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How Greek and how Roman is Terence’s Adelphoe Essay

Terence, like one of the other main dramatists of the Roman era Plautus, could be considered by many in the modern world as merely being a translator, who took great liberties with the works which he chose to translate; however, his usage of original Greek theatre is far deeper than merely translation. Terence’s additional creativity towards the works of the ancient Greeks, which he set out to re-write and often creatively manipulate, was very much frowned upon by his critics, who that he both spoiled the original works and plagiarised them. In this essay, I will look at the reasons why Terence chose to imitate the works of the Greeks, and especially Menander, in the original way he did, and will examine just how founded the criticism of his contemporaries truly was.

Firstly, let us take the influence of the Greek dramatist Menander on Terence’s writing of the Adelphoe. The opening scenes of both Terence’s play and Menander’s are very similar, with the introduction of Micio as being an individual character, as Martin points out, rather than a stock comedic stereotype; the openings also reveal a little about the background of what is happening; and finally, they both offer the opportunity for Micio to discuss the relative theories of Micio and his brother on the raising of sons. Another similarity found between Terence and Menander is the usage of the iambic trimeter (or iambi servarius) which accounts for over 50% of Terence’s metre, and most of Menander’s.

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Thus, we can clearly see that Menander had a great deal of influence upon Terence’s version of the Adelphoe, but there are marked differences between the works too. One of the main differences is that “by contrast with Menander’s audience the Roman audience learns the true nature of Aeschinus’ character only after it has witnessed his high-handed treatment of Sannio”2. It is unclear why Terence chooses to make such changes to Menander’s drama, but Sandbach suggests the possibility that upon the realisation that Terence “could not hope to reproduce all of Menander’s merits … he could try in some ways to better him”3. Clearly this is a very noteworthy suggestion, though perhaps rather than attempt to better Menander, Terence was merely attempting to make the play more enjoyable for his contemporary audience, who would think differently to Menander’s original audience.

Another, perhaps more obviously, major influence in Terence’s Adelphoe is Diphilus, and there is a whole scene attributed to him at the beginning of the Second Act, which is a scene – as Martin puts it – of “knockabout comedy”4. The scene which Terence’s uses is acknowledged during Terence’s personal prologue as being from Diphilus’ Synapothnescontes (Comrades in Death). Diphilus is know to be an older contemporary of Menander, who was thought to have written much coarser and cruder drama than Menander , although none of the text of the Synapothnescontes is still extant and available for the modern reader to compare to Terence. The scene runs for around fifty lines, between lines 155 and around 200, of the Adelphoe and it revolves around the abduction.

Elsewhere in the Adelphoe we can find evidence of more Greek influence, and also examples of where Terence has used the complete antithesis of a Greek tradition in order to make it work for his contemporary Roman audience. An example of this complete reversal of the Greek convention is Terence’s use of the prologue. In ancient Greek prologues, much of the plot is revealed, with only the intricacies being left until later, as a way in which to inform the audience and created a heightened level of suspense and dramatic irony. Terence, on the other hand, does not include a prologue like this, but only a personal one, where – in the Adelphoe – he asks his critics to come to their own conclusions about the content which he has included. Perhaps he felt that by including both this personal prologue, and a secondary plot-based prologue, he would bore his audience, and instead decided to focus on building suspense as he went along in the play, rather than building up the dramatic irony at the very beginning like his Greek predecessors.

On the other hand, clear Greek influence is found in the usage of Greek or Greek-based words within Terence’s body of works. There are, according to Maltby, “some 457 occurrences of ninety-three Greek or Greek-based loan-words in Terence”5. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Terence never uses pure Greek, and some of the body of loan-words can be discounted as monetary terms, as terms which had fallen into natural usage among the Romans, and as technical theatrical terms. Terence knew the right time and place to include Greek vocabulary, as Maltby points out, when he explains that “the majority of the Greek words in the Adelphoe occur in the speech of the slave Syrus, but they are also used to great effect to characterise the language of the ‘changed’ Demea at the end of the play”6. Clearly then the usage of Greek loan-words by Terence denote rather a change in the mood or style of a character, offering an interesting alternative view of the character for the audience, which takes the audience’s minds away from the stock characters of Roman comedy.

Terence’s critics used described him in two ways: firstly, of being a plagiarist, and secondly, of being someone who spoiled the works of the original Greek dramatists. It was the use of Diphilus’ abduction scene which many of Terence’s critics considered a move of plagiarism on the playwright’s part. Terence, on the other hand, argued that Plautus’ version of the play had left it out in error, and thus in his own version, the scene taken from Diphilus featured legitimately. Indeed, I think that Terence should be commended at his sheer ability to interweave something which was as crudely written as the Synapothnescontes with lines so stylishly written as those of Menander. Clearly, Terence did not just wish to show his ability to include a fine author in his works, but also a lesser author, whose writing was not so accomplished and thus harder to weave into his comedy.

As Goldberg would have it, “Terence was accused not of making bad plays, but of threatening the integrity of the Roman stage”7. Perhaps this is a fair comment, but we do need to establish quite what the “integrity of the Roman stage” was during Terence’s time. Clearly Roman drama has never had as much fame and success as that written by the ancient Greeks, however, surely Terence’s originality was not a threat to the integrity of the Roman stage, but – on the contrary – a step towards making Roman comedy more original and less Greek-based?

So why is there any Greek influence present in Terence’s Adelphoe? Martin suggests that this is due to the “increasing influence of Greek culture on Rome”8 following the large amount of military and political involvement of the Romans with the Greeks at that time.

The Greek influence, however, may have been cultural in so much as the Romans appreciated their drama and art, but Roman tradition was rather firm, and thus this would lead to the story of the Adelphoe being viewed differently by both the original Greek and the Roman audiences. When Micio asserts that he will not stand on parental authority, the Greeks would have seen it as far less important and strange than the Romans, since patria potestas in Rome was a far stronger father-son bond than the ius of the Greek father towards his son.

In conclusion, from what evidence we have within Terence’s work, it seems appropriate to support Barsby’s claim that “Terence did not believe in ‘Romanisation’… but… wanted to preserve the right of creative adaptation of the Greek plays in terms both of plot and of dialogue”9. This comment and what I have discovered leads me to view Terence as an innovator rather than any kind of plagiarist or spoiler of drama as his critics held him to be. This innovation is clear from Arnott’s comment that “Terence was clearly reacting against the dominant Menandrean practice”10 of including lot of information about the plot very early on in the play. As to whether Terence was influenced more by Greek or Roman custom, it is not completely clear, and as Beare remarks, Terence’s plays do not seem to be “characteristically Greek nor aggressively Italian, but independent of place and time”11.

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