previous next

P. Tere'ntius Afer

was the second and the last of the Roman comic poets, of whose works more than fragments are preserved. The few particulars of his life were collected long after his decease, and are of very doubtful authority. It would therefore be to little purpose to repeat them without scrutiny or comment. We shall, in the first place, inquire who were the biographers of Terence, what they relate of him, and the consistency and credibility of their several accounts. We shall next briefly survey the comedies themselves, their reception at the time, their influence on dramatic literature, their translators and imitators, their commentators and bibliography.

Our knowledge of Terence himself is derived principally from the life ascribed to Donatus or Suetonius, and from two scanty memoirs, or collections of Scholia, the one published in the seventeenth century, by Abraham Gronovius, from an Oxford MS., and the other by Angelo Mai, from a MS. in the Vatican. The life of Terence, printed in the Milan edition of Petrarch's works 1476, is merely a comment on Donatus. Of these, the first mentioned is the longest and most particular. It is nevertheless a meagre and incongruous medley, which, for its barrenness, may be ascribed to Donatus, and for its scandal to Suetonius. But it cites still earlier writers,--C. Nepos, Fenestella, Porcius, Santra, Volcatius, and Q. Cosconius. Of these Nepos is the best known, and perhaps the most trustworthy. His contemporaries deemed him a sound antiquarian (Catull. 1.1), and his historical studies had trained him to examine facts and dates. (Gel. 15.48.) Of Fenestella, more voluminous than accurate, we have already given some account [Vol. II. p. 145]. Q. Cosconius was probably the grammarian cited by Varro (L. L. 6.36, 89), Porcius, the Porcius Licinius, a satirical and seemingly libellous versifier, mentioned by Gellius (17.21, 19.19), and Volcatius was the Volcatius Sedigitus quoted by the same author (15.24). Santra is enumerated by St. Jerome (Vit. Script. Eccles.) among the Latin compilers of Memoirs; he wrote also a treatise De Antiquitate Verborum, cited frequently by Festus. Such writers are but indifferent vouchers for either facts or dates, whether from their living so long after the poet's age, or from the character of their testimony. In the following account we interweave our comment with their text.

P. Terentius Afer was born at Carthage B. C. 195, since he was in his 35th year at the performance of his last play, the Adelphi, B. C. 160. By birth or purchase, he became the slave of P. Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator. But if he were " civis Carthaginiensis," as the didascalia of Donatas and the biographers style him, his servile condition is difficult to understand. Fenestella remarked that Terence could not have been a prisoner of war, since Carthage was at peace with Rome from B. C. 201 to 149. But in that interim the Carthaginians were involved in wars with their own mercenaries, with the Numidians, and with the southern Iberians, and at least two Roman embassies visited Carthage. So that, although the truce with Rome was unbroken, Terence or his parents may have been exposed in the Punic slavemarkets, and transported to Italy. His cognomen After rests on as good authority as any other circumstance related of him. Yet it is not conclusive. It may have been merely an inference from a popular rumour of his Punic origin; and it was a cognomen of the Gens Domitia at Rome, where it certainly does not imply African descent. Terence is said to have been of an olive complexion, thin person, and middle height. (Donat.) These are not the physical characteristics of the Punic race, but they accord with those of the Liby-phoenician or Celtiberian perioeci, who were planted as colonists in various parts of the Carthaginian territory ; and it is more likely that a perioecus, or the son of a perioecus, should have been enslaved, than that a native Carthaginian should have become the property of a Roman senator, so long as their respective commonwealths were at peace. It is remarkable also that Plautus, an Umbrian, in his comedy of the " Poenulus" should have introduced a Carthaginian among his dramatis personae, and an entire scene in the Punic language, while neither Carthaginian words, names, or allusions, are to be met with in Terence.

