Publius Terentius Afer, better known as Terence, was a playwright of the Roman Republic. His date of birth is disputed; Aelius Donatus, in his incomplete Commentum Terenti, considers the year 185 B.C.E. to be the year Terentius was born;[1] Fenestella, on the other hand, states that he was born ten years earlier, in 195 B.C.E.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] It is also possible, however, that Terence was of Libyan descent.[5] His comedies were performed for the first time ca. 170-160 B.C.E., and he died young probably in 159 B.C.E., in Greece or on his way back to Rome. He wrote six plays, all of which 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 human, nothing that is human is alien to me." This appeared in his play Heauton Timorumenos. As a joke, this quote was "improved" by the American anthropologist Earnest Albert Hooton in this way: "Primas sum, primatum nil a me alienum puto," or "I am a primate; nothing about primates is outside of my bailiwick."



Terence was a son of a rich family of Carthage that went bankrupt and was sold to Terentius, a Roman senator, who educated him and later on, impressed by Terence's abilities, freed him.

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 C.E. 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.[6]

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 post-antiquity performance of one of Terence's plays, Andria, took place in Florence in 1476.

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 inauthentic.

See also

  • Latin literature
  • Slavery
  • Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi


  1. Aeli Donati Commentum Terenti, accedunt Eugraphi Commentum et Scholia Bembina, ed. Paul Wessner, 3 Volumes, Leipzig, 1902, 1905, 1908.
  2. G. D' Anna, Sulla vita suetoniana di Terenzio, RIL, 1956, pp. 31-46, 89-90.
  3. Tenney Frank, "On Suetonius' Life of Terence." The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 54, No. 3 (1933), pp. 269-273.
  4. H. J. Rose, A Handbook of Latin Literature, 1954.
  5. Michael von Albrecht, Geschichte der römischen Literatur, Volume 1, Bern, 1992.
  6. See, e.g., in Luther's Works: American Edition, vol. 40:317; 47:228.

External links

All links retrieved November 27, 2007


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