Terence (Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)
Terence c. 195/185 B. C.-159 B. C.
(Full name Publius Terentius Afer) Roman playwright.
Terence is best known for the elegant language, symmetrical plots, and complex, sympathetic characterizations exhibited in his six comedies. Though he has for the most part been viewed as a respected and influential author, Terence has also been criticized by commentators from his own time onward for closely basing his plays on earlier Greek models—a practice some reviewers have interpreted as imitation or even plagiarism. Today most scholars agree that although Terence used the forms and themes of Greek New Comedy, he created a new type of play that transcended its antecedents. Gilbert Norwood, for example, has praised Terence for his "splendid principle of accepting the traditional framework and evolving from it in a thoroughly serious, permanently interesting, type of drama."
Most of what is known about Terence's life is very uncertain and comes from a second-century biographical sketch by the Roman imperial biographer Suetonius, preserved in a commentary by Donatus, a fourth-century grammarian. Terence's exact date of birth is not known, but he was probably born in Carthage, North Africa, and brought to Rome as a slave when he was very young. He was then purchased by Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, who allowed Terence to be educated and eventually emancipated him; according to custom, Terence took his former owner's name upon being freed. Since Terence reportedly possessed great personal charm and soon demonstrated exceptional dramatic talent, he was quickly accepted into the circle of Scipio Aemilianus—a group of wealthy, well-placed young Roman aristocrats enamored of Greek culture and literature. This circle and their friends comprised Terence's main audience; he never enjoyed the widespread popularity of some of his contemporaries. In fact, a powerful critic of Terence's time, Luscius Lanuvinus, charged that Terence's plays were actually written by Scipio and his friends, and publicly accused Terence of plagiarizing the Greek dramatist Menander, and of "contaminating" his sources by mixing scenes and characters from various plays. In 159 B.C. Terence sailed for Greece, either to escape criticism at home or to become more familiar with the country. Some biographers claim that he was lost at sea on the way back, but the circumstances of his death remain unknown.
Terence wrote six comedies, each of which has survived.
All of them are close adaptations or translations of Greek plays, two (Hecyra, or The Mother-in-Law, and Phormio) by Apollodorus, and the other four by Menander. The earliest, Andria (The Girl from Andros,) recounts the travails of two young men, both in love, and both thwarted by their respective fathers. The Mother-in-Law, first produced in 165 B. C., failed three times before it was successfully produced in 160 B.C. Heautontimorumenos (The Self-Tormentor,) like The Girl from Andros, treats the problems of two young lovers. Considered Terence's most technically accomplished play, Eunuchus (The Eunich) describes the situation of Chaerea, one of Terence's most-discussed characters, who marries a girl he had earlier raped. In Phormio, a young husband must contend with a wife whom he erroneously believes to be carrying someone else's child. Terence's last play, Adelphoe (The Brothers,) compares two fathers—one too strict and one too lenient—and their two sons, in an exploration of the merits of different methods of childrearing. Terence's comedies are characterized by his pure, nearly perfect use of the Latin language, and by a sense of realism tempered by urbanity and restraint. Unlike earlier Roman dramatists who relied on raucous humor and vulgar language for comic effect, Terence favored correct, sophisticated speech and more use of dialogue than monologue. In characterization Terence also departed from earlier convention: rather than merely relying on stock character types, he made more use of irony and created more subtle, less predictable characters. Numerous critics have commented on Terence's humane and objective approach to characters and situations, citing his adherence to his well-known credo, "homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto" ("I am human myself, so I think every human affair is my concern"). Although his models came from Greek New Comedy, Terence depicted a distinctly Roman society, with all its foibles and eccentricities intact. The world of his plays, unlike earlier Roman drama, is an amoral one, however; Terence is more interested in describing and dissecting moral dilemmas than in suggesting the proper ways to solve them. In terms of dramatic structure, Terence's main contribution was his development of the double plot device, which allowed for a more balanced and complex development of plot, character, and theme, and which he utilized in all his plays except The Mother-in-Law.
Terence's plays are preserved in one incomplete ancient manuscript, the Codex Bembius, now located in the Vatican library. The number of extant manuscripts of his plays attests to Terence's enduring popularity despite his early quarrels with his critics: there are more that one hundred manuscripts dating from before the fourteenth century, and it is known that there were at least 446 complete editions of his comedies in existence prior to the year 1600. The medieval manuscripts have been traced to one original, probably dating from the fifth century. The first complete edition of Terence's works was printed in 1470. Modern translations of Terence's plays abound, the most notable among them being those by John Sargeaunt, Frank O. Copley, and the joint edition by Palmer Bovie, Constance Carrier, and Douglass Parker.