We know not at what time Terence came to Rome; but from his proficiency in the language of his masters we infer that he fell early into the hands of Terentius Lucanus, even if he were not a verna, or slave born in the house. A handsome person and promising talents recommended Terence to his patron, who afforded him the best education of the age and finally manumitted him. The condition of slaves was not always unfavourable to intellectual development. More than one eminent writer was born in a servile station 1, and Tiro, Cicero's freedman, was the associate of his patron's literary labours, and his amanuensis. On his manumission, according to the usual practice, Terence assumed his patron's nomen, Terentius, having been previously called Publius or Publipor. From his cognomen, Lucanus, the patron may have been a native or landholder of southern Italy, and the protege, like Livius Andronicus, have acquired in one of the cities of Magna Graecia his taste for the Attic drama. The " Andrian" was the first play offered by Terence for representation The curule aediles, who conducted the theatrical exhibitions, referred the piece to Caecilius, then one of the most popular play-writers at Rome. [CAECILIUS STATIUS.] Unknown and meanly clad, Terence began to read from a low stool his opening scene, so often cited by Cicero as a model of narration. (Invent. 1.23, de Orat. 2.40, &c., &c.) A few verses showed the elder poet that no ordinary writer was before him, and the young aspirant, then in his 27th year, was invited to share the couch and supper of his judge. This reading of the Andrian, however, must have preceded its performance nearly two years, for Caecilius died in B. C. 168, and it was not acted till 166. Meanwhile copies were in circulation, envy was awakened, and Luscius Lavinius [Vol. II. p. 842] a veteran, and not very successful play-writer (comp. Pral. in Terent. Corn. ; Gel. 15.24; Hieron. in Genes.), began his unwearied and unrelenting attacks on the dramatic and personal character of the author. The " Andrian" was successful, and, aided by the accomplishments and good address of Terence himself, was the means of introducing him to the most refined and intellectual circles of Rome. In the interval between Plautus and Terence, the great Roman families had more and more assumed the state and character of princely houses. In their town and country seats, the Scipios, the Laelii, the Metelli and the Mucii, formed each a petty court around themselves. Among the patrons or associates of Terence we find the names of L. Furius Philus, of C. Sulpicius Gallus, of Q. Fabius Labeo, and M. Popilius Laenas. But from the comparative youth of the parties, his intercourse with Laelius and the younger Scipio had in it less of dependence on the one side, and more of friendship on the other. Nepos, indeed (Fr. Chron. 1.6), calls them aequales. Both Scipio and Laelius, however, were probably about nine years younger than their protégé. Both treated him as an equal, and this intimacy would open to him, as it formerly opened to Ennius, and subsequently to Lucilius, the houses of the Aemilii, Metelli, and Scaevolae. (Cic. Arch. 7 ; Vet. Schol. in Hor. Serm. 2.1. 71.) Nor is it rash to conjecture that Terence may have conversed with Polybius at Alba or Liternum, or made one of the group immortalised by Horace. (Serm. 2.1. 71, foll.; vet. Schol.)

Calumny did not fail to misrepresent their intercourse. His patrons, it was said, assisted Terence in the composition, nay, were the real authors of his plays, made him their playmate and butt, and let him starve. (Porcius, apud Donat.) C. Memmius [No. 5] mentioned the rumour as notorious, in his speech " Pro Se ;" Valgius wrote in his Actaeon (Bothe, Poet. Lat. Scen. v. p. 201), probably in the Prologue,

" Hae quae vocantur fabulae cujae sunt?
Non has, qui jura populis end'ibus (endo-tribs ?) dabat
Honore summo affectus, fecit fabulas ;"

Cicero gave it credence (ad Att. 7.3), and Nepos (Fr. Incert. 6), in the following story, ascribes at least one comedy to Laelius. It was, he says, the 1st of March, the festival of the Matronalia, on which, if on no other day of the year, the Roman ladies were absolute in their households. Laelius was spending the holiday at Puteoli; supper was announced, but he begged not to be interrupted, as he had business in hand. When at length he entered the supper-room, he excused his absence by saying he had been writing verses, and had never written any more to his liking. He then recited the opening lines of the 4th scene in the 4th act of the " Self-Tormentor:"

" Satis, pol, proterve me Syri promissa huc induxerunt," &c.

