The Brothers is one of Terence’s most popular comedies, probably because it approaches in such a good-humored manner a subject that affects every member of a family. Responsible parents worry about the best way to bring up their children, and their offspring worry about how to live up to their parents’ expectations.
Although both fathers love the young men for whom they are responsible, Demea and Micio could hardly differ more in their philosophies of child rearing. Demea believes in governing by fear, and Micio believes in governing by love. Ctesipho, raised by Demea’s strict rules, was made to work hard, and, at least in his father’s opinion, was kept away from temptation; Aeschinus, raised by Micio, was allowed total freedom, excused for his misdeeds, and easily forgiven.
As Micio explains his ideas in his opening monologue, his ideas seem extremely appealing, while Demea’s ideas seem old-fashioned and unenlightened. By appearing to side with Micio, however, Terence is placing his audience off guard. In fact, neither brother has a foolproof solution to the problem of raising and educating the young. As the story progresses, it becomes evident how little the two fathers really know about their sons and how easily the fathers can be deceived.
When Terence looks at the outcomes of these two educational experiments, the young men have entered a critical time in their lives. They are old enough to get into serious trouble, but they are too young to govern their actions by reason. Each has become involved with a woman, and, as the customs of comedy dictate, these relationships have been concealed from the older generation. In fact, since one woman is a slave, and the other comes from a poor family, neither relationship seems likely to win parental approval.
Meanwhile, the fathers remain ignorant, not only of what the young men are doing but also of what their sons are really like. Demea thinks that he has created a boy in his own stern and upright image. He has no idea that Ctesipho is sneaking away whenever he can. Micio knows that Aeschinus is sowing his wild oats, but he cannot imagine that his son would ever fail to confide in him. It is doubly ironic, then, that Aeschinus not only deceives his father about seducing...
(The entire section is 933 words.)