BMCR 2004.06.54

Terenz. Olms Studienbücher Antike

, Terenz. Studienbücher Antike, Bd. 12. Hildesheim: G. Olms, 2004. 240 pages ; 21 cm.. ISBN 3487125188 €17.80 (pb).

This new introduction to Terence’s comedies is the first monograph in German devoted to all of Terence’s works since Karl Büchner’s 1974 Das Theater des Terenz and the only book-length introductory survey of Terence’s work that has ever been published in German. Peter Kruschwitz’ book thus fills a real gap and promises to be for the German-language market, what Walter Forehand’s 1985 Terence is for the English-speaking world. At the same time, the book offers a well-informed discussion of the current state of research on Terence and an extensive, up-to-date bibliography that should appeal to a much wider audience than German college students.

The book’s structure is straightforward and clear. The opening chapter (pp. 9-24) describes the historical and literary context in which Terence composed his plays. Each of the next six chapters, the bulk of the book (pp. 25-164), discusses one of Terence’s six comedies. In these chapters, K. deals first with the content and structure of the plays, then with other issues important for their interpretation, such as the meaning of the play, the portrayal of individual characters, and other issues such as the metatheatrical features in Andria or the much-debated end of the play in Adelphoe.

The rest of the book consists of chapters that address the main questions of Terentian criticism. Chapter 8 talks about the prologues, periochae, and didascaliae. Chapter 9 deals with Terence’s dramatic technique, including the number of actors, the evidence for the use of masks, the issue of contaminatio, and typical plot elements such as intrigues and recognition scenes. Under “aesthetics” (ch. 10), K. discusses language and style, meter and music, and Terence’s sense of humor. Chapter 11 focuses on Terence’s use of the stereotypical characters and plots of New Comedy and on his much debated humanitas. The book ends with two chapters on Terence’s models and on the transmission and reception of his plays.

In his foreword, K. programmatically rejects the analytical approach, this still rampant “wissenschaftliche Verirrung” (to quote Erich Reitzenstein),1 that uses perceived “flaws” in Terence’s plays to reconstruct his allegedly flawless Greek models. K. promises, instead, to look at Terence’s comedies as artistic creations in their own right (p. 5). The main part of the book keeps this promise. Almost two-thirds of K.’s work are taken up by plot summaries and the interpretation of the plays themselves.

Only occasionally does K. himself give in to the temptation to speculate briefly about the nature of Terence’s models. In his discussion of the Heautontimorumenos, for example, he expresses agreement with Denzler, Lefèvre, and others that a part of Clitipho’s monologue in scene II.1, the negative description of his girlfriend Bacchis in lines 223-229, was probably part of an expository prologue in Menander’s original (p. 55, n. 27). We have, of course, no evidence at all for what Menander did and did not include in this play’s prologue. Clitipho’s confession, however, that he himself is involved in an affair with a disreputable prostitute is much more comically effective right after Chremes’ stern harangue in lines 201-210 than in an earlier prologue.

In any case, K. also declares in his foreword that it would be a mistake to slight the results of analytical scholarship (p. 5). Accordingly, K.’s discussion of the plot and structure of the plays in chapters 2-7 is accompanied by extensive footnotes that diligently report the numerous speculations about the nature of Terence’s changes to his Greek models. Depending on the reader’s taste, this can be viewed as either a strength or a weakness of the book. On the one hand, K. provides a comprehensive overview of current research on Terence’s plays, and he does not hesitate to call a spade a spade. One less convincing suggestion by a famous Terence scholar, for example, is termed “idiosyncratic” (p. 35, n. 38), and other theories that are not supported by the textual evidence are repeatedly called “rather speculative” (p. 26, n. 10; p. 27, n. 16) or even “peculiar” (p. 79, n. 4). On the other hand, one wonders whether the reader of an introduction really needs to be burdened with the detailed discussion of clearly speculative or erroneous ideas.

K.’s introduction to Terence’s life and time (pp. 9-24) sets interesting accents. Besides a good overview of the political developments of the time, K. also describes the cultural landscape of Carthage (pp. 14-15), where Terence may have spent part of his youth. K.’s interest in early republican inscriptions2 is reflected in the fact that his treatment of the literary context of Terence’s plays considers not only the dramatists, but also the semi-literary inscriptional poetry of the time.

To discuss K.’s interpretation of all six plays in detail would take up too much space, so I will limit myself to just three comedies that are especially dear to my heart.

In his discussion of the Andria (ch. 2), K. focuses on the structure, the meaning, and the metatheatrical features of the play. Just as in an earlier Philologus article,3 K. considers scene III.1, in which Glycerium delivers her baby, the arithmetical center of the play and claims that it is connected both in terms of motifs and length with the scenes I. 3 and V. 1 (each scene contains 22 verses). While the thematic connections K. describes sound convincing, I found myself wondering whether Terence himself truly paid attention to the numbers of lines he assigned to individual scenes. Apart from the fact that the division in scenes probably originated with later commentators, not with Terence, K.’s own article lists too many instances where scenes share the same number of lines, but show no appreciable connection in terms of content.

