Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 461
While there are many approaches that one could take to The Brothers (Adelphoe in Latin) by Terence—as centuries of secondary literature shows—I choose to focus on the father-son relationship in my analysis of the play. I do so because I believe it is at the heart of the play and also because it is a subject that Terence has explored in four of his five other plays (the exception being The Eunuch).
Even though only one of the two eponymous brothers is biologically a father (Demea is father to Ctesipho and Aeschinus), Demea's older son, Aeschinus, is adopted by his bachelor brother, Micio. The adoptive father-son duo of Micio and Aeschinus live in the city-state of Athens whereas the father-son duo of Demea and Ctesipho live in the Greek countryside.
The play begins, rather unusually, with a monologue. The speaker of the monologue is Micio who describes is philosophy of child-rearing while he talks about his worries about Aeschinus. We learn that Micio believes in being liberal and generous and turning a blind eye to his son's wrongdoings instead of being a harsh disciplinarian. The very next scene features his brother, Demea, whose views on fatherhood are diametrically opposed to Micio's. Demea has heard of Aeschinus' extravagances and crimes and is horrified; he makes a trip to Athens to remonstrate with his brother. Micio does not receive this well and the conversation between them is almost a debate about two different ways of raising children.
The relationships between these contrasted fathers and sons are, in both cases, brought to a head by the unfortunate love affairs of their sons. In the the case of Aeschinus, this is the rape and impregnation of the virgin Pamphila, daughter of the widow Sostrata. In the case of Ctesipho, this is the music girl who is the 'property' of the pimp Sannio. The first act of the play is about the two different philosophies of child-rearing. The second act focuses on the sons via their love affairs. The third and fourth acts involve the fathers' discoveries of these affairs. The final act deals with the fall-out of these love affairs.
In spite of the differences in their views, both Demea and Micio are fooled by their sons. Even though Micio is lax and Demea strict, neither of them realizes what their sons have been doing. In both cases, paternal love and affection blinds them to the truth. In the end, both fathers suffer a reversal of authority: Micio is compelled to marry the widow Sostrata and Demea is forced to relax some of his austerity.
Through these two stories of diametrically opposed brothers (Demea and Micio; Ctesipho and Aeschinus), we see how, in essential matters, they are not as different as they seem.