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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a work of
C. Suetonius Tranquillus

published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


 p453  Suetonius
The Life of Terence

1 1   [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 Publius Terentius Afer, born at Carthage, was the slave at Rome of Terentius Lucanus, a senator, who because of the young man's talent and good looks not only gave him a liberal education, but soon set him free. Some think that he was taken in war, but Fenestella shows that that could not possibly be, since Terence was born and died between the end of the second Punic war and the beginning of the third; and even if he had been taken by the Numidians and Gaetulians, he could not have come into the hands of a Roman general, since commerce between the Italic and the African races did not begin until after the destruction of Carthage.​a He lived on intimate terms with many men of high rank, in particular with Scipio Africanus and Gaius Laelius. It is even thought that he won the favour of these two men by his youthful beauty, but Fenestella denies this too, maintaining that he was older than either of them. Nepos, however, writes that they were all three of an age, and Porcius rouses a suspicion of too great intimacy in the following words:

 p455  "Though he courted the wantonness of great men and their counterfeit​1 praise, though with greedy ears he drank in the divine voice of Africanus, though he thought it fine to frequent the tables of Philus and Laelius, though he was often taken to the Alban villa because of his youthful charms, he later found himself stripped of his all and reduced to utmost want. So he withdrew from the sight of men to a remote part of Greece and died at Stymphalus, a town of Arcady. Naught availed him Publius Scipio, naught Laelius, naught Furius, the three wealthiest​2 nobles of that time. Their help did not give him even a rented house, to provide at least a place where his slave might announce his master's death."

2 1   [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 He wrote six comedies, and when he offered the first of these, the "Andria," to the aediles, they bade him first read it to Caecilius. Having come to the poet's house when he was dining, and being meanly clad, Terence is said to have read the beginning of his play sitting on a bench near the great man's couch. But after a few lines he was invited to take his place at table, and after dining with Caecilius, he ran through the rest to his host's  p457 great admiration. Moreover, this play and the five others were equally pleasing to the people, although Vulcatius in enumerating them all, writes thus:

"The sixth play, the 'Hecyra,' will not be included."​3

The "Eunuch" was even acted twice in the same day and earned more money than any previous comedy of any writer, namely eight thousand sesterces; and for this reason the sum is included in the title-page.​4 Indeed Varro rates the beginning of the "Adelphoe" above that of Menander.5

3 1   [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 It is common gossip that Scipio and Laelius aided Terence in his writings, and he himself lent colour to this by never attempting to refute it, except in a half-hearted way, as in the prologue to the "Adelphoe":

"For as to what those malicious critics say, that men of rank aid your poet and constantly write in concert with him; what they regard as a grievous slander, he considers the highest praise, to please those who please you and all the people, whose timely help everyone has used without shame in war, in leisure, in business."

Now he seems to have made but a lame defence, because he knew that the report did not displease Laelius and Scipio; and it gained ground in spite of all and came down even to later times. Gaius Memmius in a speech in his own defence says: "Publius Africanus, who borrowed a mask from Terence, and put upon the stage under his name what he had written himself for his own amusement at home." Nepos says that he learned  p459 from a trustworthy source that once at his villa at Puteoli Gaius Laelius was urged by his wife to come to dinner at an earlier hour than common on the Kalends of March,​6 but begged her not to interrupt him. When he at last entered the dining-room at a late hour, he said that he had seldom written more to his own satisfaction; and one being asked to read what he had written, he declaimed the lines of the "Heautontimorumenos," beginning:

"Impudently enough, by Heaven, has Syrus lured me here by promises."​b

4 1   [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 Santra thinks that if Terence had really needed help in his writing, he would not have been so likely to resort to Scipio and Laelius, who were then mere youths, as to Gaius Sulpicius Gallus, a scholar­ly man, at whose consular games he brought out his first play, or to Quintus Fabius Labeo and Marcus Popillius, both of whom were ex‑consuls and poets; and that it was for that reason that he spoke, not of "young men" who were said to help him, but "men whose mettle the people had tried in war, in leisure, in business."