While in his own time Terence's plays were not popular with audiences, many ancient critics, for example Cicero and Julius Caesar, praised his graceful and correct handling of the Latin language. Caesar tempered his complimentary remarks by calling Terence a "half-Menander" and accusing him of a lack of comic vision. That charge and the question of whether Terence was an original playwright have been the two main areas of critical discussion concerning Terence's comedies. The majority of scholars aver that Terence's sense of comedy was very much intact, but admit that his plays sometimes strike audiences as somewhat monotonous or over-refined. Terence himself answered the charges of imitation in the prologues to his plays, including himself in the long, honorable tradition of younger writers paying tribute by copying their predecessors. Most critics believe that, while he was not an inherently original author, Terence artfully transformed the situations and themes of Greek New Comedy into a genuinely Roman milieu. In the Middle Ages there was a resurgence of interest in Terence's plays, and their texts served as the basis for Latin language curricula in schools and monasteries. The influence of Terence's comedies has also been traced to works of the Renaissance and the eighteenth century. Today Terence commands admiration for his humanistic approach to his characters, for the new directions he made possible in drama through his introduction of double plots, and for the excellence of his Latin. As Betty Radice has written, "He created a Latin style which was an admirable counterpart to the natural rhythms of Hellenic Greek, less rhetorical and dense, simpler and purer than anything before."
Andria 166 B. C. [The Girl from Andros]
Hecyra 165 B. C. [The Mother-in-Law]
Heautontimorumenos 163 B. C. [The Self-Tormentor]
Eunuchus 161 B. C. [The Eunich]
Phormio 161 B. C.
Adelphoe 160 B. C. [The Brothers]
PRINCIPAL ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS
The Comedies of Terence (translated by Sidney G. Ashmore, sec. ed.) 1910
Terence. 2 vols. (translated by John Sargeaunt; Loeb Classical Library edition) 1912
The Complete Roman Drama, Vol. II (translated by George E. Duckworth) 1962
Terence: Comedies (edited by Robert Graves, based on the translation by Lawrence Echard) 1963
Terence: The Comedies (translated by Betty Radice) 1965
The Comedies of Terence (translated by Frank O. Copley) 1967
The Complete Comedies of Terence (translated by Palmer Bovie, Constance Carrier, and Douglass Parker) 1974
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Joseph Webbe (essay date 1629)
SOURCE: An introduction to The First Comedy of Pub. Terentius, Called Andria by Terence, translated by Joseph Webbe, 1629. Reprint by The Scolar Press Limited, 1972, pp. iv-xviii.
[In the following excerpt, Webbe lavishly praises Terence's style and language, advising that, if his readers wish to improve their conversational skills, they need only read Terence as a guide.]
Two prime steps to perfection in any study, are choyce and vse of Authors. But how to chuse, and how to vse, are two great difficulties. Therefore to such as know nor, I will giue one Rule for both of them.
If any man commend an Author, or the way to vse him, looke vpon his perfection which commendeth them, in that particular in which they are commended. If he speake from priuate fancy, and shew no proofe thereof, neglect him. If from report of men sufficient; find out the Authors of that report, and iudge them by the Rule that's giuen you.
In our particular of pure Latinitie: They tell me, Erasmus, Scaliger, Heinsius, (with diuers other moderne and ancient Writers) commend our present Author, Terence. And this report by further inquisition I finde true; for though some of them were in yeeres, and cry'd vp for great Scholers, yet they would be alwayes reading him; admiring nothing more, than his sweet Language, and...
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Lawrence Echard (essay date 1694)
SOURCE: A preface to Prefaces to Terence's Comedies and Plautus's Comedies, 1694. Reprint by William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1968, pp. i-xxiii.
[Echard was one of the most respected translators of the works of Terence. Here, he presents an overview of Terence's style and works, noting that his only real fault was a lack of comic vision.]
As for our Author, wherever Learning, Wit or Judgment have flourish'd, this Poet has always had an extraordinary Reputation. To mention all his Excellencies and Perfections were a Task too difficult for us, and perhaps for the greatest Criticks alive; so very few there are that perfectly understand all of 'em; yet we shall venture at some of the most Remarkable.
To begin with him in general, He was certainly the most Exact, the most Elaborate, and withal the most Natural of all Dramatick Poets; His Stile so neat and pure, his Characters so true and perfect, his Plots so regular and probable, and almost every thing so absolutely just and agreeable, that he may well seem to merit that Praise which several have given him, That he was the most correct Author in the World. To compare him with Plautus, the other great Latin Comedian, we may observe that Plautus had more Wit and Spirit, but Terence more Sense and Judgment; the former's Stile was rich and glaring, the latter's more close and even:...
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SOURCE: "The Comedies of Terence," in The Edinburgh Review, Vol. CLV, No. CCCXVIII, April, 1882, pp. 364-81.
[In the following excerpt, the anonymous reviewer points out that, although Terence suffered from a lack of recognition because his plays did not satisfy popular audiences in his time, he remains "a well of Latin undefiled."]
