Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Sophia Papaioannou (ed.), Terence and Interpretation. Pierides, 4. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014. Pp. x, 307. ISBN 9781443863858. £52.99.

Reviewed by Peter Barrios-Lech, University of Massachusetts Boston (peter.lech@umb.edu)

Version at BMCR home site


This gathering of essays forms part of a recent outpouring of handbooks and edited volumes on Roman and New Comedy. Unlike its cousin, the 2013 handbook Companion to Terence, this book is tightly focused, addressing two principal topics: first, Terence as an interpreter of the comic tradition (chapters 1-6), and second, later interpreters of Terence (chapters 7-10).

In its first half, Terence and Interpretation draws on methods that have long been a staple in the analysis of Augustan poetry, including detection and interpretation of allusions and elucidation of motifs, diction, and scenarios through which the poet explores the limits of the genre he works in, or that function simply as a code for a text's generic affiliations. Those literary-critical methods have been gaining some traction recently in thinking on the palliata, partly thanks to Sharrock's 2009 monograph Reading Roman Comedy , and the present volume attests to a sustained interest in this kind of interpretation.1

The subject of the lead-off essay by Sophia Papaioannou is Terence's prologues. What are we to make of these pieces, in which the poet visits and revisits the same issues: criticisms centering around contaminatio, furtum, and his own composition practices in general? Following on Sharrock, who suggests they are not necessarily "'straight' representations of a personal fight" but in fact "a comic way of making a programmatic statement",2 Papaioannou views the prologues as the poet's way of foregrounding the "derivative" nature of palliata composition – nihil novi sub divo – while at the same time stressing his own innovations, evident not least in the decision to abandon exposition in prologues (pp. 42-43). To cite one of Papaioannou's provocative suggestions, Terence emphasizes the novelty of his approach through recurrent identification of himself as "novus poeta", in opposition to the "vetus poeta" (read: proponent of a traditional technique) and goes so far as to suggest that this repeated terminology (vetus vs. novus poeta) constitutes " a formula…a code through which Terence would announce his intention to inaugurate a new methodology of comic dramaturgy" (46).

Indeed, the Terence that emerges from this discussion (and, in fact, from each of Papaioannou's three contributions to this volume) bears similarities to the poetic persona of Callimachus, as Terence shares with the latter a thorough knowledge of the poetic tradition at the same time that he attempts to stand apart from it. Like Callimachus, too, he works allusively, as suggested in the subsequent essays, of which only a few can be reviewed here.3 Characters in New Comedy allude to tragedy for a variety of reasons, for instance, to persuade another as to a course of action (Epitrepontes 326-333), to hint at what is unsayable (Epitrepontes 1123-1126), to hint at and justify a misdeed (Samia 589-598) or to lend a scene an appropriate gravitas (Aspis 399-428). In his essay, Karakasis finds moments where a character alludes to tragedy or epic, arguing that these provide a "linguistic marker of a thematic 'generic transposition'" (93; cf. e.g. pp. 85 and 89). I focus here on the allusions to tragedy discussed in the essay. Midway through Eunuch, Chaerea quotes from the Danae ([sc. Jupiter] ,qui caeli templa summa sonitu concutit! ego homuncio non facerem? [Eun. 591]) when drawing on the mythological exemplum involving Jupiter's violation of Danae to justify his own rape of Pamphila. According to Karakasis, the allusion to tragedy is meant to remind us that Chaerea's rape, occurring as it does during the play and absent the usual motive of drunkenness, exceeds the bounds of the comic genre. But Chaerea's allusion to tragedy, and the situation in which he produces it, are in fact quite typical for the comic genre. For as I noted just now, New Comedy characters resort to quoting from tragedy when hinting at (Epitrepontes 1123-1126) or justifying (Samia 589-598) rape. Karakasis argues more convincingly for "generic transpositions" in the case of Demea of Adelphoe (78-82) and Philumena of Hecyra (87-89), the latter a particularly interesting example.

