The Self-Tormentor, which was based on Menander’s play of the same name, has a double plot involving two fathers, two sons, two love affairs, and two slaves (though one of the slaves has only a very minor part). Line 6 of the prologue (“a play which has been made double out of a single plot”) appears to imply that Terence himself created the double plot by adding a second set of characters to the Greek original, but this can scarcely be the case. In contrast to The Woman of Andros, the two sides of the plot are both well developed; they are moreover intimately linked, and it would be very difficult to reconstruct a convincing plot for Menander’s play with only one set of characters centred upon the self-tormentor of the title. It is likely, therefore, that Terence’s play follows the basic shape of Menander’s; he may have made additions or alterations, but in the absence of any external evidence these can only be a matter of speculation.
Before the play opens, Menedemus (the self-tormentor) has driven his son Clinia overseas by his harshness over an affair with a poor Corinthian girl Antiphila. Now, full of remorse, he is punishing himself by slaving away on a farm he has recently bought. His neighbour, the busybody Chremes, rebukes him for this and reads him a lecture on proper father-son relationships; but the shallowness
of Chremes’ position is revealed when it transpires that his own son Clitipho, unknown to his father, is having an affair with a greedy courtesan Bacchis. Clinia returns from overseas and enjoys a brief romantic reunion with Antiphila (this is the only onstage appearance of a virgo in Terence). Antiphila presently turns out to be a long-lost daughter of Chremes’, and the way is clear for Clinia to marry her. Meanwhile, Clitipho needs to find money to satisfy Bacchis’ expensive tastes while keeping his affair secret from his father, and the family slave Syrus takes over the plot to this end with a series of complicated schemes which must have been quite difficult to follow on stage. One of these is to represent Antiphila as a maid of Bacchis’, given to her by her Corinthian mother as a security for a debt, which Chremes, as her newly revealed father, is honour- bound to repay. Another is to represent Clinia as the real lover of Bacchis in order to allay any suspicions that Chremes might have of his son’s involvement with her: Clinia, it is claimed, is only pretending to love Antiphila in order to fool Menedemus into providing money for a wedding. Eventually the truth comes out, and Chremes, despite his self-proclaimed expertise in dealing with sons, is furious; he threatens to disinherit Clitipho but is finally persuaded to relent on condition that Clitipho abandons Bacchis and takes a wife.
A major focus of the play is on the fathers and their respective attitudes towards their sons. Comedy tends to divide fathers into two types, harsh and lenient, as in Terence’s later The Brothers, but the characterisation here is more subtle: Menedemus is the formerly harsh father who is now determined to err on the side of leniency, whereas Chremes counsels leniency, but, when put to the