Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.01.11 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.01.11

Robert Maltby, Terence: 'Phormio'. Aris and Phillips classical texts.   Warminster; Wiltshire:  Aris and Phillips, 2012.  Pp. 160.  ISBN 9780856686061.  £19.99 (pb).  

Reviewed by Goran Vidovic, Cornell University (

Terence has been better served than Plautus by commentaries for English speakers. In the Cambridge “green and yellow,” Martin’s 1976 Adelphoe and Barsby’s 1999 Eunuchus will soon be complemented by Goldberg’s forthcoming Hecyra. Yet three plays out of six in nearly forty years is still not a remarkable score, and in the meantime Aris and Phillips has taken the lead. After Aristophanes, Terence might be the second ancient dramatist fully covered by their Classical Texts series; only the Andria remains, and Brown’s edition in the same series is much awaited. Maltby’s new edition of the Phormio adequately replaces Martin’s school edition (London 1959) and until a strictly scholarly edition appears to replace the century-old edition with commentary by Dziatzko and Hauler (Leipzig 1913), it will certainly be useful for research purposes as well.

The format is familiar: an introduction, text and facing prose translation, commentary, a bibliography, and indexes (general; Latin terms in the commentary; and references to ancient sources).

The introduction (1-28) is informative and concise, divided into the following sections: 1) A useful overview of Greek New Comedy; 2) Pre-Terentian tradition; 3) Reconstructing a biography of Terence; 4) Cultural relations between Greece and Rome in Terence’s day; 5) Standard readings of the literary polemics in the prologues and summaries of Terence’s arguments; 6) A survey of the history of the theater; 7) Use of Donatus’ commentary and internal indications for analyzing Terence’s innovations; outline of the characters in the play; 8) An elementary section on meter and music; 9) A note on the manuscripts, bringing in everything one needs to know for the first encounter with this play. In structure and tone this Introduction thus belongs to the best Aris & Philips tradition of accessibility and, together with the bibliography (209-217), provides a good starting point for students and non-specialist scholars alike.1

A few lapses are, however, surprising. The introduction is conservative and occasionally out of date. For example, few nowadays believe in the existence of the so-called Scipionic circle and Terence’s affiliation with it, or that Cato the Elder was unremittingly or unambiguously anti-Greek (9-10).2 Also, Maltby should have at least mentioned that the traditional belief that Hecyra failed because it bored its audience (13-14) has been seriously questioned in the past twenty years.3 While Maltby states explicit reservations about the notoriously anecdotal Suetonian vita, he still seems to use it as a reliable source (7-9). Nevertheless, these occasional weaknesses in the introduction are far outweighed by the high quality of what matters the most: text, translation, and commentary.

The Latin text is equipped with a copious critical apparatus. It virtually reproduces the 1958 OCT of Kauer-Lindsay- Skutsch, the only departures being the bracketing of 181a as interpolated from Andria 208; the Calliopian MSS reading haec sola at 761 for OCT’s solu’; and un-bracketing audies at 765.

The facing prose translation is very elegant, both accurate and natural. Antipho’s short monologue of 820-828 is one out of many fine examples:

Laetus sum, utut meae res sese habent, fratri optigisse quod uolt.
quam scitumst eius modi in animo parare cupiditates
quas, quom res aduorsae sient, paullo mederi possis!
hic simul argentum repperit, cura sese expediuit;
ego nullo possum remedio me euoluere ex his turbis

quin, si hoc celetur, in metu, sin patefit, in probro sim.
neque me domum nunc reciperem ni mi esset spes ostenta
huiusce habendae. sed ubinam Getam inuenire possim, ut
rogem quod tempus conueniundi patris me capere iubeat?

However things are with me, I’m happy that my cousin has got what he wants. How wise it is to set one’s heart on desires that that can be easily cured when things go against you. As soon as he found the money his worries were over. In my case I can’t find any remedy to extricate myself from these troubles; if this is kept secret, I live in fear; if it gets out, I live in disgrace. I wouldn’t be going home now, if I hadn’t been offered some hope of keeping her. But where can I find Geta, to ask him what he thinks is the best time for me to approach my father?

