The (very large: 130kb!) page about Plautus, Terence, and Cicero by Sanderson Beck contains the following about Terentius -- I have only slightly adapted the format of the text, and I corrected "prolog" into "prologue". And I added a link to an extract with the citation of Terence I give.


Publius Terentius Afer, known as Terence, was born in Carthage probably in 185 BC. He was brought to Rome as the slave of the senator Terentius Lucanus, who gave him a liberal education and his freedom because of his intelligence and good looks. Young Terence was befriended by the Scipionic circle that included Scipio Aemilianus, the satirist Gaius Lucilius, the Stoic Gaius Laelius, the philosopher Panaetius of Rhodes, and the historian Polybius. His six produced plays are all extant, but only The Eunuch was really popular in his own time. Four were based on plays by Menander, while The Mother-in-Law and Phormio were adapted from works by Apollodorus of Carystus; rumors persisted that his influential friends helped write his plays, and Terence seemed proud rather than ashamed of his friends' influence. At the age of 25 Terence went to Greece and Asia Minor in search of more Greek plays and never returned; it was assumed he died in 159 BC, but stories of how varied. His new comedies were very influential through the middle ages for their elegant Latin style and in the development of comedies of manners in the Renaissance.


Plays by Terence:

The Woman of Andros by Terence was produced at Rome during the spring festival of the Great Mother in 166 BC. Simo and his freed slave Sosia explain the situation and praise the character of Pamphilus, the son of Simo. Sosia comments that the way to win friends these days is to agree with everything, because the truth is unpopular. This is to be the wedding day of Pamphilus and Philumena, the daughter of Chremes; but Simo has learned that his son is in love with Glycerium, who is believed to be the sister of the late courtesan from Andros. Learning of this, Chremes has withdrawn his consent from the marriage. The slave Davos finds that Glycerium is having a baby that Pamphilus is going to acknowledge as his. Meanwhile Charinus is in love with Philumena and wants to marry her; but his slave advises him that if he can't have what he wants, he should want what he can have. Davos suggests that Pamphilus pretend he is going to marry Philumena so as not to disappoint his father, because Chremes is calling off the wedding anyway. When Simo persuades Chremes to allow the wedding, Davos gets in trouble. When Simo learns his son is in love with Glycerium, Chremes advises him that fathers should not be too hard on their children whatever their faults. A passing stranger reveals that Glycerium is also the daughter of Chremes, and the play ends happily with a pending double wedding of the two sisters.

At the first performance of Terence's The Mother-In-Law in 165 BC the audience was distracted by tight-rope walkers and a boxing match, and five years later its failure was blamed on news of a gladiator show; but the same year it was finally completed successfully. Pamphilus, in love with the courtesan Bacchis, agreed to marry Philumena but refused to have sexual relations with her for two months. He has just returned from a business trip; but his wife has gone back to her parents' house, blaming her mother-in-law, but really because she is pregnant. She had been raped and had her mother's ring stolen before her marriage, and her mother now intends to expose the child. No one can get the couple re-united until Bacchis tells the father of Pamphilus that she has had not relations with his son since his wedding. He asks her to tell this to Philumena and her mother, who identifies the ring Pamphilus gave Bacchis, bringing the realization that Pamphilus is the father of Philumena's child. Pamphilus is happily re-united with his wife and does not bother to tell his father what usually occurs in the final scenes of comedies. This father does not consider it a vice for his son to keep a mistress even while he is married; though he is not told about his son's rape, no one else seems to be bothered much by that violent act when it is discovered the woman turned out to be his future wife.

The Self-Tormentor by Terence was first performed in 163 BC and has a plot so complicated that the slave Syrus can fool the two fathers by telling them the truth, because it is so unusual they fear he is trying to trick them. Chremes, the father of Clitipho, makes the wonderful humanist statement that being human he is concerned about anything human [see this extract]. He says to the father of Clinia, Menedemus, who is tormenting himself with hard work because he drove his son into the army, that if he is right, Chremes will imitate him; but if he is wrong, he will try to get him to mend his ways. What bothered Menedemus was that his son fell in love and was living with Antiphila, the daughter of a woman of humble means.

Clinia has returned from Asia and is in the house of Clitipho with Bacchis, a courtesan beloved by Clitipho but who is pretending to be Clinia's mistress while Antiphila pretends to be her maid. A comic problem is that Clitipho cannot keep his hands off Bacchis which threatens to expose the ruse. Syrus claims it is against his principles to tell lies but without doing so is able to get Menedemus to be duped into giving money for his son and Chremes a dowry when it is discovered that Antiphila is his daughter, because both fathers really want to help their children. Chremes, who years ago had his wife give away their daughter to be exposed, is now happy to have a daughter to give to his friend's son in marriage. In fact to teach his son a lesson, he plans to give all his wealth as a dowry; this stimulates Clitipho to agree to marry another woman of his choice, not the courtesan Bacchis. Thus the value of noble birth is affirmed, and the courtesan is denigrated.

