Terentius, Publius

, or Terence, an ancient dramatic writer among the Romans, was a native of Carthage, and born in the year of Rome 560. He was brought early to Rome, among other slaves, and fell into the hands of a generous master, Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, who was so taken with his uncommon parts, that he | gave him first a good education, and afterwards his liberty. He received his name, as well as his liberty, from Terentius Lucanus, as the custom was; and thus, by a singular fatality, says madam Dacier, while he has immortalized the name of his master, he has not been able to preserve his own. His merit soon recommended him to the acquaintance and familiarity of the chief nobility; and such was his friendship with Scipio and Laelius, that his rivals and enemies took occasion from thence to say that his plays were composed by these noblemen. Suetonius relates a story from Cornelius Nepos, which may seem to confirm such a surmise: it is, that on the 1st of March, which was the feast of the Roman ladies, Laelius being desired by his wife to sup a little sooner than ordinary, he prayed her not to disturb him; and that, coming very late to supper that night, he said he had never composed any thing with more pleasure and success; when, being asked by the company what it was, he repeated some verses out of the third scene of the fourth act in the “Heautontimorumenos.Terence takes notice of this report in his prologue to the “Adelphi,” and does not offer to refute it; but Suetonius says that he forbore, in complaisance to his patrons, who might possibly not be displeased with it; and, indeed, in the prologue to the “Heautontimorumenos,Terence desired the auditors not to credit the slanderous reports of his brother writers. It is very possible that Scipio and Lselius might sometimes amuse themselves with composing a scene or two lor a poet, with whom they conversed so familiarly; but the plays were certainly Terence’s.

We have six of them remaining, and probably one or two are lost, for the “Andria” does not seem to have been his first. The very prologue to this play intimates the contrary; and the circumstance related by Suetonius, about Terence’s reading his first piece to Ccecilius, proves the “Andria” not to have been it, and that Suetonius has mistaken the name of the. play for Caecilius died two years before the “Andria” was brought on the stage. Caecilius was the best poet of the age, and near fourscore ‘when. Terence offered his first play; much regard was paid to his judgment’, and therefore the cedile oftVred Terence to wait upon Caecilius with his play before he would venture to receive it. The old gentleman, being at table, bid the young- author take a stool, and begin to read it to him. It is observed by Suetonius, that Terence’s dress | was mean, so that his outside did not much recommend him; but he had not gone through the first scene when Caecilius invited him to sit at table with him, deferring to have the rest of the play read till after supper. Thus, with the advantage of Csecilius’s recommendation, did Terence’s first play appear, when Terence could not be twenty-five; for the “Andria” was acted when he was but twenty-seven. The “Hecyra” was acted the year following; the “Self-tormentor, or Heautontimorumenos,” two years after that; the “Eunuch” two years after the “Selftormentor;” the “Phormio,” the latter end of the same year; and, the year afterwards, the “Adelphi, or Brothers,” was acted; that is, 160 B.C. when Terence was thirty-three years of age.

After this, Terence went into Greece, where he stayed about a year, in order, as it is thought, to collect some of Menander’s plays. He fell sick on his return from thence, and died at sea, according to some; at Stymphalis, a town in Arcadia, according to others. From the above account, we cannot have lost above one or two of Terence’s plays; for it is impossible to credit what Suetonius reports from one Consemius, an unknown author, namely, that Terence was returning with above an hundred of Menander’s plays, which he had translated, but that he lost them by shipwreck, and died of grief for the loss. Terence was of a middle size, very slender, and of a dark complexion-. He left a daughter behind him, who was afterwards married to a Roman knight. He left also a house and gardens on the Appian way, near the Villa Martis, so that the notion of his dying poor is very improbable. If he could be supposed to have reaped no advantages from the friendship of Scipio and Lselius, yet his plays must have brought him in considerable sums. He received eight thousand sesterces for his “Eunuch,” which was acted twice in one day; a piece of good fortune which perhaps never happened to any other play, for plays with the Romans were never designed to serve above two or three times. There is no doubt that he was well paid for the rest; for it appears from the prologue to the “Hecyra,” that the poets used to be paid every time their play was acted. At this rate, Terence must have made a handsome fortune before he died, for most of his plays were acted more than once in his life- time. | It would be endless to mention the testimonies of the ancients in his favour, or the high commendations hestowed upon him by modern commentators and critics. Menander was his model, and from him he borrowed many of his materials. He was not content with a servile imitation of Menander, but always consulted his own. genius, and made such alterations as seemed to him expedient. His enemies blamed his conduct in this; but in the prologue to the “Andria,” he pleads guilty to the charge, and justifies what he had done by very sufficient reasons. The comedies of Terence were in great repute among the Romans; though Plautus, having more wit, more action, and more vigour, was sometimes more popular upon the stage. Terence’s chief excellence consists in these three points, beauty of characters, politeness of dialogue, and regularity of scene. His characters are natural, exact, and finished to the last degree; and no writer, perhaps, ever came up to him for propriety and decorum in this respect. If he had laid the scene at Rome, and made his characters Roman, instead of Grecian; or if there had been a greater variety in the general cast of his characters, the want of both which things have been objected to him; his plays might have been more agreeable, might have more affected those for whose entertainment they were written; yet in what he attempted he has been perfectly successful. The elegance of iiis dialogue, and the purity of his diction, are acknowledged by all: by Caesar, Cicero, Paterculus, and Quintilian, among the ancients; and by all the moderns. If Terence could not attain all the wit and humour of Menander, yet he fairly equalled him in chasteness and correctness of style.

The moderns have been no less united in their praise of the style of Terence. Erasmus says, that “the purity of the Roman language cannot be learned from any ancient author so well as from Terence; and many have given it as their opinion, that the Latin tongue cannot be lost while the comedies of Terence remain. This Roman urbanity and purity of diction shews Terence to have been made a slave very young, and his education to have been wholly Roman, since otherwise his style could never have been so free from the tincture of his African origin. Regularity of scene, or proper disposition and conduct of the drama, is a third excellence of Terence. His scene, as Congreve, who calls him the correctest writer in the world, has well | observed, always proceeds in a regular connection, the per s ons going off and on for visible reasons, and to carry on the action of the play, and, upon the whole, the faults and imperfections are so few, that they scarcely deserve to be mentioned. Scaliger said, there were not three in the whole six plays: and the comica vis, which Caesar wishes for him, would probably have suited our taste less than his present delicate humour and wit. Madam Dacier has observed, that” it would be difficult to determine which of his six plays deserves the preference, since they have each of them their peculiar excellencies. The “Andria” and “Adelphi,” says she, “appear to excel in characters and manners; the” Eunuch“and” Phormio,“in vigorous action and lively intrigue; the” Heautontimorumenos’ 1 and “Hecyra,” in sentiment, passion, and simplicity of style."

The best editions of Terence are, the Elzevir, 1635, 12mo; that “cum integris notis Donati, et selectis variorum, 1686,” 8vo; that of Westerhovius, in two volumes, quarto, 1726; and of “Bcntley,” the same year, 4to the immaculate Edinburgh edition of 1758, 12mo, and the edition of Zeunius, in two volumes, Leipsic, 1774, 8vo, with very copious notes and index. Madam Dacier has given a most beautiful French version of this author; and in English we have a translation in blank-verse, by Colman, which is justly esteemed. 1


Crusius’s Lives of the Roman Poets.—Vossius.—Fabric. Bibl. Lat.—Saxii Onomast.