Publius Terence Afer (Publius Terentius Afer), also called Terence, who lived around 185/41 – 159 BCE, was a Roman comedy writer whose work was popular not only in ancient Rome but also in the Middle Ages and later. Terence used elegant Latin, and in his works, he focused primarily on man, his personality and reactions to entanglement in everyday and unusual problems.
Terence’s comedies abound in interesting sentences and phrases that can be treated as “golden thoughts” of ancient times. Terence’s work was characterized by combining motifs and aspects of outstanding Greek works (e.g. Menander, Apollodorus) and creating a comedy tailored to the Roman audience. The works of Terence have been respected and appreciated for centuries by successive historical eras.
Terence’s biography is not easy to recreate. The main source of information about the Roman comedy writer is the surviving work of Suetonius Vita Terentia, which was preserved thanks to a grammarian from the 4th century CE – Donatus. Prologues and stage directions in the author’s works also provide important information for researchers.
According to Suetonius, Terence lived between the 3rd and 2nd Punic Wars, i.e. in a broad time frame, between 201 and 149 BCE. He was supposed to have been born in Carthage and had a dark complexion. In Rome, he appeared as a slave of the Roman senator Terence Lucan, who freed him in exchange for good service, beauty and talent; the future comedy writer took the family name (cognomen) – Terence – of his former master. Due to his skills and appearance, he gained great popularity and, above all, the support of influential Roman politicians: Scipio Africanus the Younger and Gaius Laelius.
According to Suetonius, Terence belonged to the “golden Roman youth”, which was characterized by the worship of Hellas and an attempt to transfer Greek ideals to Roman soil. His first comedy “Girl from Andros” brought him success, which was very positively evaluated by the senior comedy writer Cecilius Stacius before it was staged. Altogether, during his short life, Terence wrote six comedies that were willingly performed at public festivals or private events.
Terence, due to his popularity, became the victim of wide criticism – he was accused of, among others, that he received help in writing his works. One of Terence’s most ardent enemies was, probably much older than him, another comedy writer, Luscius of Lanuvium, who not only criticized and slandered the young writer from a distance but also did not shy away from expressing his negative opinions during the trial staging of Terence’s plays.
After performing his six plays, Terence left Rome for Greece; perhaps to escape criticism and pursue Greek studies. He was 25 at the time. In Greece, Terence wrote more works based on Menander, but they were sunk during the sea voyage. Terence may have sunk with them or died of pain and loss of his possessions.
Suetonius says that Terence had a daughter who inherited his villa on Via Appia and married a Roman equestrian.
Terence wrote six comedies:
- “The Girl from Andros” (Andria)
- “The Eunuch” (Eunuch)
- “The Self-Tormentor” (Heauton timorumenos)
- “The Brothers” (Adelphoe)
- “The Mother-in-law” (Hecyra)