The Woman of Andros was Terence’s first play, written (if we can believe the traditional chronology) when he was only nineteen years old. It already reveals a familiarity with the traditional characters of comedy, notably the angry father, the lovesick son, and the tricky slave, and it foreshadows the interest in father-son relationships which will dominate several of Terence’s later plays. It also foreshadows Terence’s liking for double plots, involving two contrasting love affairs and contrasting pairs of fathers, sons, and slaves, though in this case the second plot is left relatively undeveloped.
The plot is centred on the love affair between the young Athenian Pamphilus and a young woman from Andros called Glycerium. Pamphilus’ father Simo has arranged for his son to marry Philumena, the daughter of his neighbour Chremes. Chremes withdraws his consent on hearing of Pamphilus’ affair with Glycerium, but Simo persists in the pretence that the marriage is going ahead in order to test his son’s loyalty and in the hope that Chremes will eventually relent. Simo’s slave Davus, having deduced from the lack of preparations in either house that the marriage is in fact off, persuades Pamphilus that it is in his long-term interest to pretend to agree to it; this plan misfires badly when Simo persuades Chremes that Pamphilus
and Glycerium have quarrelled and the marriage is on again. Meanwhile Glycerium gives birth to Pamphilus’ child, which Davus produces in order to convince Chremes that Pamphilus is not a suitable son-in-law. The problems are resolved when Crito, a cousin of Glycerium’s dead sister Chrysis, arrives from Andros to claim Chrysis’ property. Simo, who is convinced that the baby has been “planted” and that Crito is an impostor, has Davus tied up, disowns Pamphilus, and abuses Crito; however, when Crito explains that Glycerium had been brought to Andros from Athens as a small girl by her uncle Phania, Chremes recognises the name as his brother’s and Glycerium as his own long-lost daughter. The way is now clear for Pamphilus to marry Glycerium; and Philumena is free to marry her suitor Charinus, who with his slave Byrria has flitted in and out of the play trying to stake his claim.
The play provides the first example of the practice of “contamination” for which Terence was criticised by his critic Luscius of Lanuvium. Menander had written both a Woman of Andros and a Woman of Perinthos; Terence admits in his prologue that he has incorporated material from the latter into his own version of the former. The extent of the additions is hard to determine. The commentator Donatus reveals that the dialogue between Simo and his freedman at the beginning of Terence’s play is based on The Woman of Perinthos, where the old man had a dialogue with his wife, rather than on Menander’s Woman of Andros, where the old man spoke a monologue. Donatus also declares that Charinus and Byrria were “not in Menander”; critical opinion is divided on whether this means that they were an addition of Terence’s own or allows