Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.06.09

John Barsby, Terence II. Phormio, The Mother-In-Law, The Brothers. Loeb Classical Library .   Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2001.  Pp. 375.  ISBN 0-674-99598-8.  $21.50.  

Reviewed by William S. Anderson, University of California, Berkeley (

This second Loeb volume completes the replacement of the hopelessly outdated original Loeb of 1912, which J. Sargeaunt translated in the Edwardian style of those times. It was no longer readable, and George Goold, the late general editor, wisely decided to redo it, choosing one of the best Terentian scholars of the present, John Barsby, for the task. The result is a pleasure to read, based on a reliable Latin text which, though he modestly disclaims his achievement, Barsby has worked on with intelligence.

Barsby wrote his substantial Introduction to Terence in Volume I, which I leave for another reviewer, and then he used the standard format for all six comedies: an introductory note summarizing the plot of the play and briefly discussing some of the dramatic achievement of the poet; a very select bibliography divided between editions and criticism (the latter being four or five articles written since l970); the didascalia with data on the play's production and the metrical summary of the plot by Sulpicius Apollinaris; a list of the play's characters; and finally the Latin text and translation, accompanied by a few notes. It should be observed that Barsby gives the plays not in the skewed order that the manuscripts present them, but in the approximate order of their writing and presentation, as we can deduce it from the didascalia. The main anomaly arises from The Mother-In-Law, because, while we know it was the second comedy Terence composed, it had a notoriously checkered production history, which we can partially reconstruct from the surviving prologue as well as the didascalia. Two attempted performances, in 165 and early 160, failed to get very far because of disturbances, and so it had a third and uninterrupted performance, probably at the Latin Games of September, 160. Thus, it ended by being the last play of Terence to be staged before he disappeared. Although, then, it could have been the final play of this collection in terms of staging-date, most scholars would approve of placing The Brothers in final position, because it was for sure the last comedy that Terence composed, and there is no question of its success, then or now.

A further incidental advantage arises from the order of the plays adopted here: the two plays which Terence derived from Apollodorus of Carystus, Phormio and The Mother-In-Law become juxtaposed. Thus, we are encouraged to look for some of the special aspects of Apollodorus and view him as possibly an innovative follower of Menander and an inspiration to some of the idiosyncrasies of Terence.

I shall say little about the Latin text, because Barsby is not permitted a full apparatus in accordance with the Loeb conventions, and he differs mildly with the Oxford text, by my count, 14 times in the Phormio, 9 times in the Mother-In-Law, and 16 times in The Brothers, all for good reasons. The translation stresses the fairly sedate colloquial quality of Terence's Latin, which marks him off so patently from the lively, Greek-strutting, image-filled Latin of Plautus. Stripped of Sergeaunt's outdated diction, the translation reads like today's English; and it could make a good reading or acting scenario for our students. Barsby has been quite liberal in providing stage directions, some warranted by the Latin, many justified by an accurate feel for what is going on in the play: e.g., how the action was handled at the entrance of a new character, whom at first the people on stage do not notice.

Barsby notes the few places where Terence introduces a Roman allusion, such as a reference to gladiatorial fights in Phormio 964, or the first surviving use of the later commonplace that Fortune favors the brave (with its punning juxtaposition of "fortis" and "Fortuna") in Phormio 203. And though the notes are strictly limited, they are apt and welcome. The one note I query involves his justification of the translation "trickster" which he consciously adopts for the Latin parasitus that Terence equally consciously uses for his main character Phormio. Barsby says quite correctly that Phormio is a very different person from the more conventional parasite or sponger, Gnatho, whom Terence had staged in The Eunuch. However, Terence chose to call Phormio a parasite for the surprise effect of a character who differs from the type. Since Terence likes to resist the typing of his characters and to show up the prejudices of those who depend on typing, it would have been preferable, I think, to keep Terence's word in translation. For although Phormio is much more than a craven dinner-cadging parasite, Terence does remind us of his interest in food as a metaphor and, at the end of the play, reward him with a sumptuous meal at the home of Nausistrata and Phaedria, in defiance of the humiliated father Chremes.

With so little to criticize (a typo of 189 instead of 190 in the textual note on p. 31 was all I could find), I think it obvious that I regard this volume as a model of the new quality of Loebs.

Read Latest
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010