The belief that Terence was aided by his friends in composition, if properly limited, has in it nothing improbable. He was a foreigner, and of a race, to which, whether Libyan or Iberian, the Greek and Latin idioms presented no ordinary difficulties. Of the English, who speak and write French, few attain to precision or purity, and the Punic or Basque dialects diverged more from the languages of Athens and Rome than the speech of London from the speech of Paris. From the purity of Terence's diction we might, without these anecdotes, infer his intimacy with the best society in Rome. Of that society, in that age, the Scipios were the leaders; and the Laelii, both male and female, the models of forensic and conversational eloquence. [LAELIA, No. 1.] Nor did Terence deny the charge. He gloried in it, as the test of his proficiency as an artist. (Prol. in Adelph.) Our own dramatic literature furnishes parallel cases. Garrick added a scene to the " West Indian," and revised the " Clandestine Marriage." Pope retouched the songs in the " Beggar's Opera," and the " Medea" was submitted to the critics of Leicester House. Yet no one doubts that Cumberland, Colman, Gay, and Glover, were respectively the authors of those productions. The story of Terence's poverty is less easy to refute, but we disbelieve it equally. He owned an estate of a few acres, contiguous to the Appian road, and, after his decease, his daughter married a man of equestrian rank. Neither of these facts accords with the assertion of Porcius Licinius (Donat.), that he was too poor to hire a house or keep a slave. An eques would scarcely wed a portionless maiden, the daughter of a freedman; and even in that age, land lying near the great highway of Italy must have been valuable as pasture, arable, or building ground. Avarice, on the other hand. was not the vice of the Scipios. (Plb. 32.14.) If they took freely from kings and tetrarchs (Liv. 38.50), without scrupulously accounting to the treasury, they gave freely to their favourites and dependents. Ennius, though poor (Hieron. Chron. Ol. 135), did not starve under their roof, and was buried in their tomb; Polybius and Panaetius lightened the privations of exile in their camp and their villas, and Lucilins, who succeeded Terence in the friendship of Scipio and Laelius, could afford to make literature his profession. But. if by poverty be meant indigence, the tenour of Terence's history contradicts the rumour of his poverty. After the representation of his six comedies, for one of which, the Eunuch, he received the unprecedented sum of nearly 60l., he travelled in Greece. Now a journey in Greece could not be performed in those days any more than in our own without cost, even if his patrons lightened his charges by their tesserae hospitals (Plant. Poen. 5.1. 25), to their various clients and friends. And Terence resided, as well as travelled in Greece, since while there he translated 108 of Menander's comedies nor as an alien could he hold a libera legatio, or commission to live at the public expense while transacting his private business. These facts, gleaned from his biographers themselves, render the neglect of the patrons and the indigence of the client very doubtful. The hostility to Terence was perhaps owing partly to professional causes, and partly to his popularity with the great. Terence was a foreigner, a freedman, and the adherent of a party. Even Horace was taunted with being libertino patre natus ; and in Horace's days the long civil wars and the influx of strangers into the senate and the tribes had melted down many of the old Italian prejudices. In Terence's age there were two strongly opposed parties in literature, as well as in politics,--the Latin party, of which Cato and the Fabii were the representatives, and the Greek, or movement-party, of which the Scipios were the leaders and Terence the favourite. Here was plentiful matter for libel. Whether the attacks of Lavinius drove him from Italy, or whether he went to Greece as to a university, is uncertain. Before his departure his detractors had affirmed that from his ignorance of Attic manners and idiom his versions of Menander and Apollodorus were caricatures. (Prol. in Andr. Hcautont. Phorm.) He never returned, and the accounts of his death are as various as the records of his life. According to one story, after embarking at Brundisium, he was never heard of more; according to others, he died at Stymphalus, in Arcadia (Auson. Epist. xviii.), in Letucadia, or at Patrae, in Achaia. One of his biographers said he was drowned, with all the fruits of his sojourn in Greece, on his home-passage. But the prevailing report was, that his translations of Menander were lost at sea, and that grief for their loss caused his death. He died in the 36th year of his age, in B. C. 159, or, according to St. Jerome (Chron. Ol. 155, 3), in the year following. He left a daughter, but nothing is known of his family.


