Terence, The Eunuch

LCL 22: 306-307

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Terence

Introductory Note

The Eunuch was Terence’s most successful play in his own lifetime. It is said to have been staged twice in one day and to have earned the highest fee ever paid for a comedy. It is the product of a “contamination” to which Terence freely admits in the prologue; the play is based on Menander’s The Eunuch, but Terence has added the characters of the swaggering soldier and the flattering “parasite” (or hanger-on) from a second play of Menander’s called The Flatterer. It seems that Terence had learned from the failure of his Mother-in-Law (Hecyra) two years before that the Roman audience wanted more than the sophisticated comedy of manners which appealed to Terence himself and to the tastes of his immediate literary circle. For The Eunuch, therefore, he chose as his primary model a play which already included an audacious eunuch substitution by which an ebullient young man gained access to his girl and raped her; and to this he added two colourful stock characters from a second Greek original. The result was a play which in its general tone bore a closer resemblance to Plautus and the rest of the Roman comic tradition than did any other of Terence’s plays.

The plot is centred on the affairs of two young brothers. The elder brother Phaedria is in love with the courtesan Thais, who has asked him to withdraw for a couple of days

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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.terence-eunuch.2001