THE LIFE OF TERENCE by Suetonius Tranquillus – Read online





Publius Terentius Afer, a native of Carthage, was a slave, at Rome, of the senator Terentius Lucanus, who, struck by his abilities and handsome person, gave him not only a liberal education in his youth, but his freedom when he arrived at years of maturity. Some say that he was a captive taken in war, but this, as Fenestella 925 informs us, could by no means have been the case, since both his birth and death took place in the interval between the termination of the second Punic war and the commencement of the third 926; nor, even supposing that he had been taken prisoner by the Numidian or Getulian tribes, could he have fallen into the hands of a Roman general, as there was no commercial intercourse between the Italians and Africans until after the fall of Carthage 927.

Terence lived in great familiarity with many persons of high station, and especially with Scipio Africanus, and Caius Delius, whose favour he is even supposed to have purchased by the foulest means. But Fenestella reverses the charge, contending that Terence was older than either of them. Cornelius Nepos, however, (532) informs us that they were all of nearly equal age; and Porcias intimates a suspicion of this criminal commerce in the following passage:—

“While Terence plays the wanton with the great, and recommends himself to them by the meretricious ornaments of his person; while, with greedy ears, he drinks in the divine melody of Africanus’s voice; while he thinks of being a constant guest at the table of Furius, and the handsome Laelius; while he thinks that he is fondly loved by them, and often invited to Albanum for his youthful beauty, he finds himself stripped of his property, and reduced to the lowest state of indigence.

Then, withdrawing from the world, he betook himself to Greece, where he met his end, dying at Strymphalos, a town in Arcadia. What availed him the friendship of Scipio, of Laelius, or of Furius, three of the most affluent nobles of that age? They did not even minister to his necessities so much as to provide him a hired house, to which his slave might return with the intelligence of his master’s death.”

He wrote comedies, the earliest of which, The Andria, having to be performed at the public spectacles given by the aediles 928, he was commanded to read it first before Caecilius 929. Having been introduced while Caecilius was at supper, and being meanly dressed, he is reported to have read the beginning of the play seated on a low stool near the great man’s couch.

But after reciting a few verses, he was invited to take his place at table, and, having supped with his host, went through the rest to his great delight. This play and five others were received by the public with similar applause, although Volcatius, in his enumeration of them, says that “The Hecyra 930 must not be reckoned among these.”

The Eunuch was even acted twice the same day 931, and earned more money than any comedy, whoever was the writer, had (533) ever done before, namely, eight thousand sesterces 932; besides which, a certain sum accrued to the author for the title. But Varro prefers the opening of The Adelphi 933 to that of Menander. It is very commonly reported that Terence was assisted in his works by Laelius and Scipio 934, with whom he lived in such great intimacy. He gave some currency to this report himself, nor did he ever attempt to defend himself against it, except in a light way; as in the prologue to The Adelphi:

Nam quod isti dicunt malevoli, homines nohiles
Hunc adjutare, assidueque una scribere;
Quod illi maledictun vehemens existimant,
Eam laudem hic ducit maximam: cum illis placet,
Qui vobis universis et populo placent;
Quorum opera in bello, in otio, in negotio,
Suo quisque tempore usus est sine superbia.

For this,
Which malice tells that certain noble persons
Assist the bard, and write in concert with him,
That which they deem a heavy slander, he
Esteems his greatest praise: that he can please
Those who in war, in peace, as counsellors,
Have rendered you the dearest services,
And ever borne their faculties so meekly.

He appears to have protested against this imputation with less earnestness, because the notion was far from being disagreeable to Laelius and Scipio. It therefore gained ground, and prevailed in after-times.

Quintus Memmius, in his speech in his own defence, says “Publius Africanus, who borrowed from Terence a character which he had acted in private, brought it on the stage in his name.” Nepos tells us he found in some book that C. Laelius, when he was on some occasion at Puteoli, on the calends [the first] of March, 935 being requested by his wife to rise early, (534) begged her not to suffer him to be disturbed, as he had gone to bed late, having been engaged in writing with more than usual success. On her asking him to tell her what he had been writing, he repeated the verses which are found in the Heautontimoroumenos:

Satis pol proterve me Syri promessa—Heauton. IV. iv. 1.
I’faith! the rogue Syrus’s impudent pretences— Santra 936 is of opinion that if Terence required any assistance in his compositions 937, he would not have had recourse to Scipio and Laelius, who were then very young men, but rather to Sulpicius Gallus 938, an accomplished scholar, who had been the first to introduce his plays at the games given by the consuls; or to Q. Fabius Labeo, or Marcus Popilius 939, both men of consular rank, as well as poets. It was for this reason that, in alluding to the assistance he had received, he did not speak of his coadjutors as very young men, but as persons of whose services the people had full experience in peace, in war, and in the administration of affairs.

After he had given his comedies to the world, at a time when he had not passed his thirty-fifth year, in order to avoid suspicion, as he found others publishing their works under his name, or else to make himself acquainted with the modes of life and habits of the Greeks, for the purpose of exhibiting them in his plays, he withdrew from home, to which he never returned. Volcatius gives this account of his death:

Sed ut Afer sei populo dedit comoedias,
Iter hic in Asiam fecit. Navem cum semel
Conscendit, visus nunquam est. Sic vita vacat.

