Publius Terentius Afer (195/185–159 BC), better known as Terence, was a playwright of the Roman Republic. His comedies were performed for the first time around 170–160 BC, and he died young probably in Greece or on his way back to Rome. Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, brought Terence to Rome as a slave, educated him and later on, impressed by his abilities, freed him. All of the six plays Terence wrote have survived (by comparison, his predecessor Plautus wrote twenty-one extant plays).

One famous quote by Terence reads: "Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto", or "I am a man, I consider nothing that is human alien to me." This appeared in his play "Heauton Timorumenos".


Terence's date of birth is disputed; Aelius Donatus, in his incomplete "Commentum Terenti", considers the year 185 BC to be the year Terentius was born; ["Aeli Donati Commentum Terenti, accedunt Eugraphi Commentum et Scholia Bembina", ed. Paul Wessner, 3 Volumes, Leipzig, 1902, 1905, 1908.] Fenestella, on the other hand, states that he was born ten years earlier, in 195 BC. [G. D' Anna, "Sulla vita suetoniana di Terenzio", RIL, 1956, pp. 31-46, 89-90.]

He may have been born in Carthage or in Greek Italy to a woman taken to Carthage as a slave. Terence's ethnonym "Afer" suggests he lived in Carthage prior to being brought to Rome as a slave. [Tenney Frank, "On Suetonius' Life of Terence." "The American Journal of Philology", Vol. 54, No. 3 (1933), pp. 269-273.] This inference is based on the fact that the term was used in two different ways during the republican era: during Terence's lifetime, it was used to refer to anyone of the Libyan corner of Africa (including Carthage); later, after the destruction of Carthage in 146, it was used to refer to non-Carthaginian Africans, with the term "Punicus" reserved for the Carthaginians. [H. J. Rose, "A Handbook of Latin Literature", 1954.] It is also possible, however, that Terence was of Libyan [Michael von Albrecht, "Geschichte der römischen Literatur", Volume 1, Bern, 1992.] or Berber descent. ["...the playwright Terence, who reached rome as the slave of a senator in the second century BC, was a Berber", Suzan Raven, "Rome in Africa", Routledge, 1993, p.122; ISBN 0415081505.]

In any case, he was sold to Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, who educated him and later on, impressed by Terence's abilities, freed him. Terence then took the nomen Terentius, which is the origin of the present form.

When he was 25, Terence left Rome and he never returned, after having exhibited the six comedies which are still in existence. Some ancient writers tend to say that he died at sea.

Terence's plays

Like Plautus, Terence adapted Greek plays from the late phases of Attic comedy. He was more than a translator, as modern discoveries of ancient Greek plays have confirmed. However, Terence's plays use a convincingly 'Greek' setting rather than Romanizing the characters and situations.

Terence worked hard to write natural conversational Latin, and most students who persevere long enough to be able to read him in the vernacular find his style particularly pleasant and direct. Aelius Donatus, Jerome's teacher, is the earliest surviving commentator on Terence's work. Terence's popularity throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance is attested to by the numerous manuscripts containing part or all of his plays; the scholar Claudia Villa has estimated that 650 manuscripts containing Terence's work date from after 800 AD. The mediaeval playwright Hroswitha of Gandersheim claims to have written her plays so that learned men had a Christian alternative to reading the pagan plays of Terence, while the reformer Martin Luther not only quoted Terence frequently to tap into his insights into all things human but also recommended his comedies for the instruction of children in school. [See, e.g., in "Luther's Works: American Edition", vol. 40:317; 47:228.]

Terence's six plays are:

* "Adelphoe (The Brothers)"
* "Andria (The Girl from Andros)"
* "Eunuchus"
* "Heauton Timorumenos (The Self-Tormentor)"
* "Hecyra (The Mother-in-Law)"
* "Phormio"

The first printed edition of Terence appeared in Strasbourg in 1470, while the first certain post-antiquity performance of one of Terence's plays, "Andria", took place in Florence in 1476. There is evidence, however, that Terence was performed much earlier. The short dialogue "Terentius et delusor" was probably written to be performed as an introduction to a Terentian performance in the ninth century (possibly earlier).

A phrase by his musical collaborator Flaccus for Terence's comedy "Hecyra" is all that remains of the entire body of ancient Roman music. This has recently been shown to be unauthentic (needs citation).


See also

*Literature Portal
* Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi

External references

* [http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/ter.html The six plays of Terence] at The Latin Library la icon

* [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0113 "Andria" at The Perseus Digital Library] en icon

* [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0116 "Hecyra" at The Perseus Digital Library] en icon

* [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0115 "Heautontimorumenos" at The Perseus Digital Library] en icon

* [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0114 "The Eunuch" at The Perseus Digital Library] en icon

* [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0117 "Phormio" at The Perseus Digital Library] en icon

* [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0112 "The Brothers" at The Perseus Digital Library] en icon

* [http://www.intratext.com/Catalogo/Autori/Aut367.HTM Terence's works] : text, concordances and frequency list

* [http://www.fordham.edu/HALSALL/ANCIENT/suet-viribus-rolfe.html#De%20Vita%20Terenti "The Life of Terence"] , part of Seutonius's "De Viris Illustribus", Translated by J. C. Rolfe.

* [http://www.archive.org/details/quodferturcommen01donauoft "Commentum Terenti" ] by Aelius Donatus, at the Internet Archive; 1902 Teubner edition. La icon
* [http://www.rhapsodes.fll.vt.edu/terence.htm SORGLL: Terence, Eunuch 232-264, read by Matthew Dillon]

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