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Publius Terentius Afer (or the African). A celebrated Roman comic poet. He was born in Carthage about 185 B.C., and came to Rome as a slave in the possession of the senator Terentius Lucanus, who, on account of his promising talents and handsome person, gave him a good education and set him free. As early as 166, on the recommendation of the poet Caecilius Statius, he produced his first play, the Maiden of Andros (Andria), which met with great success. He succeeded in winning the favour and friendship of the most distinguished men, such as the younger Scipio and Laelius. He was less successful with his next piece, The Mother-in-Law (Hecyra), which came out in the following year, and was without doubt his feeblest production. It was only on its third representation in 166 that it met with any success. Meanwhile, in 163, two years after the first production of the Hecyra, he ventured to appear before the public with a new piece, The Self-Tormentor (Hautontimorumenos). This was followed in 161 by the Eunuchus, which was very warmly received, and by the Phormio. In 160, after bringing out another play, The Brothers (Adelphi), he went to Greece, where he died 159 B.C. Terence, like the other poets who wrote palliatoe (see COMEDY, 2), borrowed from the older Greek poets, especially from Menander (only the Hecyra and Phormio being taken from Apollodorus). This he did however with a certain freedom; and sometimes by fusing together similar Greek compositions, and borrowing appropriate scenes from other poets, he managed to expand the simple plot of the Greek original. Evidently of a refined mind, he had no taste for the lively realism of a Plautus. On the contrary, he aimed at artistic correctness of plot, delicate delineation of character, and elegance of form. He had nothing of the vivacity, force, and wit of Plautus, and fell far behind Menander in freshness and vigour, for which reason Caesar pertinently called him Menander's half [o dimidiate Menander, quoted by Suetonius in his life of Terence]. In his style, although a foreigner, he caught the refined tone of Roman society so successfully as to cause his detractors to maintain that he had been assisted in his compositions by his noble patrons, a reproach from which he does not entirely exonerate himself in the prologue to the Adelphi. His works do not appear to have maintained their reputation on the stage with the public at large for any length of time after his death. They have, nevertheless, remained for all time the favourite literature of cultivated readers. Ancient critics also made them a subject of study, and wrote many commentaries on them. We still possess the important commentary by Aelius Donatus, belonging to the middle of the 4th century A.D., as well as the less valuable one by Eugraphius of the 10th century, when Terence was (as for some time previously) a favourite text-book. These have come down to us besides the didascalioe (q.v.) to the several pieces, and the metrical arguments by Sulpicius Apollinaris.
Type: Standard
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