Publius Terentius Afer (/təˈrɛnʃiəs, -ʃəs/; c. 195/185 – c.
159? BC), better known in English as
Terence (/ˈtɛrəns/), was a
Roman playwright during the Roman Republic, of Berber descent. His
comedies were performed for the first time around 170–160 BC.
Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, brought
Rome as a
slave, educated him and later on, impressed by his abilities, freed
Terence apparently died young, probably in
Greece or on his way
back to Rome. All of the six plays
Terence wrote have survived.
One famous quotation by
Terence reads: "Homo sum, humani nihil a me
alienum puto", or "I am human, and I think nothing of which is human
is alien to me." This appeared in his play Heauton Timorumenos.
3 Cultural legacy
4 Further reading
5 See also
6 External links
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
Carthage or in
Greek Italy to a woman
Carthage as a slave. Terence's cognomen Afer suggests he
lived in the territory of the Libyan tribe called by the Romans Afri
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 non-Carthaginian Libyco-Berbers, with the term Punicus
reserved for the Carthaginians. Later, after the destruction of
Carthage in 146 BC, it was used to refer to anyone from the land of
Tunisia and its surroundings). It is therefore most likely
Terence was of Libyan descent, considered ancestors to the
modern-day Berber peoples.
In any case, he was sold to P. Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator,
who educated him and later on, impressed by Terence's abilities, freed
Terence then took the nomen "Terentius," which is the origin of
the present form.
He was a member of the so-called Scipionic Circle.
When he was 25,
Terence travelled to
Greece and never returned. It is
mostly believed that
Terence died during the journey, but this cannot
be confirmed. Before his disappearance he exhibited six comedies which
are still in existence. According to some ancient writers, he died at
1496 edition of Terence's Works
Terence adapted Greek plays from the late phases of
Terence wrote in a simple conversational Latin, pleasant
and direct. Aelius Donatus, Jerome's teacher, is the earliest
surviving commentator on Terence's work. Terence's popularity
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 AD 800. 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
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:
Andria (The Girl from Andros) (166 BC)
Hecyra (The Mother-in-Law) (165 BC)
Heauton Timorumenos (The Self-Tormentor) (163 BC)
Phormio (161 BC)
Eunuchus (161 BC)
Adelphoe (The Brothers) (160 BC)
The first printed edition of
Terence appeared in
Strasbourg in 1470,
while the first certain post-antique performance of one of Terence's
plays, Andria, took place in
Florence in 1476. There is evidence,
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 9th century (possibly
Mid-12th century illustrated
Latin manuscript of Terence's Comedies
from St Albans Abbey, now held at the Bodleian Library
Due to his clear and entertaining language, Terence's works were
heavily used by monasteries and convents during the
Middle Ages and
The Renaissance. Scribes often learned
Latin through the meticulous
copying of Terence's texts. Priests and nuns often learned to speak
Latin through reenactment of Terence's plays, thereby learning both
Latin and Gregorian chants. Although Terence's plays often dealt with
pagan material, the quality of his language promoted the copying and
preserving of his text by the church. The preservation of Terence
through the church enabled his work to influence much of later Western
Terence's plays were a standard part of the
Latin curriculum of the
neoclassical period. US President
John Adams once wrote to his son,
Terence is remarkable, for good morals, good taste, and good Latin...
His language has simplicity and an elegance that make him proper to be
accurately studied as a model."
Two of the earliest English comedies,
Ralph Roister Doister and Gammer
Gurton's Needle, are thought to parody Terence's plays.
Due to his cognomen Afer,
Terence has long been identified with Africa
and heralded as the first poet of the African diaspora by generations
of writers, including Juan Latino, Phyllis Wheatley, Alexandre Dumas,
Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou.
Thornton Wilder based his novel The Woman of
Andros on Terence's Andria.
Questions as to whether
Terence received assistance in writing or was
not the actual author have been debated over the ages, as described in
the 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica:
[In a prologue to one of his plays, Terence] meets the charge of
receiving assistance in the composition of his plays by claiming as a
great honour the favour which he enjoyed with those who were the
favorites of the Roman people. But the gossip, not discouraged by
Terence, lived and throve; it crops up in
Cicero and Quintilian, and
the ascription of the plays to Scipio had the honour to be accepted by
Montaigne and rejected by Diderot.