Terence at the outset of his career had had a hard, uphill battle to fight and many great difficulties to overcome. The average class of spectator in a Roman theatre was very much the same as that of an ordinary modern crowd—such, for instance, as the collection of the great Unwashed which visits the Crystal Palace on a Bank Holiday. There was certainly a sprinkling of nobility; but, there being no charge for admission, the vast majority belonged to the lower orders. Plautus, with his genuine fun and broad jokes, too often, at least in his imitators, degenerating into obscene buffoonery, had set a fashion which it was next to impossible for after writers to avoid. When, therefore, Cæcilius began to be a little too serious, he at once found it hard to get a hearing; and all, or nearly all, the Terentian prologues contain an entreaty to the audience to listen patiently to the end. And, notwithstanding the savage opposition which was raised, Terence was enabled by the influence and support of the young nobles, Scipio and his following, to keep the even tenor of his way; and...
(The entire section is 1360 words.)
J. W. Mackail (essay date 1895)
SOURCE: "Comedy: Plautus and Terence," in Latin Literature, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1895, pp. 14-26.
[Mackail was an English critic, biographer, and educator whose books include The Springs of Helicon (1909) and Studies in Humanism (1938). Here, he comments on Terence's position in the history of Roman literature, noting that, while his style is not colorful, it exemplifies the best stylistic qualities of his era.]
The Terentian comedy is in a way the turning-point of Roman literature. Plautus and Ennius, however largely they drew from Greek originals, threw into all their work a manner and a spirit which were essentially those of a new literature in the full tide of growth. The imitation of Greek models was a means, not an end; in both poets the Greek manner is continually abandoned for essays into a new manner of their own, and they relapse upon it when their imperfectly mastered powers of invention or expression give way under them. In the circle of Terence the fatal doctrine was originated that the Greek manner was an end in itself, and that the road to perfection lay, not in developing any original qualities, but in reproducing with laborious fidelity the accents of another language and civilisation. Nature took a swift and certain revenge. Correctness of sentiment and smooth elegance of diction became the standards of excellence;...
(The entire section is 1557 words.)
George Meredith (essay date 1897)
SOURCE: "On the Idea of Comedy and of the Uses of the Comic Spirit," in An Essay on Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit, edited by Lane Cooper, 1897. Reprint by Charles Scribner's Sons, 1918, pp. 73-155.
[Meredith was a respected nineteenth-century British poet, novelist, and critic. His creative works, though they are considered to lack a philosophical framework, reflect the ideas of his age: they embody a profound belief in evolution and in the essential goodness of humanity. In the following excerpt, he briefly comments on Terence, focusing especially on his "beautiful translucency of language."]
Of the six comedies of Terence, four are derived from Menander; two, the Hecyra and the Phormio, from Apollodorus. These two are inferior, in comic action and the peculiar sweetness of Menander, to the Andria, the Adelphi, the Heauton Timorumenos, and the Eunuchus; but Phormio is a more dashing and amusing convivial parasite than the Gnatho of the last-named comedy. There were numerous rivals of whom we know next to nothing (except by the quotations of Athenaeus and Plutarch, and the Greek grammarians who cited them to support a dictum) in this, as in the preceding periods of comedy in Athens; for Menander's plays are counted by many scores, and they were crowned by...
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Theodor Mommsen (essay date 1908)
SOURCE: "Literature and Art" in The History of Rome, Vol. IV, translated by William Purdie Dickson, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908, pp. 219-60.
[A German historian, writer, and politician, Mommsen is known for his authoritative work in several areas of Roman studies, particularly Roman law. His Römische Geschichte (1856; The History of Rome), acclaimed as a masterful synthesis, reflects Mommsen's conviction that history should be made intelligible and relevant to the reader. Mommsen received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1902. In the following excerpt, he presents a brief overview of Terence's contribution to Roman literature, emphasizing his elegant language and refined sense of style.]
[Terence] is one of the most interesting phenomena, in a historical point of view, in Roman literature. Born in Phoenician Africa, brought in early youth as a slave to Rome and there introduced to the Greek culture of the day, he seemed from the very first destined for the vocation of giving back to the new Attic comedy that cosmopolitan character, which in its adaptation to the Roman public under the rough hands of Naevius, Plautus, and their associates it had in some measure lost. Even in the selection and employment of models the contrast is apparent between him and that predecessor whom alone we can now compare with him. Plautus chooses his...
(The entire section is 1575 words.)
J. Wright Duff (essay date 1909)
SOURCE: "The Theatre and the Masters of Comedy" in A Literary History of Rome, revised edition, Ernest Benn Limited, 1960, pp. 148-62.
[Duff was an English classical scholar whose books include A Literary History of Rome: From the Origins to the Close of the Golden Age (1909) and Writers of Rome (1923). In the following excerpt from the revised edition of the former work, he provides an overview of Terence's plays and style.]