Six comedies, all belonging to the Fabula Palliata, are all that remain to us; and since in these we can verify the citations from him in the grammarians, they are probably all that Terence produced. His later versions of Menander were, in all likelihood, from their number and the short time in which they were made, merely studies for future dramas of his own, and therefore are not to be ranked as deperdita. For Terence's exemption from the neglect or ravages of time various causes may be assigned. His works were few in number, and small in bulk. From their purity of diction, they became the text-books of the grammatical and rhetorical schools; they found favour with St. Jerome, and escaped the censures of the church. They were brought forward at the following seasons and under the following circumstances.


Andria, " the Woman of Andros," so called from the birth-place of Glycerium, its heroine, was first represented at the Megalesian Games, on the 4th of April, B. C. 166. It was, according to Donatus, the first in order of time of Terence's plays. This has been disputed by subsequent critics (Petitus, de Ord. Com. P. Ter.), but seems warranted by the poet's age -- 27 -- at his interview with Caecilius (suprà), and by the original title, Andria Terentii. For in the didascalia it was the custom to put the name of the play foremost, if by an author hitherto unknown; whereas Terentii Andria would import that it was a new piece by a known writer. From the anecdote of Caecilius above related, it appears that the Andria circulated in manuscript nearly two years before it was acted. For the prologue refers to critical objections to the play, and says that the carpings of a malignant hacknied writer -- malevolus vetus poeta -- compelled the author to bring forward matters personal to himself, instead of confining himself to the argument of his piece The Andria is made up of two of Menander's comedies, the Andria and Perinthia, and Luscius Lavinius said that Terence had marred two good plays to make one bad one. Terence replies that if he were a compiler, so were Naevius, Plautus, and Ennius before him, and that he would rather err with them than be right with Lavinius. He ends by warning his assailant not to moot the question of piracy again, since his own offences in that way were notorious, and he begs the audience to give his play a patient hearing, for upon its reception would depend whether he wrote others.

The Roman theatre was ill suited to the representation of the Comoedia Palliata. The bustle and buffoons of Plautus required no better appointment than the wooden booths which that age afforded. The masks and the unities encumbered Menander as well as Terence; but the Roman play-writer had to contend with worse obstacles than the common conventionalities of his art. The manners he pourtrayed were exotic: his audience was gross and noisy (Prol. in Hecyr., comp. Prol. to B. Jonson's " The Case is altered"); and if Valerius Antias be correct in dating the introduction of the Ludi Scenici in B. C. 193 or 191, the Comoedia Palliata, or Genteel Comedy, was hardly a quarter of a century old at Rome. We find Terence, in his prologues, continually supplicating the spectators to sit still and be silent, and their rudeness and apathy must have formed a singular contrast to his subtle humour and refined pictures of life. Four of his six comedies, indeed, were played at the Megalesia, which were more decorous and orderly than the games of the circus, and are therefore described by Cicero (Harusp. Resp. 12) as maxime casti, sollemnes, religiosi. But at best the comedy of Terence was caviare to the Romans -- an Italian opera performed at Bartholomew fair.

The Andrian has been often translated and imitated. The earliest English version was made in the reign of Edward VI. It is in rhymed stanzas of seven lines each, was probably performed as an exercise at one of the universities, and is in some degree adapted to the manners of the times. Baron, the celebrated French actor, imitated Terence closely in his Andrienne. Even the Latin names of the Dramatis Personae are retained, and in the third and fourth acts alone has he deviated, and then not for the better, from his original. The Andria has also suggested a portion of Moore's Foundling. But the most elaborate copy of this play is Sir Richard Steele's Conscious Lovers. The Latin names of the characters, indeed, are not preserved, but their English representatives, as the following list shows, exhibit a close parallelism. Sir John Bevil=Simo; young Bevil = Pamphilus ; Indiana =Glycerium; Sealand=Chremes; Myrtle = Charinus; Humphrey = Sosia; Phillis = Mysis ; and Tom = Davus, the " currens servus qui fallit senem," the prototype of Molière's Scapin. Steele's underplot is, on the whole, conducted more skilfully than Terence's; but for the management of the principal story, for consistency in the characters, for humour, and elegance of diction, the Conscious Lovers will bear no comparison with the Andrian.