Augoustakis, A. and Ariana Traill eds. (2013). A Companion to Terence.
Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Malden/Oxford/Chichester:
Boyle, A. J., ed. (2004).
Special Issue: Rethinking Terence. Ramus
Büchner, K. (1974). Das Theater des Terenz. Heidelberg: C. Winter.
Davis, J. E. (2014).
Terence Interrupted: Literary Biography and the
Reception of the Terentian Canon. American Journal of Philology
Forehand, W. E. (1985). Terence. Boston: Twayne.
Goldberg, S. M. (1986). Understanding Terence. Princeton: Princeton
Karakasis, E. (2005).
Terence and the Language of Roman Comedy.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Papaioannou, S., ed. (2014).
Terence and Interpretation. Pierides, 4.
Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Pezzini, G. (2015).
Terence and the Verb ‘To Be’ in Latin. Oxford
Classical Monographs. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.
Sharrock, A. (2009). Reading Roman Comedy: Poetics and Playfulness in
Plautus and Terence. W.B. Stanford Memorial Lectures. Cambridge/New
York: Cambridge University Press.
Library resources about
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Metres of Roman comedy
Codex Vaticanus 3868
List of slaves
Access related topics
Find out more on's
The six plays of
Terence at The
Latin Library (in Latin).
Terence at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Terence at Internet Archive
At Perseus Digital Library:
15th-century scripts from
Hecyra and Eunuchus, Center for Digital
Initiatives, University of Vermont Libraries.
Terence's works: text, concordances and frequency list (in Latin).
The Life of Terence, part of Suetonius's De Viris Illustribus,
translated by John C. Rolfe.
P. Terenti comoediae cum scholi Aeli Donati et Eugraphi commentariis,
Reinhold Klotz (ed.), Lipsiae, sumptum fecitE. B. Schwickert, 1838,
vol. 1, vol. 2.
SORGLL: Terence, Eunuch 232-264, read in
Latin by Matthew Dillon.
Latin with Laughter:
Terence through Time.
^ Ricord, Frederick W. (1885). The Self-Tormentor (Heautontimorumenos)
Latin of Publius Terentius Afer with More English Songs from
Foreign Tongues. New York: Charles Scribner's. p. 25. Retrieved
22 January 2018 – via Internet Archive.
^ Aeli Donati Commentum Terenti, accedunt Eugraphi Commentum et
Scholia Bembina, ed. Paul Wessner, 3 Volumes, Leipzig, 1902, 1905,
^ G. D' Anna, Sulla vita suetoniana di Terenzio, RIL, 1956, pp. 31-46,
^ Tenney Frank, "On Suetonius' Life of Terence." The American Journal
of Philology, Vol. 54, No. 3 (1933), pp. 269-273.
^ H. J. Rose, A Handbook of
Latin Literature, 1954.
^ Michael von Albrecht, Geschichte der römischen Literatur, Volume 1,
^ "...the playwright Terence, who reached
Rome as the slave of a
senator in the second century BC, was a Berber", Suzan Raven,
Africa, Routledge, 1993, p.122; ISBN 0-415-08150-5.
^ Smith, William (editor); Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and
Mythology, "Lucanus, Terentius" Archived 2011-04-20 at the Wayback
Machine., Boston, 1870.
^ See, e.g., in Luther's Works: American Edition, vol. 40:317; 47:228.
^ Holloway, Julia Bolton (1993). Sweet New Style: Brunetto Latino,
Dante Alighieri, Geoffrey Chaucer, Essays, 1981-2005. Retrieved 22
John Adams by David McCullough, Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New
York, 2001. Pg 259. ISBN 978-0-684-81363-9
^ One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text
from a publication now in the public domain: Sellar, William
Young; Harrison, Ernest (1911). "Terence". In Chisholm, Hugh.
Encyclopædia Britannica. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
The Girl from Andros (166 BC)
The Mother-in-Law (165 BC)
The Self-Tormentor (163 BC)
Phormio (161 BC)
The Eunuch (161 BC)
The Brothers (160 BC)
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