It was the achievement of the young African, P. Terentius Afer (c. 195?-159 B.C.), to put upon Roman comedy the highest Hellenic polish. For his career our fullest source of knowledge is the interesting Life of Terence excerpted from Suetonius's work De Poetis and luckily preserved by Donatus in his commentary upon Terence. Suetonius is at pains to quote his authorities-some of them more than once-Fenestella, Nepos, Porcius, Volcatius, Varro, C. Memmius, Santra, Q. Cosconius, Afranius, Cicero, and Caesar. Besides Donatus's brief addendum there are Jerome's notes based on Suetonius, Terence's own prologues, and the didascaliae upon his plays. Neither his race nor the date of his birth can be stated decisively. His birth at Carthage, recorded by Suetonius, does not prove Phoenician blood: his cognomen 'Afer' rather suggests that he belonged to some native tribe conquered by the Carthaginians....
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Gilbert Norwood (essay date 1923)
SOURCE: "Conclusion" in The Art of Terence, Basil Blackwell, 1923, pp. 131-52.
[Norwood was an American classical scholar whose books include Greek Comedy (1932) and Pindar (1945). In the following excerpt from his well-regarded monograph on Terence, he summarizes Terence's career, praising especially the playwright's humanist impulse and declaring him "the most Christian writer of pagan antiquity."]
[Terence] is an attractive, a tantalizing, almost a mysterious figure. A native of Africa, not a Carthaginian but of Libyan birth, and possibly a mulatto or a quadroon (as Suetonius' description, mediocri statura, gracili corpore, colore fusco, might suggest), he was brought in childhood to Rome and became the slave of one Terentius Lucanus, a senator. This excellent man, little dreaming that by his good nature he was conferring a notable benefit upon posterity, gave the lad a sound education, and ultimately his freedom and his own name. Terence enjoyed the intimacy of Scipio Africanus Minor and his circle, especially the amiable Caius Laelius, produced six plays, journeyed to Greece with the intention (it appears) of collecting more works of Menander, and died without returning to Rome, at the age of thirty-one or even less. Such are the only facts of importance at our command; they seem to provide small help towards explaining his...
(The entire section is 5636 words.)
Gilbert Norwood (essay date 1932)
SOURCE: "Plot-Structure in Terence" in Plautus and Terence, 1932. Reprint by Cooper Square Publishers, 1963, pp. 141-80.
[In the following excerpt from his reconsideration of Terence, Norwood presents a detailed examination of the plot structure of Terence's comedies.]
From first to last Terence devotes great attention to plot, but does not at first succeed: in fact we cannot regard him as a master of construction till Phormio. In the two latest plays he employs the perfected method with still greater ease, boldness and versatility.
The Andria shows grave faults amid undoubted merits. Simo's change of purpose provides a delightful entanglement. Having urged his son's acceptance of a marriage that Simo himself does not really wish, he is so pleased by Pamphilus' feigned eagerness that he decides to turn the sham into earnest. As he expounds this change of plan to Davus, Pamphilus' valet, we can imagine the slave's jaw dropping as he realizes that Pamphilus' pretended acceptance (devised by Davus) has been to convincing. Still more sophisticated comedy is found in the scene of the midwife. The stage-convention, it will be remembered, was that all business, however domestic or indeed secret, should be transacted in the street or at the doorway. Terence naturally chafed at such nonsense, and here he hits back...
(The entire section is 7534 words.)
Edith Hamilton (essay date 1932)
SOURCE: "The Comic Spirit in Plautus and Terence" in The Roman Way, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1932, pp. 47-63.
[A German-born classical scholar, essayist, and translator, Hamilton is best known as an explicator of ancient cultures for the modern reader. Her studies include The Roman Way (1932) and Spokesmen for God: The Great Teachers of the Old Testament (1949). Below, she compares the style of Terence with that of his predecessor, Plautus.]
[Plautus and Terence] are the founders of our theatre. Their influence has been incalculable. The two main divisions of comedy under which all comic plays except Aristophanes' can be grouped, go back to the two Roman playwrights. Plautus is the source for one, Terence for the other. The fact is another and a vivid illustration of how little the material of literature matters, and how much the way the material is treated. Both dramatists deal with exactly the same sort of life and exactly the same sort of people. The characters in the plays of the one are duplicated in the plays of the other, and in both the background is the family life of the day, and yet Plautus' world of comedy is another place from Terence's world. The two men were completely unlike, so much so that it is difficult to conceive of either viewing a play of the other with any complacency. Plautus would have been bored by...
(The entire section is 3562 words.)
Benedetto Croce (essay date 1936)
SOURCE: "Terence" in Philosophy, Poetry, History: An Anthology of Essays, translated by Cecil Sprigge, Oxford University Press, London, 1966, pp. 776-801.
[An Italian educator, philosopher, and author, Croce developed a highly influential theory of literary creation and a concomitant critical method. In defining the impetus and execution of poetry, Croce conceives of the mind as capable of two distinct modes of thought, which he terms cognition and volition. Cognition mental activity is theoretical and speculative, while volition is the mind's practical application of ideas originating in the cognitive realm. Croce's literary theories had a profound impact on the criticism of the first half of the twentieth century, particularly in his emphasis on judging the totality of a work within a context created by its own existence as a separate, independent entity. In the following essay written in 1936, he addresses several of the charges traditionally levelled at Terence by critics, asserting that his comedies remain interesting and vital to the modern reader.]
