Publius Terentius Afer was born at Carthage and was a slave of Terentius Lucanus, a Roman Senator, who, perceiving him to have an excellent understanding and an abundance of wit, not only bestowed on him a liberal education, but gave him his freedom very early in life. The poet was beloved and much esteemed by noblemen of the first rank in the Roman commonwealth, living in great intimacy with Scipio Africanus and C. Lælius, to whom, also, as Porcius states, his personal attractions recommended him:
Seeking the pleasures and deceitful praise
Of nobles, while the Bard with greedy ears
Drinks in the voice divine of Africanus,
Happy to sup with Furies and with Lælius,
Caress'd and often, for his bloom of youth,
Whirl'd to Mount Alba; amidst all these joys,
He finds himself reduced to poverty.
Wherefore withdrawing from all eyes, and flying
To the extremest parts of Greece, he dies
At Stymphalus, a village lit Arcadia.
When Terence, as he is commonly called in English speech, offered his first play, the Andrian, to the ædiles, he was ordered to read it to Cæcilus. Arriving at the poet's house, he found him at table; and being very meanly dressed, was suffered to read the opening lines seated on a very low stool, near the couch of Cæcilus; but as soon as he had repeated a few verses, Cæcilus invited him to sit doivn to supper with him, after which Terence proceeded with his play, and finished it to the great admiration of his host.
The Eunuch met with such remarkable success that it was acted twice in one day, and Terence was paid for it 8,000 sesterces, a greater silm than was ever paid for any comedy before. It is commonly said that Scipio, and Lælius assisted the author in his plays; and, indeed, Terence himself increased that suspicion by the little pains he took to refute it. Nepos asserts that he had been informed, on good authority, that Lælius, being at his villa, at Puteoli, on a certain first day of March, was requested by his lady to sup sooner than his usual hour, but he entreated her not to interrupt his studies. Coming in to supper rather late, he declared he had never employed his time with better success than he had then done, and, being asked what he had written, repeated
some verses from the Self-Tormentor.
To wipe off the aspersion of plagiarism, or perhaps to make himself a master of the customs and manners of the Grecians, in order to delineate them the better in his writings, Terence left Rome in the twenty-fifth year of his age, after having exhibited the six comedies which are still extant; and he never returned. Some ancient writers relate that he died at sea.
He is said to have been of middle stature, genteel and of a swarthy complexion. He left a daughter, who was afterward married to a Roman knight; and, according to the best authorities, at the time of his death he was possessed of a house, together with six acres of land, on the Appian way.
Purchase Plays by Terence