(535) When Afer had produced six plays for the entertainment of the
He embarked for Asia; but from the time he went on board ship
He was never seen again. Thus he ended his life.
Q. Consentius reports that he perished at sea on his voyage back from Greece, and that one hundred and eight plays, of which he had made a version from Menander 940, were lost with him. Others say that he died at Stymphalos, in Arcadia, or in Leucadia, during the consulship of Cn. Cornelius Dolabella and Marcus Fulvius Nobilior 941, worn out with a severe illness, and with grief and regret for the loss of his baggage, which he had sent forward in a ship that was wrecked, and contained the last new plays he had written.

In person, Terence is reported to have been rather short and slender, with a dark complexion. He had an only daughter, who was afterwards married to a Roman knight; and he left also twenty acres of garden ground 942, on the Appian Way, at the Villa of Mars. I, therefore, wonder the more how Porcius could have written the verses,

————nihil Publius
Scipio profuit, nihil et Laelius, nihil Furius,
Tres per idem tempus qui agitabant nobiles facillime.
Eorum ille opera ne domum quidem habuit conductitiam
Saltem ut esset, quo referret obitum domini servulus. 943
Afranius places him at the head of all the comic writers, declaring, in his Compitalia,

Terentio non similem dices quempiam.
Terence’s equal cannot soon be found.
On the other hand, Volcatius reckons him inferior not only (536) to Naevius, Plautus, and Caecilius, but also to Licinius. Cicero pays him this high compliment, in his Limo—

Tu quoque, qui solus lecto sermone, Terenti,
Conversum expressumque Latina voce Menandrum
In medio populi sedatis vocibus offers,
Quidquid come loquens, ac omnia dulcia dicens.
“You, only, Terence, translated into Latin, and clothed in choice language the plays of Menander, and brought them before the public, who, in crowded audiences, hung upon hushed applause—

Grace marked each line, and every period charmed.”
So also Caius Caesar:

Tu quoque tu in summis, O dimidiate Menander,
Poneris, et merito, puri sermonis amator,
Lenibus atque utinam scriptis adjuncta foret vis
Comica, ut aequato virtus polleret honore
Cum Graecis, neque in hoc despectus parte jaceres!
Unum hoc maceror, et doleo tibi deesse, Terenti.

“You, too, who divide your honours with Menander, will take your place among poets of the highest order, and justly too, such is the purity of your style. Would only that to your graceful diction was added more comic force, that your works might equal in merit the Greek masterpieces, and your inferiority in this particular should not expose you to censure. This is my only regret; in this, Terence, I grieve to say you are wanting.”


[ Carthage was laid in ruins A.U.C. 606 or 607, six hundred and sixty seven years after its foundation.]
[ These entertainments were given by the aediles M. Fulvius Nobilior and M. Acilius Glabrio, A.U.C. 587.]
[ St. Jerom also states that Terence read the “Andria” to Caecilius who was a comic poet at Rome; but it is clearly an anachronism, as he died two years before this period. It is proposed, therefore, to amend the text by substituting Acilius, the aedile; a correction recommended by all the circumstances, and approved by Pitiscus and Ernesti.]
[ The “Hecyra,” The Mother-in-law, is one of Terence’s plays.]
[ The “Eunuch” was not brought out till five years after the Andria, A.U.C. 592.]
[ About 80 pounds sterling; the price paid for the two performances. What further right of authorship is meant by the words following, is not very clear.]
[ The “Adelphi” was first acted A.U.C. 593.]
[ This report is mentioned by Cicero (Ad Attic, vii. 3), who applies it to the younger Laelius. The Scipio here mentioned is Scipio Africanus, who was at this time about twenty-one years of age.]
[ The calends of March was the festival of married women. See before, VESPASIAN, c. xix.]
[ Santra, who wrote biographies of celebrated characters, is mentioned as “a man of learning,” by St. Jerom, in his preface to the book on the Ecclesiastical Writers.]
[ The idea seems to have prevailed that Terence, originally an African slave, could not have attained that purity of style in Latin composition which is found in his plays, without some assistance. The style of Phaedrus, however; who was a slave from Thrace, and lived in the reign of Tiberius, is equally pure, although no such suspicion attaches to his work.]
[ Cicero (de Clar. Orat. c. 207) gives Sulpicius Gallus a high character as a finished orator and elegant scholar. He was consul when the Andria was first produced.]
[ Labeo and Popilius are also spoken of by Cicero in high terms, Ib. cc. 21 and 24. Q. Fabius Labeo was consul with M. Claudius Marcellus, A.U.C. 570 and Popilius with L. Postumius Albinus, A.U.C. 580.]
[ The story of Terence’s having converted into Latin plays this large number of Menander’s Greek comedies, is beyond all probability, considering the age at which he died, and other circumstances. Indeed, Menander never wrote so many as are here stated.]
[ They were consuls A.U.C. 594. Terence was, therefore, thirty-four years old at the time of his death.]
[ Hortulorum, in the plural number. This term, often found in Roman authors, not inaptly describes the vast number of little inclosures, consisting of vineyards, orchards of fig-trees, peaches, etc., with patches of tillage, in which maize, legumes, melons, pumpkins, and other vegetables are cultivated for sale, still found on small properties, in the south of Europe, particularly in the neighbourhood of towns.]
[ Suetonius has quoted these lines in the earlier part of his Life of Terence. See before p. 532, where they are translated.]




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