Hecyra, " the Step-Mother," was produced at the Megalesian Games, in B. C. 165. It was a version of a play, bearing the same name, by Apollodorus (Meineke, Comic. Graec. Hist. vol. i. p. 464), and is an ancient specimen of the comédie larmoyante. The Hecyra was twice rejected: the first time the spectators hurried out of the theatre to see a boxing match and rope-dancers; the second time, when it was played at the funeral games of Aemilius Paullus, B. C. 160, it was interrupted by a combat of gladiators. It owed its success, on a third trial, to the intercessions of Ambivius Turpio, the manager, with the audience. The Prologue to the Hecyra throws some light on the Roman theatrical system. It appears that the managers of the grex or company, in accepting a new piece, incurred no slight responsibility. Their judgment on the MSS. determined the aediles to purchase or refuse it. But if the public, after all, rejected it, the aediles looked to the manager to indemnify them for the outlay. Ambivius, by his appeals to the spectators, had more than once rescued the plays of Caecilius from rejection, and Terence, in his Prologue to the Phormio, acknow-ledges his exertions on the third representation of the Hecyra. The comedy, however, never was a favourite. It was acted quinto loco, fifth on the list, and Volcatius Sedigitus (Gel. 15.24) pronounces it the worst of the author's plays. The plot, which is single, and which Hurd (Dial. ii.) somewhat magisterially calls " the true Greek plot," was too simple for Roman taste, and the long narrations and general paucity of action in this comedy will alone account for its bad recep tion. " Tous les genres," says Voltaire, " sent bons, hors le genre ennuyeux." The Hecyra has never been modernised.


ἑεαυτὸν τιμωρουμένος, the Self-Tormentor, was performed at the Megalesian Games, B. C. 163. It was borrowed from Menander, and, like the Hecyra, belongs to the Comédie larmonyante. (Comp. Spectator, No. 502.) Its plot is twofold, and the parts are not better connected than the two stories in Vanbrugh's and Cibber's Provoked Husband. From the Prologue it appears that the critics had opened a new battery on Terence; they charged him with being a late learner of his art, and hinted what they afterwards expressed openly (comp. Prol. in Heaut. with Prol. in Adelph.) that his friends helped him in composition. He retorts upon them the grossness and impropriety of their scenes. Ambivius again pleaded the author's cause, and complained of the spectator's preference for such parts as exhausted the actor--the servus currens, the boisterous old man, and the parasite. The observation or neglect of the unities in the Heauton-timoroumenos was the subject of a fierce controversy among the French critics between 1640 and 1655. The principal combatants were Ménage and Hédelin (l'Abbé d'Aubignac); and Madam Dacier acted as moderator. Of the Terentian diction the Self-tormentor is the most perfect example, and the poet seems anxious to veil the anomalies of his plot beneath the dignity of his apophthegms and the splendour of his language. The part of Menedemus, the self-tormentor, rises to almost tragic earnestness, and reminds the reader occasionally of Shakspeare's Timon. But as none of Terence's plays are so remote from modern manners, the Heauton-timoroumenos has not retained its ancient reputation. Chapman's All Fools, printed in 1605, owes a portion of its plot to the Self-tormentor. (Collier, Annals of the Stage, 3.95.) Colman (Terence, p. 160) notices the resemblance between Menedemus and Laertes in the Odyssey (15.354), 16.139.) Some of the lines of Menander's Heauton-timoroumenos are preserved. (Meinek. Hist. Graec. Com.


Eunuchus, " the Eunuch," was at the time the most popular of Terence's comedies. It was played at the Megalesian Games, B. C. 162, and so highly applauded that it was repeated at the same festival, and the poet received from the aediles the unusual sum of 8000 sesterces, a fact so memorable as to be recorded in the Didascalia. It is an adaptation of Menander's Εὐνοῦχος, but Thraso and Gnatho, the swaggering captain and the parasite, are taken from that author's Κόλαξ, " the Flatterer." There was also a " Colax" by Naevius, which Terence's enemies accused him of appropriating, but which he denies having ever seen. Lavinius (Prol. in Eunuch.) managed to get sight of the Eunuch before it was acted, and told the aediles they had bought stolen goods. Terence replied, that if stock-characters -- currentes servos, bonas matronas, meretrices malas, parasitum edacem, gloriosum militem -- were to be prohibited, there was an end of play-writing. He bids his censor mind the blunders in his own " Thesaurus," and remember that his Phasma was all Menander's, except the faults. As the manners of the Self-tormentor are obsolete, so the subject of the Eunuch is unsuitable to modern feelings, yet of all Terence's plays it is the most varied in action and the most vivacious in dialogue, and makes the received censure of his being deficient in vis comica scarcely intelligible.

