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Terence - Publius Terentius Afer

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Alleged Portrait of Terence, cropped from  Vaticana, Vat. lat. 3868 (2r).jpg

Alleged Portrait of Terence, cropped from Vaticana, Vat. lat. 3868 (2r).jpg

PD Courtesy of Wikipedia

Who Was Terence?:

Possibly less familiar (and less risqué) than the slightly earlier comic genius, Plautus, Terence wrote more refined comedies dealing with an aristocratic world and borrowing heavily from his Greek predecessors. He wrote for the Greek-based Roman form Fabula Palliata.

The full name of Terence (the cognomen part) includes an adjective meaning African, because it is believed he came to Rome from northern Africa in the retinue of the family that owned him. At Rome, Terence received his freedom.

Birth and Death of Terence:

Terence, who died either at sea or in Greece in about 159 B.C., was probably born about 195 B.C. in Carthage (Northern Africa). Probably.

Terence in Rome:

Assuming Suetonius, the renowned, but gossipy, biographer from the reigns of Emperors Trajan and Hadrian, was right, Terence was brought from northern Africa to Rome as a slave, by Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator. He was then freed, and named ‘Terence’ after his patron, and ‘Afer’ after his presumed place of birth. Terence, who was a member of the Scipionic circle (the literary group that formed around Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus), became a Roman playwright basing his comedy on the Greek New Comedy of Menander.

Suetonius writes this about him:

Publius Terentius Afer, born at Carthage, was the slave at Rome of Terentius Lucanus, a senator, who because of the young man's talent and good looks not only gave him a liberal education, but soon set him free."
Suetonius "Life of Terence"

Influence of Terence:

New comedy was the forerunner of the "modern" European comedy of manners (written by Molière, Congreve, Sheridan, Goldsmith, and Wilde). Earlier English writers, including Shakespeare and Chaucer, also show the influence of Terence.

The Comedies of Terence:

Production notices for Terence's plays provide us with approximate dates for when Terence wrote his comedies:

* Andria - 166 B.C.
* Hecyra (The Mother-in-Law) - 165 B.C.
* Heauton timoroumenos (The Self-Tormentor) - 163 B.C.
* Eunuchus (The Eunuch) - 161 B.C.
* Phormio - 161 B.C
* Adelphi (The Brothers) - 160 B.C.

Sources on Terence:

Our main sources for information on Terence are the prologues to his plays, the production notices, biographical material written centuries later by Suetonius, and commentary written by Aelius Donatus, a 4th century grammarian.

A Terence Quote:

"As the saying is, I have got a wolf by the ears." Phormio. Act iii. Sc. 2, 21. (506.)

Evaluation of Terence During His Time:

The plays of Terence were more refined and less farcical than those of Plautus, for which reason Terence was less popular, although many appreciated him. Suetonius suggests this in the following passage from the same "Life":

"Afranius ranks Terence above all other writers of comedy, writing in his "Compitalia":
"Declaring that no one is the equal of Terence."
But Vulcatius puts him not only below Naevius, Plautus, and Caecilius, but even below Licinius and Atilius. Cicero in his "Limo" gives him this much praise:
"Thou, Terence, who alone dost reclothe Menander in choice speech, and rendering him into the Latin tongue, dost present him with thy quiet utterance on our public stage, speaking with a certain graciousness and with sweetness in every word."
There was also controversy about the techniques of Terence during his lifetime. He was accused of contaminating the (borrowed, Greek) material and of having had assistance from members of the Scipionic Circle in the creation of his plays. [See www.wayneturney.20m.com/terence.htm "Terence" for specific information on "contaminatio".]

Go to other Ancient / Classical History pages on Famous Romans.

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