From an historical point of view Terence is one of the most interesting characters in Roman literature. Born in Phoenician Africa, brought in early youth as a slave to Rome, and there initiated into the Greek culture of the day, he seemed from the very first destined to restore to the new Attic comedy that cosmopolitan character which, in its adaptation to the Roman public under the rough hands of Nævius, Plautus and their associates, it had in some measure lost. Even in the selection and employment of models the contrast is apparent betwen him and the only predecessor with whom we can now compare him. Plautus chooses his pieces from the whole range of the new Attic comedy, and by no means disdains the more popular comedians; Terence restricts himself almost exclusively to Menander, the most elegant, polished and chaste of all the writers of the new comedy. The method of working up several Greek pieces into one is retained by Terence, but it is handled with incomparably more skill and carefulness. The Plautine dialogue beyond doubt departed very frequently from its models; Terence boasts of the verbal adherence of his imitations to the originals.
The frequently coarse, but always effective, laying on of Roman local tints over the Greek groundwork, in which Plautus indulged, is completely and designedly banished from Terence; not an allusion puts one in mind of Rome, not a proverb, hardly a reminiscence; even the Latin titles are replaced by Greek. The same distinction shows itself in the artistic treatment. First of all, the players receive back their appropriate masks, and greater care is observed as to the scenic arrangements, so that it is no longer the case, as with Plautus, that everything needs to be done on the street whether belonging to it or not. Plautus ties and unties the dramatic knot carelessly and loosely, but his plot is droll and often striking; Terence, far less effective, keeps everywhere account of probability, not unfrequently at the cost of suspense, and wages emphatic war against the flat and insipid expedients of his predecessors. Plautus paints his characters with broad strokes, often as if after a pattern, always with a view to the general effect; Terence handles the psychological development like a careful and often excellent miniature painting, as in the Brothers, for instance, where the two old men--the easy bachelor enjoying life in town, and the sadly harassed and somewhat boorish country landlord--form a masterly contrast.
The springs of action and the language of Plautus are drawn from the tavern; those of Terence from the household of the good citizen. The lazy Plautine hostelry, the very unconstrained but very charming damsels, with the hosts duly corresponding, the sabre-rattling troopers, the slave-world painted with an altogether peculiar humor, whose heaven is the cellar and whose fate is the lash, have disappeared in Terence, or at least undergone improvement. In Plautus we find ourselves, on the whole, among incipient or thorough rogues; in Terence, as a rule, among honest men. The Plautine pieces exhibit the characteristic antagonism of the tavern to the house; wives are visited with abuse, to the delight of all husbands temporarily emancipated and not quite sure of an amiable salutation at home. In the comedies of Terence there prevails not a more moral, but a more becoming conception of the feminine nature and of married life. As a rule they end with a virtuous marriage, or if possible with two.
The eulogies of bachelor life, which are so frequent in Menander, are repeated by his Roman remodeler only with characteristic shyness, whereas the lover in his agony, the tender husband at the accouchment, the loving sister by the death-bed in the Eunuch and the Andrian are very gracefully delineated; in the Stepmother there even appears at the close, as a delivering angel, a virtuous courtesan, which the Roman public very properly hissed. In Plautus the fathers throughout exist only for the purpose of being jeered and swindled by their sons; with Terence, in the Self-Tormentor, the lost son is reformed by the wisdom of his father, and the point of the best of his pieces, the Brothers, turns on finding the right mean between the too liberal training of the uncle and the too rigorous training of the father. Plautus writes for the multitude and gives utterance to profane and sarcastic speeches, so far as the censorship of the stage allowed; Terence, on the contrary, describes it as his aim to please the good, and, like Menander, to offend nobody. Plautus is fond of vigorous, often noisy dialogue, and his pieces require the liveliest play of gesture in the actors; Terence confines himself to "quiet conversation." The language of Plautus abounds in burlesque turns and attempts at verbal witicisms, in alliterations, in comic coinages of new terms, Aristophanic combinations of words, slang expressions jestingly borrowed from the Greek. Terence knows nothing of such caprices; his dialogue moves on with the purest symmetry, and its points are elegant, epigrammatic and sententious.
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