Baif, a poet in the reign of Charles IX., translated the Eunuch into French verse. The modern imitations of it are Aretine's La Talanta, La-Fontaine's L'Eunuque, which is in fact a translation, retaining the names, scenes, and manners of the original; and Sir Charles Sedley's Bellamira 1687. It is also the source of Le Muet, by Bruyés and Palaprat, first acted in 1691.


Phormio, was performed in the same year with the preceding, at the Roman Games on the 1st of October. (Comp. Drakenborch. ad Liv. 45.1, 6.) This year (161) may therefore be regarded as the " annus mirabilis" of his reputation. It is borrowed from the Ἐπιδικαζόμενος, " Plaintiff" or " Heir-at-Law" of Apollodorus, and is named " Phormio" from the parasite whose devices connect the double-plot. Phormio, however, is not a parasite of the Gnatho stamp, but an accommodating gentleman who reconciles all parties, somewhat after the fashion of Mr. Harmony in Mrs. Inchbald's Every One has his Fault. It would seem from the Prologue, that Terence wearied out, if not convinced, by his censors iterating that his plays were " tenui oratione et scripture levi," attempted in the present a loftier style, and, as Donatius says, dealt with passions too earnest for mirth. It is therefore the more strange that this comedy should have suggested to Molière one of his most extravagant farces, Les Fourberies de Scapin. Molière, however, borrowed from other sources as well.


Adelphi, " the Brothers," was acted for the first time at the funeral games of L. Aemilius Paullus, B. C. 160. The Greek stage possessed no less than seven dramas with this title. (Meineke, Comic. Graec. Hist.) But Terence took the greater part of his plot from Menander's Ἀδελφοί. One scene, however (Prol.), was borrowed from the Συναποθνήοκοντες of Diphilus, which Plautus had already reproduced under the title of Commorientes. A full and lively analysis of this play, to the modern reader the most delightful of all Terence's comedies, is given by Mr. Dunlop (Hist. of Rom. Lit. I. pp. 302-317). In its Prologue the charge, implied before (Prol. in Heautont.), is expressed of the poet's being not merely helped in composition by his friends, but that the plays themselves were really written by Scipio or Laelius. We have already examined the validity of this accusation. The Prologue shows that the hostility of the critics increased with the success of Terence.

The modern imitations of this comedy are very numerous. Baron copied it in his Ecole des Pères, and it furnished Molière with more than hints for his Ecole des Maris. It is the original of Fagan's La Pupile, and of Garrick's Farce of the Guardian. Diderot in his comedie larmoyante Le Père de Famille, in his characters of M. d'Orbesson and Le Commandeur had evidently Micio and Demea before him, and Shadwell's Squire of Alsatia is from the same source. Manlove and Nightshade in Cumberland's Choleric Man are repetitions of Micio and Demea, and Know'ell in Every Man in his Humour is Micio. Even so recently as 1826-7 the " Brothers of Terence" in its essential parts of contrast, was brought upon the English stage as the Rose-Feast.

The comedies of Terence have been translated into most of the languages of modern Europe, and in conjunction with Plautus were, on the revival of the drama, the models of the most refined, if not the most genial play-writers. In Italy the Terentian Comedy was opposed in the 15th and 16th centuries to the Commédie dell' Arte, and Ariosto, Aretine, Lodovico Dolce, and Battista Porta drew deeply from " this well of" Lutin " undefiled." The Pedante was substituted for the Currens Servus, but the swaggering captain and the parasite were retained with little alteration. In Spain Pedro Simon de Abril, about the middle of the 16th century, published a complete translation of Terence, which is still much esteemed. (Bouterwek, Spanish Lit. p. 198, Eng. trans. Bogue.) The English versions of Bernard, Hoole, and Echard (see Tytler's Essay on the Principles of Translate. p. 244, &c.) have been long superseded by that of Colman, one of the most faithful and spirited translations of an ancient writer. Besides Baif's Eunuchus Menage mentions a very old French version of the whole of Terence, partly in prose; but the most accurate and useful of the French translations is the prose version by the Daciers. Politian was the first to divide the scenes into metrical lines, but Erasmus greatly improved upon his arrangement.

