Classics Terence’s Eunuchus
David M. Christenson, Daniel Ruprecht
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0373


Suetonius (Vita Terenti 3) asserts that Eunuchus was Terence’s most commercially successful play. While we cannot confirm this claim, Eunuchus (as all Terence’s plays) enjoyed continuous readership after performances of it ceased in antiquity, was often cited by ancient writers and grammarians, and received a commentary in the 4th century CE. While Eunuchus is not without its critics—some have found fault with its dramatic structure and the ethics of its finale, to say nothing of its unique (in New Comedy) foregrounding of violent rape—it has generated enormous interest in both medieval and modern cultures, including numerous commentaries and translations. Eunuch’s unusual deception-plot, that is, the impulsive Chaerea’s costuming as a eunuch to sexually overpower Pamphila, no doubt accounts for much of the attention the play has attracted. For scholars of gender and sexuality, Eunuch invites interrogation of Roman attitudes toward sexual violence, norms of masculinity, and constructions of gender, as well as of the sexually ambiguous figure of the eunuch in this dramatic and cultural context. Eunuch’s prologue has also captivated scholars of Roman comedy and literary history more generally, as it so clearly articulates recurring concerns of Terence’s characteristically metadramatic prologues: Terence’s adaptation of both his Greek and Latin sources, including charges of “contamination” and “plagiarism,” and the broader challenges of finding novelty within circumscribed comic tradition (for Terence’s “anxiety of influence” see esp. Eun. 35–43). Some scholarship has been conducted on linguistic differentiation among Eunuch’s characters, and it is hoped that burgeoning sociolinguistic work on Plautine Latin will continue to be extended to Terence. Recent criticism has largely focused on aspects of Eunuch’s performance, both on the micro-level of costumes, stage movements, and musicality, and more broadly on the play’s pervasive metatheatricality.

Editions and Commentaries

Barsby 1999 and Tromaras 1994 provide the most detailed and extensive commentary on the Latin text of Eunuchus, aimed at advanced students and scholars. Intermediate Latinists will benefit from the older style “school” commentary of Ashmore 1910. Brothers 2000 serves a broad range of readers, including those without any knowledge of Latin.

  • Ashmore, S. G. 1910. The comedies of Terence. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Includes line-by-line commentary narrowly focused on Terence’s Latin usage, with clear explanations of basic morphology, grammar, and idiom that students new to Terence will find helpful. Also features useful short scene summaries.

  • Barsby, J. 1999. Terence: Eunuchus. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Superb Green & Yellow edition: detailed and elucidating commentary on dramatic conventions, syntax, idiom, meter, and style; sections on Language and Style and The Manuscript Tradition in a readable introduction; an exceptionally clear appendix on meter and scansion and another with the remains of Eunuch’s Menandrean sources; reliable Latin text that prints dots (after A. S. Gratwick’s 1993 Green & Yellow edition of Menaechmi) under the line to signal the onset of long syllables.

  • Brothers, A. J. 2000. The Eunuch of Terence. Warminster, UK: Aris & Phillips.

    Follows the series format in providing a Latin text (mostly after the Oxford Classical Text, OCT) and highly selective apparatus criticus, along with a facing grammatical translation. Useful, if necessarily, brief commentary on linguistic, cultural, and dramaturgical matters (lemmata are set to the English translation). Good introduction with bibliography that includes discussion of Eunuch’s relationship to its Menandrean source(s) and assessments of the individual characters in Terence’s play.

  • Tromaras, L. 1994. P. Terenti Afri Eunuchus. Hildesheim, Germany: Weidmann.

    Tromaras provides an introduction with substantial sections on Terence’s life and career, his place in the tradition of New Comedy, Eunuch’s plot and characters, the manuscript tradition, and Terence’s metrics. Latin text (mostly after the OCT) includes a minimal apparatus criticus; substantial commentary that will benefit (especially) scholars working on the play. German translation of Greek edition (by M. Petersen and L. Tromaras).

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