The Roman critics discerned as a weakness in Terence his lack of the power, or virtue, of comedy. This adverse opinion is found in some celebrated verses attributed to Caesar, and is perhaps the reason why the grammarian Volcatius Sedigitus, in drawing up a hierarchy of the comic poets, assigned to...
(The entire section is 7963 words.)
Henry Ten Eyck Perry (essay date 1939)
SOURCE: "Roman Imitators: Plautus and Terence" in Masters of Dramatic Comedy and Their Social Themes, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1939, pp. 49-78.
[Perry was an American educator and author. In the following excerpt, he examines the themes of Terence's plays in the context of Roman comedy, concluding that he refined the plots and characters that he borrowed from other playwrights to make them more serious and more humane.]
Terence is much more like Menander than Plautus is, four of his six plays being based on works by Menander and all of his dramas giving the effect of imitation more than of creative vitality. Unlike Plautus, he had no hesitancy in wringing every possible tear from Menander's situation of the long-lost child. He makes use of it in all but one of his comedies. Plautus is at bottom concerned with the humorous complications that get in the way of his lovers and frequently with the absurd per'sons who stand in their paths; Terence is obsessed with the harshness of fate. After he has developed throughout five acts the misery that it causes, he finally permits its patient victims to be rewarded, not always inevitably, with unexpected happiness.
What is exceptionally non-Plautine in the Cistellaria is typically Terentian in the Girl from Andros (Andria), the first of...
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George E. Duckworth (essay date 1952)
SOURCE: "Methods of Composition" in The Nature of Roman Comedy: A Study in Popular Entertainment, Princeton University Press, 1952, pp. 177-208.
[In the following excerpt from his highly-regarded study of Roman comedy, Duckworth explains the notion of contaminatio (imitation of earlier authors) as it applies to Terence.]
In Homeric scholarship the Higher Critics have used repetitions and contradictions as a means of distinguishing Homeric passages from those which they believed to be earlier traditional material or later additions; so also in the study of Roman comedy scholars have attempted to separate the Roman elements from the Greek and have sought in repetitions and inconsistencies arguments to support various theories of composition. During the past half century they have endeavored particularly to prove that many of the plays of Plautus were composed by contamination, which they believe provides the most satisfactory explanation of the difficulties in the plays .… [Contaminatio is] the method of composition employed by Terence and assigned by him to Plautus. In the prologue to the Andria Terence states (13 ff.):
The poet admits that he has transferred from the Perinthia to the Andria such passages as suited him and has used them as his own. His enemies blame...
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John Gassner (essay date 1954)
SOURCE: "Menander, Plautus, and Terence" in Masters of the Drama, third revised edition, Dover Publications, Inc., 1954, pp. 92-104.
[Gassner, a Hungarian-born American scholar, was a great promoter of American theater, particularly the work of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. He edited numerous collections of modern drama and wrote two important dramatic surveys, Masters of Modern Drama (1940) and Theater in Our Times (1954). In the following excerpt from the revised edition of the former work, Gassner discusses Terence's place in the development of Roman theater, pointing out that "he not only knew his limitations but gloried in them .…"]
The three-quarters of a century which intervened between Plautus and the next important writer of Roman comedy produced a stratification of taste to which no artist could fail to respond. Drunk with conquest, the Roman populace developed an insatiable taste for rude farces and acrobatics, while the aristocracy was increasingly Hellenized much to the regret of such an unrelenting puritan as Cato the Censor who resented the relaxing influence of the Greeks. In other words, the taste of the lower orders became coarser while that of the upper classes became more refined, even to the point of attenuation.
Terence was not the people's poet but the darling of the aristocracy. He could...
(The entire section is 1891 words.)
Robert Graves (essay date 1962)
SOURCE: A foreword to The Comedies of Terence, edited by Robert Graves, Aldine Publishing Company, 1962, pp. ix-xiv.
[A highly versatile man of letters, Graves was an English poet, novelist, translator, and critic. He was first associated with the Georgian war poets during World War I, but afterward followed a more nontraditional yet highly ordered line, being influenced during the 1920s and 1930s by the American poet Laura Riding. Working outside the literary fashions of his day, Graves established a reputation which rests largely on his verbal precision and strong individuality as a poet. He is also considered a great prose stylist, and is well known for such historical novels as I, Claudius (1934) and Wife to Mr Milton (1943). In the excerpt below, he briefly introduces the plays of Terence, pointing out that they call attention to some of the less positive aspects of classical civilization.]
Terence, like Plautus, wrote a pure Latin, and closely followed the rule of the Dramatic Unities first framed by Aristotle, and since accepted both in Greece and Rome. These comprised unity of action, meaning that sub-plots must materially assist the development of the main plot; unity of time, which restricted all action to the period of a single day; and the unity of place, which allowed no shifting of scene. Moreover, because the Roman audience...
(The entire section is 1707 words.)