Maltby generally attempts to reproduce wordplays and similar effects in translation. One particularly successful vignette is the proverbial expression for wasting time, laterem lauem (186), translated as “labour lost;” it reproduces the Latin jingle to the letter, much like Terence reproduces the Greek πλίνθον πλύνεις, according to Donatus. Phormio’s pun on sapio, “be smart” and, literally, “taste” (335) is fairly captured by “to show taste;” and so on.

But translating puns is a challenging task. At 298-9, Maltby explains in the commentary but less successfully conveys in translation both the rational and financial connotations of the noun ratio: [DE.] qua ratione inopem potius ducebat domum? GE. non ratio, uerum argentum deerat. Maltby translates Demipho’s question: “On what account did he prefer to marry a penniless wife?” and Geta’s reply: “It wasn’t sense we lacked, but money.” The translation excludes the repetition of ratio, which is however indispensable for the pun.

As usual with translations, there is always room for disagreement but my objections to Maltby’s are remarkably few. “Slander” for maledictis (prol. 3) may be a bit off the mark: not even Terence explicitly claims that charges against him are false and it disconnects the link with male dicere below (prol. 15), where Maltby gives “abuse” (which Barsby, Moore, and Brown give in both 3 and 15).4 Maltby’s translation of motus locost as “driven from the stage” (prol. 32) is certainly one option (so Barsby and Moore), but Terence’s vagueness—probably deliberate—seems better reproduced by Brown’s “from its rightful place.” Likewise, Maltby’s translation of uirtus (i.e. actoris; 10, 33) as “expertise” seems unnecessarily specific for a word with many usages and sociocultural implications (Moore’s and Brown’s “excellence” is perhaps preferable). Admittedly, much here is a matter of interpretation. The variety of translations of actoris is evidence enough for the range of possibilities: Moore renders “lead-actor,” Barsby “producer,” Brown “director,” Maltby “actor-manager.”

The commentary (125-207) is to an extent an advanced and updated collation of Dziatzko-Hauler and Martin, resulting in an exceptionally informative, user-friendly, and economically composed guide. Major sections are analyzed prior to the line-by-line commentary, which covers virtually all the aspects one can imagine: staging (e.g. 153-178, 441-4), dramatic technique and Greek originals (e.g. 894-989), legal matters and social context (e.g. 114, 410, 451). Maltby is especially good on imagery (382, 744, 746, 897; exemplary note on 822), lexical issues (e.g. 601, 709, 723, 877), morphology (e.g. 717), rhetorical effects (e.g. 164, 186, 437-9), syntax (e.g. 95, 122, 721), and of course etymology (e.g. 52). Useful notes will be found on less expected Greek literary comparanda (such as Euripides on 726), or general literary stock motifs (e.g. on 105, 172, 551, 728-65). Maltby’s judicious application of statistics in support of an argument is praiseworthy (e.g. 511).

Maltby routinely keeps track of alliterations, etymological wordplay, and similar effects—which seems justified because Terence is typically less fond of such devices than Plautus—but he does not record them consistently, and readers interested in this may want to stay alert. Some that passed unmentioned are, e.g., etymological figures sumptu absumitur (340) followed by sumas (343); ratum inritumst (951); the repetition of fac- root (785-6); some instances of strong alliterations (e.g. 180, 830, 863) or the arresting jingle tuos est damnatus gnatus, non tu; nam tua (422)

