Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com
Ancient Philosophy


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



The Woman of Andros, the Self-Tormentor, the Eunuch by Terence, translated by John Barsby (Loeb Classical Library, No 22: Harvard University Press) Phormio, the Mother-In-Law, the Brothers by Terence, translated by John Barsby (Loeb Classical Library, No 23: Harvard University Press) Terence brought to the Roman stage a bright comic voice and a refined sense of style. His six comedies--first produced in the half dozen years before his premature death in 159 B.C.--imaginatively reformulated in Latin plays written by Greek playwrights, especially Menander. For this new Loeb Classical Library edition of Terence, John Barsby gives us a faithful and lively translation with full explanatory notes, facing a freshly edited Latin text. Volume I contains a substantial introduction and three plays: The Woman of Andros, a romantic comedy; The Self-Tormentor, which looks at contrasting father-son relationships; and The Eunuch, whose characters include the most sympathetically drawn courtesan in Roman comedy. The three plays are in Volume II: Phormio, a comedy of intrigue with an engaging trickster; The Mother-in-Law, unique among Terence's plays in that the female characters are the admirable ones; and The Brothers, which explores contrasting approaches to parental education of sons. The Romans highly praised Terence--"whose speech can charm, whose every word delights," in Cicero's words. This new edition of his plays, which replaces the now outdated Loeb translation by John Sargeaunt (first published in 1912), succeeds in capturing his polished style and appeal.

Terence was patronized by prominent Romans, and his last play Adelphoe, was commissioned by P Cornelius Scipio Aemihanus and his brother for performance at the funeral games for their father in 160. The previous year, his Eunuchus had been an outstanding success, marked by a repeat performance and an exceptionally large financial reward. His one known failure was Hecyra, which twice had to be abandoned in the face of competition from rival attractions (first a tightrope walker and boxers, then a gladiatorial show); Terence's account of these misfortunes in his prologue for the third production is exceptional evidence for conditions of performance at the time.

All his six plays survive. Their dates are given by the *did4scal­iae, which are generally accepted as reliable in spite of some difficulties: Andria ('The Girl from Andros', Megalesian Games 166; cf. LUDI); Hecyra ('The Mother‑in‑Law', Megalesian Games 165, revived in 160 at Aemilius Paullus' funeral games and again later that year); Heautontimorumenos ('The Self‑Tormentor', Megalesian Games 163); Eunuchus ('The Eunuch', Megalesian Games 161); Phormio (Roman Games 161); and Adelphoe ('The Brothers', Aemfius Paullus' funeral games in 160). Hecyra and Phormio were based on originals by Apollodorus of Carystus, the other four on plays by Menander; Terence preserved the Greek titles of all but Phormio (named after the main character; Apollodorus's title was Epidikazomenos, 'The Claimant at Law'). All the plays were produced by Ambivius Turpio, with music by one Flaccus, slave of Claudius.

In adapting Andria, Terence added material from Menander's Perinthia ('The Girl from Perinthos'); for his Eunuchus he added the characters of the parasite and the soldier from Menander's Kolax ('The Toady'); and in Adelphoe he added a scene from Diphilus's Synapothneskontes ('Comrades in Death'). We learn this from the prologues to these plays, where he defends himself against charges of spoiling the Greek plays and of theft from earlier Latin plays. But he made more radical changes than these. The commentary by Donatus provides some further information, for example, that the first 20 lines of Andria are an entirely original creation, and that Terence has converted monologue to dialogue in the central scene of Eunuchus (539-614). The extent and implications of these and other changes are much disputed; it is a mark of Terence's skill that we cannot be sure of the boundaries of inserted material even when he tells us that it has been added. It is widely believed that he made significant changes to the endings of several plays (particularly Eunuchus and Andria), but the meager fragments that survive of his Greek originals force us to rely heavily on intuition about what Menander and Apollodorus are likely to have done.

One clear innovation was Terence's use of a prologue to conduct feuds with his critics; he never used one to tell the spectators about the background to the plot. It has been suggested that he preferred to exploit effects of surprise rather than irony and to involve his audience more directly in the emotions of the characters (most notably in Hecyra, where it is laid bare how women are misunderstood, maligned, and mistreated by men). But the scope for ironic effect varies from play to play; in some cases he includes essential background information in the mouths of the characters at an early stage. It seems more likely that he dispensed with expository prologues because he regarded them as an unrealistic device. Consistent with this is his avoidance of direct audience address in his plays, though he does include some 'metatheatrcal' remarks at Andria 474‑94 and Hecyra 865‑8.

There is a world of difference between Terence and Plautus. In general, Terence seems to have preserved the ethos of his originals more faithfully, with well‑constructed plots, consistent characterization, and very few overtly Roman intrusions into the Greek setting. Like Plautus, he increased the proportion of lines with musical accompaniment; but he hardly ever used lyric meters, and he was more sparing in his use of set‑piece. His plays repay thoughtful study and give a sympathetic portrayal of human relationships (Heautontimorumenos and Andria. both deal with questions of openness and tolerance between fathers and adoles­cent sons). On the other hand, he added stock characters and boisterous scenes to Eunuchus and Andria, and he appealed to the preced­ent of Plautus and others when accused of contaminations; he was not faithful enough to the Greek originals for some of his contemporaries. He deserves his reputation for humanitas, a humane sympathy for the predicaments of human beings, but his plays are also lively and entertaining situation comedies.

Terence's greatest contribution to the development of literary Latin was the creation of a naturalistic style far closer to the language of everyday conversation than that of Plautus or the other authors of palliatae, with much exclamation, aposiopesis, and ellipsis; many of its features are paralleled in Cicero's letters and Catullus's shorter poems. But he did also sometimes use a more ornate and repetitive style, both in the plays themselves and above all in the prologues, which are highly elaborate rhetor­ical pieces with much antithesis, alliteration, etc. He does not reproduce the fantastic verbal exuberance of Plautus.

Terence was widely read for many centuries after his death, above all for his style and moral sentiments. Over 650 manu­scripts of his plays survive, including a number with famous miniature illustrations. In the 10th century the nun Hrothswitha of Gandersheim wrote six Christian comedies in imitation of Terence, and he was both imitated and revived during the Renaissance. He held a central place in the European school curriculum until the 19th century


Headline 3

insert content here