The Brothers

by Terence

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Last Updated on November 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 537

Terence’s play The Brothers is a translation and, therefore, Romanization of a play originally written by the Greek playwright Menander. A work of Roman New Comedy, the play pokes fun at contemporary social conventions and satirizes the world of its author; while Greek in origin, Terence’s translation lends a uniquely Roman twist, imbuing the telling with the character and scenes of Roman life in the second-century BCE.

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The Brothers details the complex lives of two brothers: Micio and Demea. The pair are, more or less, polar opposites of each other. Demea lives in the countryside, whereas Micio lives in Athens; Demea has a wife and two children, whereas Micio is a childless bachelor; Demea lives a life of strict austerity, whereas Micio lives a life of relaxed indulgence. On a whim, Micio adopts Demea’s eldest son, Aeschinus. The younger son, Ctesipho, stays with his father in the countryside. The brothers grow up apart, raised by men of two dissonant worldviews. As such, they develop into vastly different men, and these differences catalyze the play’s comedic confusion. 

The play opens as Micio mourns Aeschinus’s recklessness, which frequently tests his gentle adoptive father’s patience. Aeschinus tests the poor man’s patience further when his father learns that he has assaulted Pamphila, the daughter of Sostrata, his widowed neighbor, and abandoned her, pregnant and bereft of her virtue. Moreover, Aeschinus has beaten up a pimp and stolen one of his music girls. Aeschinus seems careless and selfish, and his actions appear to be motivated by little more than momentary desires. Demea returns to Athens and berates his brother, for he sees Micio as at fault for Aeschinus’s seemingly poor behavior; it was his permissiveness, the rural man proclaims, which molded his eldest son into this monster. 

In true New Comedy fashion, all these assumptions prove false; circumstances clarify, and Demea realizes that perhaps Aeschinus is not the virtueless son he once believed. His eldest son did not abandon Pamphila and their soon-to-be child nor did he abduct the music girl out of desire. Instead, he freed her from her confines so she could marry Ctesipho. As these hidden love affairs come to light, Demea realizes that his eldest son has grown into an unexpectedly compassionate man. Both sons are fallible, yet, in the end, they are motivated by the desire to live happy lives with the women they love. Demea softens slightly, and the story ends with an abundance of marriages.

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At Aeschinus’s behest, Micio lays aside his bachelor lifestyle and marries Sostrata. Aeschinus and Ctesipho marry the women they love, and the story ends with all the threads put to right. The wayward Athenian settles down, the strict ruralite learns moderation, and their two sons lead happy lives. However, the final message is Demea’s, who, with a tone of now-tempered conservatism, cautions the folly of passion and urges the practice of moderation. Disregarding the comical hijinks and emotionally-charged dialogues, the play is predominantly concerned with the idea of disconnects between rural and urban populations; younger and older generations; and modern and conservative philosophies. In so doing, Terence satirizes contemporary life and the strange sociocultural rules by which it is bound. 

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