Needless to say, in such a laborious project as a commentary oversights are inevitable, and there is always potential for improvement. For instance, a line more similar to hanc operam tibi dico (62) could be quin tibi hanc operam dico (Pl. Pseud. 560) rather than aurium operam tibi dico (Pl. Bacch. 995). In keeping with Maltby’s practice of connecting passages both within the Phormio and other Terence’s plays, the mock-sublime sentiment of quod fors feret, feremus aequo animo (138) may be recalled by Antipho’s una tecum bona mala tolerabimus (556). The line quidquid praeter spem eueniat, omne id deputare esse in lucro (246) is worth comparing to Adelphoe 815-7: mea, quae praeter spem evenere, utantur sine. | de summa nil decedet: quod hinc accesserit | id de lucro putato esse omne. Notes on 356 and 386 on Phormio forgetting the name should include the identical (and just as thematically significant) device used at Andria 928ff, 942-5. The phrase protinam in pedes (190), attested only here in Terence, can hardly be “more characteristic of Plautus” as he uses it only once as well (Bacch. 374). On 200 or 616 it might have been instructive to note that remedium never occurs in Plautus, as opposed to 9 times in Terence: indeed Maltby’s discussion of sickness imagery at 822 may precisely explain this. The reference for the wordplay on lubet and licet (and ludas) at 347 is not to Captivi 363, but 303ff. (presumably mistyped?), where it is also more elaborate (laedat licet… lubet… liber).

Maltby is generous in recording stock comic elements, but perhaps more could have been concluded from some parallels. At 863 Geta reports on being pulled back by the pallium (reprendit pallio… respicio), which Maltby explains as “a common way of stopping the running slave,” and rightly cites Plautus’ Epidicus 1-3 (reprendit pallio… respice), but the “common way” rests on these two passages alone: the possibility of a deliberate allusion is at least worth considering.5 Moreover, as opposed to nearly 40 references in Plautus, the pallium is extremely rarely referred to in Terence, only twice more elsewhere: Eunuchus 769 and, significantly, Phormio 844. The latter instance is from the same, virtually uninterrupted monologue of Geta as 863, and Maltby compares Geta’s emphasis on his cloak (sed ego nunc mihi cesso qui non umerum hunc onero pallio) with the running- messenger action of Captivi 778-9 (nunc certa res est, eodem pacto ut comici servi solent | coniciam in collum pallium). Yet even though the prop in Plautus is invoked metatheatrically—the parasite Ergasilus imitates a running slave—Maltby comments on 844 that “lifting the cloak over the shoulder was the typical action of a running slave.” But would it not make more sense if, rather than straightforwardly deploying a convention that had already been highlighted as such several decades before him, Terence is capitalizing on it as well?

Despite my few reservations about the Introduction, Maltby has produced an admirably informative, elegant, and accessible edition. I highly recommend it to readers of Terence at all levels.6


1.   One omission from the bibliography is Tansey’s article on the revival of Phormio in RhM 144.1 (2001), 22- 43.
2.   See e.g. Goldberg, Understanding Terence (Princeton 1986), 10ff., and Gruen, Culture and national identity in Republican Rome (Ithaca 1992), 52-83. On Cato and other contemporary issues, see also Leigh, Comedy and the Rise of Rome (Oxford 2004), 163ff.
3.   This is the older view of, e.g. Gratwick, “Drama” in CHCL II (Cambridge 1982), 8, and Goldberg, Understanding Terence, 149-171. Even if one is hesitant to adopt the radical propositions of Gruen Culture and national identity, 210ff., and Gowers, Ramus 33.1-2 (2004), 159ff., that the failure of Hecyra is downright fiction, one major contribution to the debate is surely Parker, AJP 117.4 (1996), 585-617.
4.   Barsby’s Loeb (Cambridge 2001), Moore in O’Bryhim, et al., Greek and Roman Comedy (Austin 2001), and Brown in Oxford World Classics (Oxford 2006).
5.   Duckworth, ed. Plauti Epidicus (Princeton 1940), ad loc., compares Mil. 59 and Trin. 624, and M. does well to omit them since neither refers to pulling someone by the cloak from behind.
6.   I spotted only one typographical error, or rather confusion: in Latin, M. prints Phormio as the speaker of 1047 after MSS, but in the translation gives Chremes, after Bentley’s emendation.

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