Classics Terence’s Adelphoe
Robert Maltby
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0325


The Adelphoe (Adelphi in some older editions), in English Brothers, was the last, and regarded by many as the best, of Terence’s six plays. It was produced in 160 BCE at the funeral games of the aristocrat Aemilius Paulus. Like all Terence’s plays, The Brothers was based on a Greek original, in this case on a play of the same name by Menander (342–292 BCE), which has not survived except for a dozen or so fragmentary lines. Into the framework of Menander’s original Terence adds, as we are told in the prologue, a short knock-about scene (155–196) in which the young man Aeschinus abducts a girl from a pimp. This scene, introduced from a play by a second Greek playwright, Diphilus, serves to enliven the action of Terence’s adaptation. The play’s perennial popularity with modern readers is to be accounted for by the fact its subject matter is one of abiding interest; namely the relationship between fathers and sons, the proper way to bring up teenage children, and the wider question of the role of education in society. With its non-expository prologue, its double plot (two fathers and two sons) and its conventional character types, scheming slaves, a pimp, a prostitute, a midwife, an upright matron and her daughter (as well as the contrasting pairs of fathers and sons), the play provides a good introduction to the genre of New Comedy as practiced by Terence. At the heart of the play is the conflict of views on education between the two fathers, Micio and Demea. The latter has had two sons and gives the elder of these, Aeschinus, to his brother Micio to bring up. Demea, a country dweller, brings up Ctesipho, according to a harsh and strict regime, whereas his more easy-going brother brings up Aeschinus according to more liberal ideas. Until the last act of the play it is Micio’s system that gives the best results. But at this point Demea undergoes a volte-face and decides to outdo Micio in affability and generosity. His new policy appears to succeed, but in the last lines of the play he claims he changed merely to show Micio how easy it is to win affection at other people’s expense. The seriousness of Demea’s change of heart and the true lesson the author meant to be taken from the play are central problems of interpretation. More modern readings of the play question how far its central theme concerns education and seek to set the Adelphoe in its cultural and historical context in the 160s BCE, where ideas of personal freedom come into conflict with the traditional authority of the Roman father figure.

General Overviews

General overviews of the Adelphoe are provided as specific chapters or articles devoted to this single play. The best and most up-to date general overview of the play is provided by Traill 2013. The introductions to the texts by Martin 1976 and Gratwick 1999 (both listed under Texts and Commentaries) and to the translation by Brown 2006 (listed under Translations also provide balanced and detailed discussion of the play’s structure, content, characterization and Greek background. Christensen 2010 (listed under Translations contains an excellent introduction to the play (pp. 26–31), covering more contemporary approaches to its interpretation. Bianco 1962, Büchner 1974, Forehand 1985, Damen 1990, and Kruschwitz 2004 give detailed scene by scene analysis of the whole play. Pöschl 1975 provides a useful introduction to the play and its main interpretative problems. For general bibliographical material on Terence, his life, and the textual tradition of his works the reader is referred to the “Terence” bibliography by Susanna Braund in Oxford Bibliographies in Classics.

  • Bianco, O. 1962. Terenzio. Problemi I aspetti dell’ originalità. Rome: dell’ Ateneo.

    A chapter on Adelphoe (pp. 177–194) gives a comprehensive study of the play, its structure, and its Greek models.

  • Büchner, Karl. 1974. Das Theater des Terenz. Heidelberg, Germany: K. Winter.

    A chapter on Adelphoe (pp. 361–426) provides a detailed scene-by-scene discussion of the play with particular emphasis on the scene added from Diphilus at the beginning of the second act and the change of heart undergone by Micio at the end of the play.

  • Damen, Mark L. 1990. Structure and symmetry in Terence’s Adelphoe. Illinois Classical Studies 15:85–106.

    Good complete scenic analysis of the play. Argues that in general design Terence follows his Menandrian original, even at the end of the play. The article provides a good introduction to the play, with detailed bibliography and balanced discussion of earlier scholarly views.

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

    A chapter on Adelphoe (pp. 104–119) provides a useful introduction to the play.

  • Kruschwitz, Peter. 2004. Terenz (=Studienbücher Antike Band 12). Hildesheim, Germany: Olms.

    Chapter 7 (pp. 141–164) is given over to a detailed discussion of the Adelphoe, with an emphasis on its form and structure and its relation to Menander’s original. Contains a useful bibliography on the main critical points of contention.

  • Pöschl, V. 1975. Das Prolem der Adelphen des Terenz. Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften 4:5–24.

    A useful short introduction to the play and its problems of interpretation.

  • Traill, Ariana. 2013. Adelphoe. In A companion to Terence. Edited by Anthony Augoustakis and Ariana Traill, 318–341. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118301975.ch17

    Chapter 11 of the companion is given over to a detailed discussion of the Adelphoe. This is the most modern overview of the play’s plot and themes. Detailed synthesis and excellent bibliography.

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