W. Beare (essay date 1964)
SOURCE: "Terence" in The Roman Stage: A Short History of Latin Drama in the Time of the Republic, revised edition, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1964, pp. 91-112.
[Beare's The Roman Stage, first published in 1950 and later revised, is a critically-acclaimed survey of Roman drama and its theatrical milieu. Here, he offers detailed examinations of The Girl from Andros and The Eunich and their Menandrian sources, concluding that a "deepening of sentiment … [is] Terence's chief claim to originality. "]
We gather from Terence's own words that he was accused of weakness of style, of accepting literary help from others, of entering on his profession as dramatist without proper preparation, of stealing characters and passages from old Latin plays, of 'spoiling' or taking liberties with his Greek originals. Terence's style was indeed something new on the Roman stage. That he accepted literary help from his noble friends is perhaps unlikely, and even if true would have little relevance to our opinion of the plays as we have them; we can understand, however, that tact would forbid him to give a direct rebuttal to this charge. The other two accusations, however spiteful, have this much basis in fact: Terence deliberately departed from his Greek originals. Earlier Latin dramatists had indeed translated with considerable freedom, as we have seen in the...
(The entire section is 6228 words.)
Frank O. Copley (essay date 1967)
SOURCE: An introduction to The Comedies of Terence, translated by Frank O. Copley, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1967, pp. vii-xxi.
[Below, Copley discusses Terence's dramatic method and his treatment of several literary motifs in his comedies.]
Like the plays of his predecessor Plautus, all the comedies of Terence are adaptations from the Greek New Comedy, a relatively simple type of play concerned with the problems, personal and circumstantial, into which an affluent and leisured society is likely to fall. The treatment accorded these problems and predicaments ranged from the broadest, coarsest caricature to the gentlest, most sensitive social satire, but in all cases the characters were general and typical in nature rather than individual and specific. With this simple form and content and with these characters, in whom the audience might see many who resembled their neighbors but none who could be positively identified, the New Comedy provided the Romans with a model far more susceptible of imitation than did the Old Comedy, which, with its dances, its elaborate costumes and stage settings, was highly complex in form. Furthermore, it was characterized by attacks on familiar public figures and by violent castigation of specific public policies, a freedom of expression such as the Romans were never to learn to tolerate on their own stage. In any...
(The entire section is 3958 words.)
Douglass Parker (essay date 1974)
SOURCE: An introduction to The Eunich by Terence, translated by Douglass Parker, in The Complete Comedies of Terence: Modern Verse Translations, edited by Palmer Bovie, Rutgers University Press, 1974, pp. 147-52.
[In the following essay, Parker discusses influences on The Eunich, concluding that Terence's individuality is evident in the play's "reasoned confusion of viewpoints [and] contradiction of attitudes, that mark the best comedy.']
Success dies hard. The Eunuch was Terence's most successful play during his lifetime, earning an immediate second production and a considerably increased royalty. It has yet to be forgiven this by critics who, equating excellence with unpopularity, prefer the Hecyra's double failure as an index of attainment. Since this is not a universal standard, they find themselves faced with a thorny problem: The Eunuch is fast and funny, and, in fact, an excellent case can be made for its being Terence's best play. How to dispose of it? The answer is simple and somewhat sinister: Call it "Plautine."
The precise meaning of this epithet is not so obvious as might at first appear, but its connotations are clear enough: When used by a pro-Terentian (or pro-Menandrean) critic, it implies that the play is a sort of regrettable mistake, an attempt at...
(The entire section is 1755 words.)
R. H. Martin (essay date 1976)
SOURCE: An introduction to Adelphoe by Terence, edited by R. H. Martin, Cambridge University Press, 1976, pp. 1-41.
[Below, Martin supplies a summary of the development of Roman comedy to Terence's time, and then goes on to discuss the sources, themes, characters, and style of the The Brothers.]
Although there is evidence of dramatic entertainment in Rome and other Italian towns from an early date, formal literary drama came to Rome only in the third century B.C., when in September of the year 240 at the ludi Romani there was performed a Latin play, translated from the Greek by Livius Andronicus, a semigraecus from Tarentum. Rome had just brought the First Punic War to a successful conclusion, and the ludi Romani of that year were celebrated on a grander scale to mark the nation's pride and joy at that success. The inclusion of a dramatic entertainment in the games is noteworthy, for it was to remain the Roman practice that the performance of plays, both comedies and tragedies, should take place on important public occasions—this is true no less of performances at funeral games (ludi funebres) than at the annual ludi scaenici. The fact that Andronicus presented Latin versions of Greek plays chosen from the repertory of New Comedy is also significant. A Roman audience, while recognising the unchanging human traits...
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Betty Radice (essay date 1976)
SOURCE: An introduction to Terence: The Comedies, translated by Betty Radice, Penguin Books, 1976, pp. 11-29.
[Radice was an English educator who, as joint editor of the Penguin Classics series, translated such works as Pliny's Letters, The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, and Desiderius Erasmus's Praise of Folly. In the following excerpt, she presents an overview of Terence's career.]