Later in the same chapter, K. sorts the main characters of the play into winners and losers: Simo’s egocentric plans fail because they are unjust, whereas Chremes is rewarded because he takes care of his own in an appropriate manner. In the case of the young lovers, the one who fights for his goals reaches them, whereas the other cannot be sure of his success until the end. At the conclusion of this chapter, K. convincingly challenges the conventional belief that Terence only rarely resorted to metatheatrical allusions with several examples from the Andria.

K.’s interpretation of Heautontimorumenos sees Menedemus as the likeable hero at the center of the play. Chremes, however, appears as a fool whose erroneous analysis of Mendemus’ problems with his son ironically turns out to be a true description of his own disturbed relationship to his son Clitipho. K. views the final reconciliation between Chremes and Clitipho as “unsatisfactory” (p. 70) because Terence does not grant Clitipho erotic fulfillment. This is not quite true. After months of wooing and promising payment, Clitipho finally gets to enjoy an erotic afternoon with Bacchis (901-906), before his father forces him to settle down and marry. A permanent affair with Bacchis, a common prostitute, would run counter to the conventions of love plots in New Comedy, as W. S. Anderson has outlined them.4

Another necessary addition concerns Sostrata, Chremes’ wife. She is simply described as “something like the good spirit in the house of Chremes” (p. 71). She can actually be understood as another illustration of Chremes’ foolhardiness. Chremes considers her stupid and treats her very condescendingly. In truth, however, she is a brave, independent spirit who makes sure that Chremes belatedly recognizes his once exposed daughter and who is not afraid to oppose her husband openly when she deems his actions foolish and hurtful to her son (1003-1005). Moreover, Sostrata acts just like any other member of Chremes’ household. To his face, she pretends to be obedient and submissive; behind his back, however, she has resisted his explicit orders to expose their baby daughter and successfully ensured her survival.

K.’s treatment of the Hecyra, to mention one final play, quotes Holt Parker’s seminal 1996 article5 but stops short of embracing its conclusions. K. simply states that the first performance “was aborted” and the second “failed” (p. 117), without committing himself to Parker’s revolutionary explanation that the play did not suffer from any intrinsic flaws but was probably sabotaged by hired agents-provocateur. Not surprisingly, K. cannot find much that is funny in the Hecyra (p. 138). I tend to agree more with Dwora Gilula’s judgement: “All the complications of the plot, when viewed with confidence in a ‘happy ending,’ are comic, and the more intricate the are, the more they contribute to the proper pleasures of comedy, and the greater the relief and satisfaction that accompany their resolution.”6 In fact, the Hecyra is probably the most fast-paced of Terence’s comedies, and one of the funniest. The characters rush from one false suspicion to the next, and every potential solution, such as, for example, Pamphilus’ return, makes the situation even worse. All the conventions of New Comedy are hilariously turned upside down. Instead of keeping the young lover from his girl, the old fathers entreat him to be reconciled with her. The smart slave is completely clueless and spends his day running off the stage, instead of onto it, in a comic inversion of the servus currens routine.7 In the end, the one obstacle standing in the way of the young man’s happiness turns out to be the young man himself, and the happy ending is guaranteed. In short, despite its dark undertones and the disturbingly violent nature of Philumena’s rape,8 Terence’s Hecyra is just as funny as any of his other plays, if not more so.

These disagreements, however, are minor. They should not distract from the great achievement of K.’s book, which manages to offer something for everyone. The novice who approaches Terence without any prior knowledge of his background and plays will appreciate the extensive plot summaries, the well-founded discussion of their problems, the concise and authoritative sections on the religious context of Roman theater or Terentian style, for example, and the detailed overview of the wealth of secondary literature. More advanced readers also will discover much to enjoy, for example K.’s stimulating comments on metatheatrical elements in the Andria (pp. 49-50), and they will be grateful for his comprehensive, up-to-date bibliography. In short, this is a book that will find many friends.


1. E. Reitzenstein, Terenz als Dichter, Leipzig 1940 (Albae Vigiliae, 4), p. 10.

2. As witnessed by two of K.’s recent publications: Carmina Saturnia Epigraphica. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 2002 (reviewed in BMCR 2002.05.18) and Römische Inschriften und Wackernagels Gesetz. Sprachliche Untersuchungen zu epigraphischen Zeugnissen aus republikanischer Zeit. Heidelberg: Winter, 2004.

3. “Verszahlresponsionen bei Terenz,” Philologus 145 (2001), 312-323.

4. W. S. Anderson, “Love Plots in Menander and his Roman Adapters,” Ramus 13 (1984), 124-134.

5. Holt N. Parker, “Plautus vs. Terence: Audience and Popularity Re-examined,” AJPh 117 (1996), 585-617.

6. Dwora Gilula, “Terence’s Hecyra: A Delicate Balance of Suspense and Dramatic Irony,” SCI 5 (1979/80), 137-157, here 138.

7. Cp. Gilula (n. 6), p. 148.

8. Cp. W. S. Anderson, “The Frustration of Anagnorisis in Terence’s Hecyra,” in: Studies in Honor of Katherine A. Geffcken, Wauconda, 2000, 311-323, here 314 (not in K.’s excellent bibliography, but then K. himself cautions that it is comprehensive, but far from complete [p. 6]).