The Roman Stage: A Short History of Latin Drama in the Time of the Republic

By W. Beare | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
TERENCE

WITH Terence we reach the climax of our story. Almost all the problems of Latin drama are raised by the study of his prologues and plays.

Our histories of Latin literature tell us that Publius Terentius Afer was born in Carthage about the year 185 (some say 195) B.C. By birth he belonged to the native Libyan stock. In his boyhood he came to Rome as a slave of the senator Terentius Lucanus. At an early age he displayed not only personal beauty but intellectual promise, and his master, won by these qualities, gave the young 'African' a good education and set him free. As was usual for manumitted slaves, the boy kept his slave-name Afer as his cognomen and added it to the gentile name of his former master. He was now a youth of medium stature, slight build and dark complexion. His abilities won him the friendship of some of the noblest Romans of his day, especially Scipio Africanus Minor, who was to achieve the final destruction of Carthage, and C. Laelius, the chief figure in Cicero's dialogue 'On Friendship'. Thus the young Terence found an entry not only into Roman society but into one of the most famous literary circles of the ancient world, the group of writers and lovers of literature who gathered round Scipio. The first of Terence plays was the Andria; when he offered this to the aediles, he was told to read it to the elderly dramatist Caecilius. Caecilius was at dinner when the rather shabbily-dressed young stranger arrived; on hearing what he wanted, he told him to sit on a stool and begin to read. The opening lines so impressed Caecilius that he invited Terence to share his dinner, and afterwards heard the play through with the greatest admiration. The poet was now embarked on his dramatic career, which was, however, destined to bring difficulty and disappointment as well as brilliant and even unprecedented success. Though encouraged by his noble friends, who were

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