Terence Additional Biography


(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

0111205891-Terence.jpg Terence (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Roman playwright{$I[g]Roman Republic;Terence}{$I[g]Carthage;Terence} As a Roman comic playwright whose adaptations of Greek dramas depicted in graceful Latin the social realities operating in his ancient world, Terence strongly influenced the development of sophisticated theater in the West.

Early Life

Ancient materials reporting on the life of Terence (TEHR-uhns) frequently present contradictory information. Certain facts, however, fall into the realm of probability: Publius Terentius Afer (Terence) was born at Carthage and came to Rome as the slave of Terentius Lucanus, a senator who educated him and set him free. Because Terence’s life fell between the Second and Third Punic Wars, he could not have been a slave captured in combat; thus, he may have been owned and sold by a Carthaginian trader.

Terence was of average height, medium build, and dark complexion. His cognomen “Afer” is thought to indicate his African birth; however, one cannot be completely certain that Terence was actually ever a slave. Roman biographers, who often wove a web of fiction around their subjects, commonly recorded playwrights as having sprung from slavery, and “Afer” need not positively establish African birth. Nevertheless, many commentators have marveled at the significant achievement of the onetime slave who learned Latin as a second language and who came to use it with such outstanding artistry and precision.

In Rome, the young man’s intelligence and talent soon gained for him entry into the Scipionic circle of study, a group of patrician literati behind a philhellenic movement. So close was the involvement of Terence and particular associates in this group—including Scipio Africanus and Gaius Laelius—that rumors circulated suggesting that Terence was simply a front for these august patrons of the arts who had really authored the plays. Terence, in fact, inadvertently helped the malicious gossip along by never definitively attempting to refute the charges. Indeed, in the prologues to his plays he concentrated on stating his theories of dramatic art, trying to deflect the scurrilous accusations. Unfortunately, Terence’s short life came to be plagued by constant innuendo.

When Terence offered his first drama to the aediles, the officials at the public games where the performances were held, he was ordered to show his work to Caecilius Statius, a revered comic playwright of an earlier era whose successes had been, in part, a result of the abilities of noted actor Lucius Ambivius Turpio. Legend describes the youthful Terence, poorly dressed, arriving at the dramatist’s home during the dinner hour, sitting down on a bench near the old man’s couch, and beginning to read from his first effort. It took only a few minutes for Caecilius to recognize the genius of his young visitor, and Terence was invited to take a seat at the table. Not only did his career as dramatist begin at that moment but also the actor Turpio, now in old age, performed in Terence’s plays, giving them the same public notice and authoritative support he had given to Caecilius. Thus promoted, Terence appeared an assured success from the beginning.

Life’s Work

Terence looked to the New Comedy of Greece for his major literary resource and composed, therefore, in the tradition of palliatae, plays derived from Greek models, and acted in Greek dress, or pallium. Of the twenty-six complete plays surviving from the second century b.c.e. Roman stage, six are the work of Terence, whose chief model was Menander, an artist with a reputation in the ancient world superseded only by Homer and Vergil. While the Old Comedy had dealt with affairs of state, the New Comedy exemplified by Menander focused on domestic issues, particularly on wealthy youths and the tangled dilemmas of their often complicated love lives. Filial duty, which on occasion ran counter to the young men’s casual self-indulgence, and the devious machinations of crafty slaves helped generate comic situations at times to farcical extremes.

Terence found his métier in these intricate plots and, by artfully adapting the Greek models, brought with his distinctive translations a conscious artistry to the Roman stage. He developed prologues that articulated literary principles and that did not simply explain the action to follow. He developed a “doubling technique” to balance Menander’s character creations. Alongside these innovations, Terence sensitively rendered the impact of behavioral fashion on the ethical values of his time. While Terence realized that in his models the characters were standard, the action was predictable, and the themes were formulaic; under his original touch the plays not only embody a vivid realism but also detail a sociological compendium of the age.

The complete works of Terence, produced over a six-year period, include the following extant plays: Andria (166 b.c.e.; English translation, 1598), Hecyra (165 b.c.e.; The Mother-in-Law, 1598), Heautontimorumenos (163 b.c.e.; The Self-Tormentor, 1598), Eunuchus (161 b.c.e.; The Eunuch, 1598), Phormio (161 b.c.e.; English translation,...

(The entire section is 2153 words.)


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Publius Terentius Afer (Terence) is said to have been a native of Carthage and to have been brought in his childhood to Rome as a slave. There he was educated as a free man, by Terentius Lucanus, the senator, by whom he was afterward set free. Although originally a slave, Terence cannot have been a prisoner of war because there was no war between Rome and Carthage during his lifetime. He may, however, have fallen into the hands of a slave-dealer at Carthage because many of the native African tribes were subject to the Carthaginians. In Carthage, there must have been enslaved Afri whose children were in bondage with their parents. The children of such parents were often sold into foreign lands, and it is easy to conceive how Terence, if born at Carthage under these or similar circumstances, may have been sold by a slave-dealer to Lucanus at Rome. Such an explanation of his origin and deportation to Rome is justified in part by his cognomen Afer, which points to his being of other than Phoenician blood. Had Terence been of Phoenician origin, the last of his three names would more naturally have been Poenulus, since the Carthaginians were commonly distinguished from the Africans and it was customary to give names to slaves to indicate the nation to which they belonged. On receiving his freedom, Terence would have added to his praenomen, Publius, the Gentile name of his master (Terentius), which then would become his nomen, while as cognomen he might retain the title of “the African” (Afer) as a mark of particular distinction.

Terence’s personal attractions and intellectual gifts, which had helped him to obtain his freedom, were the cause also of his permanent reception within the aristocratic circle of...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Publius Terentius Afer, known as Terence (TEHR-uhnts), was probably born in the North African city of Carthage in 190 or 185 b.c.e. The sole source of knowledge about his life is the fourth century grammarian and commentator Donatus, who, in his commentary on Terence’s plays, preserves a biographical extract from Suetonius’s lost De viris illustribus. Terence was brought to Rome in childhood as a slave but was given the education of a gentleman by his master, the senator M. Terentius Lucanus. After having been given his freedom, the young man took the name of his former master and added the cognomen Afer (African).{$S[A]Afer, Publius Terentius;Terence}{$S[A]Publius Terentius Afer;Terence}...

(The entire section is 561 words.)