The Didascalia preserve the names of the principal actors of Terence's plays, when originally produced. They were Ambivius Turpio, L. Atilius Praenestinus, and Minutius Prothimus; and Flaccus, son of Claudius, furnished the musical accompaniments to all six comedies. The Periochae or summaries in Iambic verse of the plot of each comedy were drawn up by C. Sulpicius Apollinaris.

In closing this summary of Terence's comedies, we may remark that Terence added no new characters to the repertoire of the Attic drama (comp. Prol. in Heautont. with Hor. A. P. 114), and that, even in Horace's time, in spite of the passion for spectacle and melodrama, his plays attracted crowded audiences, and were as familiarly known to the Roman populace, as the stanzas of Tasso's " Gierusalemme" to the Venetian gondoliers. (Hor. Ep. 2.1. 60.)

Ancient Commentators

An account of the principal ancient commentators on Terence will be found under the names Calliopius, Donatus, Eugraphius, and Evanthius. The earliest treatise on the Terentian metres is that of Rufinus of Antioch. Bentley, in his edition of the poet (Cambridge, 1726, 4to.), was the first to arrange them on a scientific principle: since that time no material improvement has been made either in the text or the metrical system of these comedies. For an account of Bentley's edition, see his Life by Monk (ii. pp. 225-231, 8vo. ed). Mr. Hallam (Mid. Ages, ii. p. 342, 8th ed.) has some very ingenious and instructive remarks on the versification of Terence, and there is a satisfactory article on the same subject in the Penny Cyclopaedia (Terentian Metres). A selection of Prolegomena to Terence is prefixed to the edition of Terence by Mr. Giles, London, 8vo. 1837.

The ancient critics on Terence were very numerous. We cite the principal of them chronologically before offering any remarks of our own.

Nearest in time, afranius wrote in his Compitalia that Terence was sui generis, really incomparable,

" Terenti non similem dices quempiam."

Varro (Parmenio, Nonius, s. v. Poscere) says he was surpassing in the portraiture of character, " in ethesin Terentius poscit palmam." Cicero (Opt. Gen. Or. 1. § 3) said that he differed from his brother-artists in genere, " unum vero est genus perfecti, a quo qui absunt, genere differunt, ut ab Attio Terentius," and in a fragment of his Limo, probably a critical miscellany in verse, commends him as the interpreter of Menander,

" Quicquid come loquens, ac omnia dulcia dicens."

Volcatius Sedigitus (de Poet. Corn. ap. Gell. 15.24) assigns Terence only the sixth place among the Roman comic poets, an opinion deeply resented by many modern scholars. (Rutger's Var. Lect. 4.19; Francis. Asulanus, Ep. &c.) Horace awards him the palm of art (Ep. 2.1. 59, " sincere Caecilius gravitate, Terentius arte "), and Ovid distinguishes his festive humour (Trist. 2.357),

" Nec liber est judicium animi; sed honesta voluntas,
Plurima mulcendis auribus apta refert.
Accius esset atrox, conviva Terentius esset."

Quintilian (10.1) depreciates Roman comedy generally, " in comoedia maxime claudicamus," and thinks that Terence erred in not adhering to the Senarian measure of his Greek originals; and Servius (Serv. ad Aen. 1.414) says " sciendum est Terentium, propter solam proprietatem, omnibus comicis esse praepositum; quibus est, quantum ad caetera spectat, inferior." We cite Caesar's famous epigram last, both on account of its author and of the verdict he delivers.