The Eunuch produced in 161 BC was Terence's most popular play and earned him 8,000 sesterces, the most ever paid for a Roman comedy. In his prologue Terence wrote that he aimed to please as many and hurt as few honest people as possible, but he continued to criticize his rival Luscius Lanuvinus, whom he blamed for first attacking him. The courtesan Thais has a 16-year-old girl named Pamphila, who had been stolen from Attica and given to her mother to raise until she died. The brother of Thais sold the girl, but her soldier friend Thasos bought Pamphila as a present for Thais. Now Thais asks her lover Phaedria for two days to make sure she gets the girl from Thasos, who has a parasite skilled in saying what the proud soldier likes to hear. Phaedria's slave Parmeno is to deliver a eunuch to Thais as a gift; but Phaedria's younger brother Chaerea has fallen in love with Pamphila and dresses up as the eunuch to be admitted into the house, where he rapes the beautiful girl when she is sleeping. Pamphila's brother Chremes comes along to prove that she is free-born; he provokes the jealousy of the soldier Thasos, who tries to storm the house of Thais. Only the servant Pythias seems upset by the rape, and she tries to get back at Parmeno for setting it up by telling him that they plan to execute the punishment for adultery on Chaerea which is castration; but instead he is allowed to marry Pamphila, while Thais puts herself under the patronage of Phaedria, who is persuaded by the parasite to share her with the generous Thasos.

Phormio was produced later the same year at the Roman games. The slave Geta explains that Phaedria, the son of Chremes, has fallen in love with a flute girl and needs 3,000 drachmas to buy her, because the pimp is about to sell her. While Demipho was away, his son Antipho was able to marry a young woman Phanium having no dowry, because the adventurer Phormio forced him to do so in a legal case as the closest relative of an orphan. When the avaricious Demipho returns, he tries to end his son's marriage by paying Phormio 3,000 to marry Phanium, Phormio getting the money for Phaedria. When Chremes learns that Phanium is his daughter by a second wife he had in Lemnos, he and Demipho try to keep it a secret; but Geta overhears them, enabling Phormio to blackmail Chremes into giving him the 3,000 even though he is not marrying Phanium now. As Phormio tells the wife of Chremes, she concludes that if her husband had two wives surely their son can have a mistress; she happily invites Phormio for dinner. Terence brought the stock characters and situations to life so well that Moliere adapted this play in Les Fourberies de Scapin.

The Brothers was produced in 160 BC and contrasts the strict parenting of Demea with the indulgence of his bachelor brother Micio, who is raising Demea's son Aeschinus. Micio allows Aeschinus a free rein so that he will not have to hide his misdeeds nor be restrained by fear; he believes in training his son to choose the right course freely by being a father but not a tyrant. Demea complains that Micio has spoiled Aeschinus, who has just broken into a house and carried off a girl. The pimp tries to get her back but reluctantly agrees to sell her to Aeschinus for what he paid for her. Ctesipho is afraid of his father Demea finding out, and so Aeschines has done all of this for him and even taken them into his house. The mother of Aeschinus' girl-friend Pamphila, who is about to have his baby, finds out he has bought another girl and gets very upset. When Demea learns of this pregnant woman, he becomes even more contemptuous of his brother's failure as a father. Ironically he believes he is the first to know of these wrongs when he really has no clue of the truth, because his son is afraid of him.

Micio at first scares Aeschinus by telling him Pamphila must by law marry her next of kin, but then he makes his adopted son very happy by approving his marriage to her. Micio answers Demea's charges about morality by saying that older people tend to think too much of money. Then in a stunning reversal Demea says he has learned that affability and forbearance are better than black looks, and tired of money-grubbing and admiring the parental rewards of his brother, he suddenly becomes generous, tells the servant to break a hole between the houses to make it easier for the pregnant woman, approves of both marriages, urges Micio to marry Pamphila's mother, gives property to their relative, frees his slave, and buys the freedom of his former slave's wife; the point he says finally is to prove that what people thought was Micio's good nature is really weakness, indulgence, and extravagance. He is willing to let his sons squander their fortune and is ready to give advice if asked. Thus Terence reveals the value of liberal education with a cautionary note.

Copyright © 1998 by Sanderson Beck

Source of this text: the (very large: 130kb!) page about Plautus, Terence, and Cicero by Sanderson Beck.

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created: 4 November 1998
last modified: 12 March 2000