Classics Terence
Susanna Braund
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0166


Publius Terentius Afer was born at Carthage (the last part of his name means “the African”) but was brought to Rome as a slave where he was educated and then freed on account of his learning; he died fairly young in 159 BCE. Terence composed six comedies (fabulae palliatae) adapted from Greek New Comedy (especially Menander but also Apollodorus), which were performed in the years 166–160 BCE, all produced by the actor-director Ambivius Turpio. The plays are Adelphoe (The brothers; 160 BCE), Andria (The girl from Andros; 166 BCE), Eunuchus (The eunuch; 161 BCE), Heautontimoroumenos (The self-tormentor; 163 BCE), Hecyra (The mother-in-law; 165 BCE and 160 BCE) and Phormio (the name of the chief character; 161 BCE), of which Eunuchus was said to have been an instant success, while Hecyra required three stagings to gain acceptance.

Introductory Works

For brief introductions, see Norwood 1963, Sandbach 1982, Forehand 1985, and Chiarini 2004, as well as the general books on Roman Comedy listed in the forthcoming bibliography on “Latin Drama.” Beare 1964 and, above all, Duckworth 1994 remain indispensable. Conte 1994 is essential orientation for undergraduates.

  • Beare, William. 1964. The Roman stage: A short history of Latin drama in the time of the Republic. 3d ed. London: Methuen.

    Still the standard account in English of the practicalities of the Roman stage under the Republic. Covers origins, dramatists, genres, organization of staging, spectators, and actors.

  • Chiarini, Gioachino. 2004. Introduzione al teatro latino. Milan: A. Mondadori.

    Brief overview (pp. 88–99). In Italian.

  • Conte, Gian Biagio. 1994. Latin literature. A history. Translated by Joseph B. Solodow, revised by Don Fowler and Glenn W. Most. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    This essential literary history discusses Terence at on pages 92–103.

  • Duckworth, George E. 1994. The nature of Roman comedy: A study in popular entertainment. 2d ed. London: Bristol Classical Press.

    Still a standard work, with full discussion of the origins, nature, staging, themes, characters, and language of Roman comedy. Second edition includes foreword and bibliographical appendix by Richard Hunter.

  • Forehand, Walter E. 1985. Terence. Boston: Twayne.

    A general survey designed as an introduction; includes plot summaries and discussion of structure, characters, and themes.

  • Norwood, Gilbert. 1963. Plautus and Terence. New York: Cooper Square

    Introductory; stronger on Terence than Plautus. Originally published in 1932 (New York: Longmans, Green).

  • Sandbach, F. H. 1982. Terence. In Ancient Writers: Greece and Rome. Vol. 1, Homer to Caesar. Edited by T. James Luce, 541–554. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

    Introduction to Terence and the central issues raised by the prologues and the plays. With select bibliography.

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