After publishing these comedies before he had passed his twenty-fifth year, either to escape from the gossip about publishing the work of others as his own, or else to become versed in Greek manners and customs, which he felt that he had not been wholly success­ful in depicting in his plays, he left Rome and never returned. Of his death Vulcatius writes in these words:

 p461  "But when Afer had presented six comedies to the people, he journeyed from here to Asia, but from the time he embarked was never seen again; thus he vanished from life."

5 1   [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 Quintus Cosconius writes that he was lost at sea as he was returning from Greece with one hundred and eight plays adapted from Menander; the rest of our authorities declare that he died at Stymphalus in Arcadia, or at Leucadia, in the consul­ship of Gnaeus Cornelius Dolabella and Marcus Fulvius Nobilior, having fallen ill from grief and annoyance at the loss of his baggage, which he had sent on to the ship, and with it of the new plays which he had written.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] He is said to have been of moderate height, slender and of dark complexion. He left a daughter, who afterwards became wife of a Roman knight; also gardens twenty acres​7 in extent on the Appian Way, near the villa of Mars. This makes me feel the more surprised that Porcius should write:

"Naught availed him Scipio, naught Laelius, naught Furius, the three wealthiest nobles of that time. Their aid did not even give him a rented house, to provide at least a place where his slave might announce his master's death."

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Afranius ranks Terence above all other writers of comedy, writing in his "Compitalia":

"Declaring that no one is the equal of Terence."

 p463  But Vulcatius​8 puts him not only below Naevius, Plautus, and Caecilius, but even below Licinius and Atilius. Cicero in his "Limo"​9 gives him this much praise:

"Thou, Terence, who alone dost reclothe Menander in choice speech, and rendering him into the Latin tongue, dost present him with thy quiet utterance​10 on our public stage, speaking with a certain graciousness and with sweetness in every word."

Also Gaius Caesar:11

"Thou too, even thou, art ranked among the highest, thou half-Menander, and justly, thou lover of language undefiled. But would that they graceful verses had force as well, so that thy comic power might have equal honour with that of the Greeks, and thou mightest not be scorned in this regard and neglected. It hurts and pains me, my Terence, that thou lackest this one quality."

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cf. Hor. Epist. 1.10.26 ff.: Non qui Sidonio contendere callidus ostro Nescit Aquinatem potantia vellera fucum, Certius accipiet damnum propiusve medullis, Quam qui non poterit vero distinguere falsum.

2 facillime agitare means "to live most comfortably," or, "most free from care": cf. Ter. Adelph. 501, and the Greek ῥεῖα ζῶντες. In an opposite sense we have difficultate nummaria, Tib. xlviii.1.

3 Text and meaning are uncertain. Dziatzko suggested submaeret (poeta) Hecyra sexta exclusa fabula.

4 The didascalia.

5 That is, presumably, the beginning of the play of Menander on which the Adelphoe is based.

6 See note 40 on Vesp. xix.1.º

7 See note on Rh. v.

8 In his celebrated "canon," Gell. 15.24.

9 "Meadow," a fanci­ful title for a book of Miscellaneous contents, like the "Silvae" of Statius, the "Pratum" of Suetonius, and the like.

10 Perhaps, "amid a hush of silence" in the audience. Because of the awkwardness of voce. . . vocibus Ritschl preferred motibus (animi).

11 Referring to Julius Caesar.

Thayer's Notes:

a This is not true, of course. Economic relations were routine between the two powers, and high-level contacts were not unknown: in 153 B.C. for example, during the interlude of nominal peace between the Second and the Third Punic Wars, Cato, so famous for his hatred of Carthage, actually visited the city with an entourage as part of an arbitration mission, and even saw (or maybe even inspected) some of its strategic stockpiles.

b Act V, scene V.

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Page updated: 16 Jul 08