Comedy is a more intellectual and sophisticated art than tragedy, and on the stage it depends for its effects on verbal exchange. Its characters must be wholly articulate, and if it is to succeed it needs an equally articulate, civilized audience, who can respond not with hilarity so much as with a delighted amusement. Audiences of this kind evidently existed for comedy to flourish in fifth-century Athens, in Hellenistic Greece, in Elizabethan and Restoration England, in the Paris of Louis XIV, eighteenth-century Venice, and in Edwardian London, but Rome of the second century B.C. gave small encouragement to a young man who had all the requisites to make him a great writer of comedy. Terence died young, and could be judged a failure in his own day, but the originality he showed in his treatment of his Greek models had a lasting influence on the history of western drama. The six plays of Terence are his complete works and were preserved in a single corpus from...
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F. H. Sandbach (essay date 1977)
SOURCE: "Terence" in The Comic Theatre of Greece and Rome, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1977, pp. 135-47.
[Sandbach is a well-known English classicist. In the following essay, he explores Terence's plays in the light of their Greek models, asserting that, while in some ways Terence did "enrich"Menander's comedies, his style has been "too equable, [lacking] the ebb and flow which gives life to the Greek poet's writing and enables him to mirror every kind of emotion."]
Publius Terentius Afer was believed by later Romans to have been born at Carthage, brought to Rome as a slave, and given a liberal education by his owner, Terentius Lucanus, who soon set him free. They may have had good reason for this belief, or the story may have grown from his name. Afer means a member of the dark native races of North Africa; an African would be a slave, and a manumitted slave took the middle name of his master. But the name After does not of necessity indicate a place of origin or a servile birth; it is attested as a Roman family name. If Terence did come from Africa, the excellence of his Latin is noteworthy but not unparalleled; Livius Andronicus, the father of Latin literature, was a Greek; Caecilius, the leading writer of comedy when Terence was young, is said to have been a slave from Gaul. Men who have won literary fame in languages not their own are not...
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Sander M. Goldberg (essay date 1982-83)
SOURCE: "Terence and the Death of Comedy," Comparative Drama, Vol. 16, No. 4, Winter 1982-83, pp. 312-24.
[Goldberg is the author of several articles on Terence and a monograph, Understanding Terence (1986). In the following essay, he explores Terence's role in the demise of Roman comedy, arguing that "Terence had made it too alien to be taken seriously at Rome."]
The creative age of Roman comedy died with a man named Turpilius in 103 B.C. That was actually half a century after the death of Terence, the last great writer of stage comedy at Rome, and nearly a whole century before Latin literature reached maturity in the time of Augustus. The golden age of Roman comedy is thus quite clearly divorced from the golden age of Roman literature itself, but something more than a minor literary genre died with Turpilius. The very interest in stage comedy that had survived the change in conditions from Aristophanes to Menander and the change in culture from Greece to Rome died with a whimper late in the second century B.C. No further comedy of literary stature was written in antiquity, and the ancient tradition lay dormant until revived by the Italian humanists of our own fourteenth century. What happened? Why did the Romans lose interest in stage comedy? The death of a genre is as common an occurrence in the history of literature as it is complex,...
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David Konstan (essay date 1983)
SOURCE: "Phormio: Citizen Disorder" in Roman Comedy, Cornell, 1983, pp. 115-29.
[In the following essay, Konstan probes the tension between private emotion and public social codes in Phormio, observing that this dual subject constitutes one of the main themes of the play.]
Terence particularly favored such plots as the frame story in [Plautus's] Cistellaria, based on the elementary triangle of stubborn father, enamored son, and maiden apparently ineligible for marriage. Thus R. H. Martin remarks, in the introduction to his excellent school edition of the Phormio [Terence: Phormio, 1959]:
The following elements of plot are found in all Terence's plays except the Hecyra. Two young men, often brothers, are engaged in love affairs. One of them loves a courtesan, the other wishes to marry a young woman, who is either poor but freeborn, or ostensibly a courtesan. The father opposes his son's marriage or even wants him instead to marry the daughter of a friend or relation. The young woman turns out to be freeborn or the daughter in question, and all ends well.
In a general way, the Phormio may be seen to fit this pattern. Antipho is in love with and, in his father's absence, has actually married a poor young woman...
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Walter E. Forehand (essay date 1985)
SOURCE: "Terence and His Influence" in Terence, Twayne Publishers, 1985, pp. 120-30.
[In the following excerpt, Forehand first summarizes his conclusions about the style and themes of Terence's plays, then discusses Terence's influence on later drama.]
Terence has left us six plays upon which to base our evaluation of him. If, as the tradition affirms, this is the total output of his short life, we are in a position to survey his work without the worrisome question of how we would modify our opinions if we had more complete evidence. His reputation as a comic dramatist has withstood the test of critical opinion through the centuries; his theatrical soundness is evidenced by the influence he has had on playwrights since the Middle Ages, who turned to him for the most practical of reasons, that he provided characters, themes, and comic formulae useful for reaching their own audiences .…
Since antiquity Terence has been especially prized in two areas, the refinement of his style and the care with which he fashioned characters. It is difficult to demonstrate how one must conclude that style is excellent and characters are handled well without resorting to close analysis of specifics. We can, however, delineate Terence's chief strengths without going on at great length.
