Saturday, March 27, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
William S. Anderson, A Terence Reader: Selections from Six Plays. BC Latin Readers. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci, 2009. Pp. xvii, 109. ISBN 9780865166783. $19.00 (pb).
Reviewed by John Barsby, University of Otago

The Terence Reader is one of the latest in the Bolchazy-Carducci series of Latin Readers, intended as authoritative introductions for intermediate or advanced college Latin study. It contains an introduction, a list of suggested reading (at a fairly sophisticated level), selections from all six plays (amounting to nearly 600 lines of Latin altogether), a commentary of 49 pages, a brief appendix on metres, and a full vocabulary (in which all the long vowels are usefully marked with macrons).

This is a handy little compilation by an experienced and highly respected scholar. The Introduction sets the plays of Terence briefly in their historical context. The distinction is made between Plautus and Terence that the former mocked the plots (and characters) of his Greek originals, whereas Terence "treat[ed] them with a certain amount of respect as real human situations" (p. x). In Terence the characters can be seen "painfully trying to find out who they are, and the pursuit of knowledge is more serious than humorous" (p. xiii). In the absence of a divine prologue, the audience shares the errors and anxieties of the characters, and Terence does not necessarily supply the traditional happy ending, so that a play may close "with something like grim irony rather than general thanksgiving" (p. xiv). There is a final section on Terence's Latin which warns students of problems that may arise from Terence's archaic spellings and refers to the simplicity and clarity of his style, not excluding the occasional rhetorical flourish. It actually says nothing about grammar, even though the sub-heading is "Orthography and Grammar".

The six selections are carefully chosen to show different features of Terence's plays, indicated loosely by the heading given to each: "Starting the Plot", "Complications", "Vigorous Ending", "Misunderstandings", "Characterization", "Prologue and Ending". The Andria passage is the opening scene between Simo and his freedman Sosia (28-139), where the focus is on the expository technique, with the audience only gradually discovering the facts of the situation, and on the characterisation of Simo, the first of several fathers in Terence who have problems with their adolescent sons. The point that Simo has failed to communicate with his son directly is well made, but in some other respects Anderson offers a more negative interpretation of his character ("ignorant gratification", "irrational raptures", "egotistic pride", "more of his egotism", "selfish conclusion", "verbosity", "an unreliable narrator") than the reviewer would have chosen. Can Simo not alternatively be read as the well-meaning father, concerned for his son's welfare, willing to believe the best of him, hesitant to reproach him before he has established the facts, and willing to tell (against himself) the story of how he (Simo) has allowed himself to be deceived by second-hand reports?

The selection from Heauton (175-256) takes in the scenes which follow the opening dialogue between the two fathers, namely the father-son conversation (Chremes-Clitipho) and the following dialogue between the two sons (Clitipho and Clinia). Anderson reasonably defines the object of this part of the play as to "fill us in on ... Clitipho and to develop a contrast between the fathers and sons and the girls that they love." He shrewdly emphasises that Chremes' decision not to reveal to Clinia his father's new found repentance of his harsh treatment of his son will lead to a lot of unnecessary painful deception, and identifies Chremes' attempt to discipline his son by reference to the salutary examples of others as another case of a father's failure to communicate directly. On the other hand, Anderson rather too easily disparages Chremes' argument (with reference to Clinia and his father) that fathers should be obeyed and that the goal of parental discipline is to safeguard the son's morals, by using such words as "inflexible", "awkward bias", "preaching" and "hypocritical". As Terence's other plays show, there are two sides to this question.

Phormio comes next (third), even though it is traditionally Terence's fourth play. The chosen extract (884-989) is the excellent scene in which Phormio discomfits the two fathers, Demipho and Chremes, by his knowledge of the latter's bigamous affair in Lemnos, and the commentary brings out well the way in which Phormio manipulates his advantage. The problem with choosing a scene from late in the play is that the (in this case complicated) plot has to be explained to the student first: Anderson, perhaps unwisely, chooses to do this via Sulpicius Apollinaris' idiosyncratic periocha (wrongly labelled as lines 1-12 of the play), which only adds to the complexity. It might have been pointed out that the slapstick with which the scene ends, with blows traded and mouths unsuccessfully stopped, is a rare example in Terence.

Hecyra is another interesting placing (fourth), since the play was written second and finally successfully performed fifth. The scene between Laches and his wife Sostrata (198-280) is well chosen to illustrate a further aspect of Terence's plays, namely his sympathetic treatment of wives. In Eunuchus the dialogue between the two young men Chaerea and Antipho (539-614) is concerned with yet another aspect, namely rape. Anderson duly condemns the perpetrator ("heedlessly rapes", "meant to shock us", "a moral eunuch", "sneaky rape", etc.) but does not offer any in depth discussion: Chaerea's exultation in his conquest is not the last word on the subject in the play, let alone in the rest of Terence. In Adelphoe the quarrel between the two fathers, Micio and Demea, and Demea's subsequent "conversion" monologue (787-881) are chosen to illustrate the conflict of personalities and educational philosophies; it would have been a bonus to have Demea's final speech to the two sons (986-95) added to establish his final position.

The commentary is mainly concerned with paraphrase and interpretation of the text. Linguistic help is regularly offered to the student in passing, notably by the systematic identification of archaic and contracted forms, types of subjunctive clause and unusual case usages. Comment on style is sporadic with attention drawn chiefly to the occasional example of figures such as chiasmus. The metre of the particular scene is sometimes but not always indicated in the commentary, but there is no coherent explanation of the nature or effect of the different metres. We are not told, for example, that the opening scene of Andria is in iambic senarii or that this is the normal metre for spoken verse and particularly used for exposition, or that the Antipho-Chaerea scene in Eunuchus is divided into three by two changes of metre reflecting the degree of intensity of emotion. Examples of the three main metres are scanned (with stresses and elisions duly marked) in the appendix, but no further help is given with scansion; the Oxford Classical Text, which is used throughout, does systematically mark iambic shortening, but there is no explanation of this process.

The advantage of an anthology of extracts from all of Terence's plays is that it enables a wider variety of aspects of his approach to be illustrated than would be possible in an abbreviated version of a single play (it seems to be decided that a total of c.600 Latin lines is the maximum for the series). But there is a disadvantage which is particularly acute for drama, which is that plays move forward, there are twists and turns in the plot, characters develop and in some cases see the errors of their ways. For the extracts to be properly understood, there need to be clear and judicious summaries of the before and after, and these are not always provided: the Eunuchus section, for example, ends simply with the statement "The rapist has further plans", which is more misleading than helpful. One result is that the interesting remarks in the introduction about characters painfully trying to find out who they are or plays closing with something like grim irony are not really substantiated in the volume.

That said, the book has an interesting selection of passages and a commentary which should grasp the interest of students and will introduce them to important facets of Terence's work. It may even encourage them to go on to read whole plays and attain a greater appreciation of his dramatic art and his much praised humanity.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.