns to her parents' home, where Sostrata seeks her, but Philumena claims illness and will not allow the mother-in-law inside the house.
Pamphilus returns home during the birth of the baby, and the situation brings him great distress. Myrrhina, the wife of Phidippus, then begs him to keep the pregnancy a secret, but he declines to take back Philumena. Laches then states that Pamphilus is still enamored with Bacchis, but this supposition is proven untrue. It is then that the stolen ring is discovered on Bacchis's finger, and Pamphilus realizes the baby is his: He happily takes back his wife and new son.