Terence's Latin is a model for educated...
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A. J. Brothers (essay date 1988)
SOURCE: An introduction to Terence: The Self-Tormentor, edited and translated by A. J. Brothers, Aris & Phillips Ltd, 1988, pp. 1-26.
[Below, Brothers surveys characterization and plot devices in The Self-Tormentor, and also explores some of Terence's sources for the play.]
It has long been part of scholarly practice to attempt to understand the relationship of the Roman comedies to their lost Greek originals, and to try to pinpoint the additions, omissions and alternations of the Roman dramatists and recover the original Greek form - to play, in fact, 'hunt the New Comedy' with the text of a Terence (or Plautus) play. Though this type of activity has its limitations, particularly if carried out to the exclusion of other studies, it is nevertheless not merely legitimate but interesting and valuable.
Such investigations are always difficult, because we have so little to go on. With [Terence's The Self-Tormentor], the problem is perhaps worse than usual, since we do not have Donatus' commentary and so do not possess, as we do for the other five of Terence's plays, the rather sparse information, varying greatly in quality, which he can provide about Terentian workmanship; we do, however, have the less helpful commentary of Eugraphius. We have some fragments of Menander's play, preserved (not as are most of the...
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Dwora Gilula (essay date 1991)
SOURCE: "Plots Are Not Stories: The So-Called 'Duality Method' of Terence," in Reading Plays: Interpretation and Reception, edited by Hanna Scolnicov and Peter Holland, Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 81-93.
[In the essay below, Gilula examines Terence's use of dual plots and characters in the context of his The Girl from Andros.]
Terence was praised in antiquity for the excellence of his plot construction. Donatus deemed as praiseworthy the existence of two love affairs (bini amores) in all Terence's plays but the Hecyra, and Evanthius commended the richness of Terence's plots (locupletiora argumenta) constructed of double affairs (ex duplicibus negotiis), likewise observing that all the plays except the Hecyrs feature two young men in love. Terence's plays continued to be read, admired and even sometimes imitated in the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance comedy was modelled principally on his comedies. Herrick, who examined the leading commentaries on Terence from the fourth-century work of Donatus and on, has shown that Terence was considered a master of dramatic structure and his comedy monopolized the sixteenth-century discussion of comic theory: the 'dramatic' rules established for comedy mostly derived from the practice of Terence. On the issue of the double action, Donatus's observation was...
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Dana F. Sutton (essay date 1993)
SOURCE: "Terence" in Ancient Comedy: The War of the Generations, Twayne Publishers, 1993, pp. 109-22.
[In the essay below, Sutton discusses Terence's use of realism in The Brothers, concluding that his plays were unpopular because "at their very heart is a philosophy of life that is incompatible with the innate outlook of ancient comedy."]
Terence is a comic poet rather neglected in our times. The amount of criticism and scholarship devoted to him is not especially great or penetrating. Even more symptomatic is the fact much modern criticism regards Plautus and Roman Comedy as nearly synonymous, with Terence shoved firmly into the background on the occasions when he is considered at all. Reasons for this lukewarm attitude are not difficult to discem. Plautus fits in very well indeed with modern ideas of what comedy is and ought to be, but Terence does not. His plays are not especially funny, and they are certainly not uproariously joyous and life-affirming. Nor are they pugnaciously antinomian in the manner of Aristophanes and Plautus. There is nothing hilariously cathartic about them. Thus they are difficult to accommodate to modern critical theories, or readers' expectations, about the nature of ancient comedy or of comedy in general.
Terence was willing to reproduce the quieter and more thoughtful tone of his Greek New...
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Arnott, Geoffrey. "Phormio Parasitvs: A Study in Dramatic Methods of Characterization." Greece & Rome XVII. No. I (April 1970): 32-57.
Study of Terence's characterization techniques, focusing on the eponymous character of Phormio.
Ashmore, Sidney G. Introduction to P. Terenti Afri Comoediae: The Comedies of Terence, by Terence, translated by Sidney G. Ashmore, pp. 1-68. New York: Oxford University Press, 1910.
Introduction to various aspects and attributes of the Roman theater of Terence's time.
Austin, James Curtiss. "The Significant Name in Terence." University of Illinois Studies in Language and Literature VII (1921): 401-532.
Explores Terence's choice of character names, asserting that the majority are "etymologically appropriate to their predicament" and "bear both type and individual significance."
Bieber, Margaret. "The Roman Plays at the Time of the Republic." In her The History of the Greek and Roman Theater, pp. 147-60. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961.
Briefly discusses Terence in relation to Roman comedy, calling him "a refined, subtle, cultured, and morally eminent poet."
Brothers, A. J. "The Construction...
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