" Tu quoque tu in summis, O dimidiate Menander,
Poneris, et merito, puri sermonis amator,
Lenibus atque utinam scriptis adjunct foret vis
Comica, ut aequato virtus polleret honore
Cum Graecis, neque in hac despectus parte jaceres.
Unum hoc maceror et doleo tibi deesse, Terenti."

The preceding extracts show the ancient critics unanimous in ascribing to Terence immaculate purity and elegance of language, and nearly so in denying him vis comica. Their opinion is entitled to the more respect from their having had the entire Menander before them, and from its confirmation by modern censors from Erasmus to Colman. Yet we are not inclined to let their verdict pass unquestioned. In the first place, four of Terence's six plays are more or less comédies larmoyantes -- sentimental comedies -- in which vis comica is not a primary element. In the next, Terence is generally contrasted with Plautus, with whom he had so little in common that we might as justly compare Addison with Moliére. Granting to the elder poet the highest genius for exciting laughter, and the eloquence which Aelius Stilo ascribed to him (Varr. ap. Quinct. 10.1.99), and a natural force -- " virtus " -- which his rival wanted, there will remain to Terence greater consistency of plot and character, closer observation of generic and individual distinctions, deeper pathos, subtler wit, more skill and variety in metre, and in rhythm, and a wider command of the middle region between sport and earnest. It may be objected that Terence's superiority in these points arises from his copying his Greek originals more servilely. But no servile copy is an animated copy, and we have corresponding fragments enough of Menander to prove that Terence retouched and sometimes improved his model. (Zimmerman, Terenz. u. Menand. 1842.) He cannot, indeed, be ranked with the dramatic poets who exert a deep or permanent influence on the passions of men or the art of representation -- with Sophocles and Aristophanes, with Shakspere or Lope de Vega, with Moliére or Schiller. But we incline to class him with Massinger, Racine, and Alfieri -- writers in whom the form is more perfectly elaborated than the matter is genially conceived. Nor in summing up his merits should we omit the praise which has been universally accorded him -- that, although a foreigner and a freedman, he divides with Cicero and Caesar the palm of pure Latinity.


The principal editions of Terence are, "princeps," Mediol. 1470, fol.; Mureti, 1555, 1558, 8vo. frequently reprinted; Faerni, Florent. 1565, 8vo.; Lindenbrogii, Paris, 1602, 4to., Francofurt, 1623; Parei et Riccii. Neap. Nemet. 1619, 2 vols. 4to.; Bentleii, an epoch in Terentian text and metres, Cantab. 1726, 4to., Amstel. 1727, 4to., Lips. 1791, 8vo.; Westerhovii. Hagae Com. 1727, 2 vols. 4to.; Stallbaum, Lips. 1830, 8vo. and Zeune, I. K. 1774, which contains nearly every thing good in its predecessors, and ample prolegomena. There are also numerous editions of single plays.


The principal Codices of Terence are, the Vatican Bembinus, written about the fifth century, A.D., and the Cambridge. A second Vatican Codex dates from the ninth century, A.D., and contains drawings of the masks worn by the actors. (Boettig. Spec. ed. Terent. Lips. 1795.)

Further information

Besides the authorities already cited, see Crinit. de Poet. 100.8 ; Dunlop, Hist. Rom. Lit. vol. i. p. 110, foll.; Dryden's " Essay on Dramatic Poesie " (works, vol. xv. p. 263. Scott. ed.); Hurd's (Bp.) Dialogues on " Poetical Imitation," " Provinces of the Drama," &c.; Diderot, " Essai sur la Poesie Dramatique " (oeuvres); Spectator, No. 502; Colman's " Terence," &c.


1 * Bentley (Praef: in Terent. Cantabr. 1726) remarks " Hi tres (Terentius, P. Syrus, Phaedrus) pari conditione liberti et peregrini, in non ita dissimili argumento, comoediis mimis et apologis, omnia Italorum ingenia facile superaverunt." For the intellectual opportunities of slaves, see also Nepos (Att. 13, 14). Before his manumission, Terence was probably anagnostes and librarius to Lucanus.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
160 BC (3)
201 BC (1)
195 BC (1)
193 BC (1)
168 BC (1)
166 BC (1)
165 BC (1)
163 BC (1)
162 BC (1)
159 BC (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: