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Publius Terentius Afer (195/185–159 BC), better known in English 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 Greecemarker or on his way back to Romemarker. 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.

One famous quotation 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.

Biography

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; Fenestella, on the other hand, states that he was born ten years earlier, in 195 BC.

He may have been born in or near Carthagemarker or in Greek Italy to a woman taken to Carthage as a slave. Terence's ethnonym Afer suggests he lived in the territory of the Libyan tribe called by the Romans Afri near Carthage prior to being brought to Rome as a slave. 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 from the land of the Afri (Africa, meaning Northern Tunisia including Carthage); later, after the destruction of Carthage in 146, it was used to refer to non-Carthaginian Berbero-Libyans, with the term Punicus reserved for the Carthaginians. It is therefore possible that Terence was of Libyan descent, considered ancestors to the modern-day Berber peoples.

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. According to some ancient writers, 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.

Terence's six plays are:



The first printed edition of Terence appeared in Strasbourgmarker in 1470, while the first certain post-antiquity performance of one of Terence's plays, Andria, took place in Florencemarker 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 .

References

  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. "...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.
  7. See, e.g., in Luther's Works: American Edition, vol. 40:317; 47:228.


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