Jeffrey S. Games
Donatus, a fourth-century C.E. commentator, has preserved a brief Life of Terence (derived from the imperial biographer Suetonius's Lives of the Poets), according to which Terence was born in Carthage and came to Rome as a slave in the household of a senator named Terentius Lucanus, who treated him well and eventually manumitted him ob ingenium et formam (because of his talent and beauty). His first play, Andria, was produced in 166, his last, Adelphoe, in 160, and he died on a journey to Greece, barely over the age of thirty. Recent scholarship, however, has demonstrated what many had long suspected: that ancient literary biographies are often not based on independent historical sources, but consist rather of educated guesses and inferences from the author's works. In the case of Terence, the details seem plausible enough: a freedman would often take the name of his former master, and Afer (African) as a cognomen might well indicate geographic origin. Yet there is no independent confirmation of the existence of a Terentius Lucanus, and Roman cognomina were both extremely flexible and heritable; thus Afer could indicate some connection with Africa other than origin (e.g., military service there) or could be a family name not unique to the author. Moreover, the various speculations about his relations to important Roman political figures seem to derive entirely from his comments in the prologue to the Adelphoe, which are too general to permit the sorts of conclusions sometimes derived from them.
Yet even if the literal truth of his biography is in doubt, it is plausible enough as an expression of important trends in Roman society in the days when Rome was becoming the dominant power in the Mediterranean world. Long known for its provincialism and relative lack of high culture, Rome in the course of the third and second centuries B.C.E. was on the way to becoming the most cosmopolitan city the world had ever known. If Terence was not actually born