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The Playwrights Background
Publius Terentius Afer is considered the first black person to break through the Roman writing. He has been traced back to be of Libyan descent from ancestors of the modern day Berber people since his ethnonym Afer suggests he lived within the territory of a Libyan tribe called Afri by the Romans. His birth place was probably in or near Carthage or in Greek Italy and was born to a slave woman taken to Carthage as a slave. Terence's birth date is disputed; Fenestella states that Terence was born in 195 BC while Aelius Donatus considers Terence to have been born in the year 185 BC, in his incomplete work Commentum Terenti. Eventually Terence ended up as a slave in the hands of P. Terentius Lucanus who was a Roman senator. The senator educated him and was overly impressed by Terence's abilities in writing thus finally freed him. Terence left Rome at the age of 25 having exhibited his six comedies which are still in existence and never returned. Word has it that he drowned at sea.
The Playwrights Body of Work
Terence's main work was plays. At the beginning he adapted Greek plays but was more than just a translator of the Greek plays. His plays however have a more Greek setting than Roman setting, using more Greek settings and characters.
Terence worked hard to write his work in natural Latin making his style stand out as pleasant and direct. His work influenced other playwrights since it was praised to be of good morals. He based his plays on everyday situations e.g. love, revenge, trickery, mistaken identity etc. His plays concern youthful love and employ the double plot (except Hecyra). His plays do not rely on irony rather on suspense. His characters are day to day humans and have individual names and include male members of a household; a man in love (adulescens), a parent (senex), and a slave (servus). Lead female roles include, a young girl (virgo), a wife or mother (matron) and a maid servant (ancilla). A Parasitus, Leno, and Miles, that is, a parasite, slave dealer, and a soldier respectively, make up the comic roles. Interestingly, Terence manages to vary each character and sometimes gives a character individuality that transcends typology. Numerous critics have commented on Terence's humane and objective approach to characters and situations, citing his adherence to his well-known credo, "homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto" ("I am human myself, so I think every human affair is my concern"). His most technically accomplished play, Eunichus (The Eunuch), describes a situation where the character Chaeria, one of his most discussed character, marries a girl he had earlier raped.
Importance/Impact his Work has had on Art, Culture and the World
His work had numerous critics including Cirero and Julius Caesar who praised his graceful handling of the Latin language. The question on whether Terence was an original playwright are main areas of critical discussion of Terence's comedies. He answered to the charges of imitation in the prologues to his plays and set the honorable tradition of young writers paying tribute by copying their predecessors. Though not an original author, he transformed situations and themes of Greek New Comedy into genuinely Roman milieu. In the middle Ages there was a resurgence of interest in Terence's plays, and their texts served as the basis for Latin language curricula in schools and monasteries. The influence of Terence's comedies has also been traced to works of the Renaissance and the eighteenth century. Renaissance Italy composed comedies in Latin modeled upon Terence, staged his plays, and wrote Italian comedies in the Terentian manner.
Today Terence commands admiration for his humanistic approach to his characters, for the new directions he made possible in drama through his introduction of double plots, and for the excellence of his Latin. Thus he had an overall impact on Latin culture, other authors and the world at large.
From Caesar to Cirero, come praise and criticism from fellow authors. Moliere's comedy of manners is in debt to Terence for plot, tone and characterization. English comedy also begun under the influence of Plautus and Terence from their revival of Neo-Latin dramas. Hroswitha of Gandersheim, a medieval playwright, claims to have written her plays so that learned had a Christian alternative to Terence's pegan plays. Martin Luther, the reformer often quoted Terence to tap into his insights into all things human and even recommended his comedies for the instruction of children in schools. Nicholas Udall's Ralph Roister Doister, the first real English comedy, draws upon Terence's Eunuchus. Terentian influence is discernible in both William Shakespeare and Ben Johnson.