In "Terence's Literary Self-Consciousness", Papaioannou discusses two cases, in Eunuch and Phormio, where "it is possible to identify in Terence's text an antagonistic dialogue with Menander and Menandrian tradition" (100). To keep the review brief, I focus on the second case-study, an amply-documented discussion of Phormio. Indeed, Papaioannou is to be thanked for bringing to our attention work on this play that is perhaps less well known and for so carefully laying out the legal discrepancies in the play. As far as I can tell, her argument is that Terence emphasizes the characters' ignorance or partial awareness of the laws regarding the epiklêros to humorous effect.4 To review, this law dictates that Phanium, the poor young orphan (or so it seems) of Phormio, must marry her nearest male relative; if the latter will not marry her, he must give her a dowry so that she may attract a husband.5 Papaioannou points out that Demea seems aware of his legitimate ability to annul the marriage provided he give Phanium a dowry (Ph. 409-410), but then the old man appears to forget about this possibility, and his legal advisors seem uncertain about it (Ph. 441-462; cf. pp. 114-115). Papaioannou might have mentioned that the latter advocati scene (441-462) was probably Terence's addition, certainly of relevance for what she is trying to argue, that Terence wants to highlight the characters' ignorance of the law.6 Papaioannou rightly points out that all the characters in the play remain unaware of a major roadblock to the marriage, namely that Antipho's marriage with Phanium, the presumed epiklêros has no legal standing, precisely because she is not an Athenian citizen, being the daughter of an Athenian father and a Lemnian woman. It is an open question how even the informed in the Roman audience would have been able to spot this problem, or would have been much bothered by it. Thus, I doubt whether, as Papaiannou claims, "the audience [the Roman audience?] realizes on the basis of Athenian law she [sc. Phanium] is the offspring of a non-marital union" (111).

For Papaioannou, and for Sharrock, Terence reads the palliata and New Comedy tradition critically. The goal of Sharrock's essay in particular is to "focus explicitly on Terence's reading of his closest intertexts, Greek and Roman New Comedy, as contributions towards his innovations in narrative technique, the presentation of character, and the manipulation of audience and reader" (120). Thus, for instance, Sharrock suggests that Terence alludes in Hecyra to an eavesdropping scene in Epitrepontes. She is careful to note the problems in positing such a connection, namely, that only a small percentage of Menander's work remains; therefore, we cannot discard the notion that Terence's eavesdropping scene might be alluding to another such scene in a (now lost) Menandrian play (120-121). Although readers may not agree that Terence deliberately alludes to the Epitrepontes in the way that Sharrock suggests, she presents a case for thinking about allusions not in terms of verbal parallelisms, but in terms of similarity in staging, plot, and characterization. Here the notion of the "theatergram" might have been helpful: this is any dramaturgic element – say an eavesdropping scene followed by a change of heart – that has gone through many previous incarnations.7 Thus, any re-dramatization of such a scene is weighty with significance and recalls previous instantiations. While it has been used to analyze Renaissance comedy, the idea of the theatergram, to my knowledge, has not been applied to investigations of Terence's debt to traditional material, where it could prove useful.

Interpreters of Terence form the subject of the volume's second part; three of the four essays discuss ancient readers. Gesine Manuwald helpfully analyzes Cicero's use of Terence, bringing to light a reader who quotes from Terence's plays to strengthen philosophical arguments, make a rhetorical point, or, for example, to justify the addition of a preposition to the name of a town (in Piraeea, ad Att. 7.3.10). In doing so, Cicero may ignore the original context of the quotation. Thus, Manuwald sensibly concludes that "Cicero's recourse to Terence can be described as a paradigmatic use of quotations, since one of their functions is to illustrate, prove or confirm one's own views by reference to an authoritative model. Accordingly, Terence's aims in the actual context seem to be less important to Cicero" (199).

Donatus forms the core of this section of the book, as Robert Maltby ("Donatus on 'Appropriate Style' in the Plays of Terence") next discusses remarks on the language Donatus deemed appropriate for comedy and character types, while Chrysanthi Demetriou, in her essay "Performing Terence's Characters: a Study of Donatus' Interpretation", assesses passages which refer to aspects of performance. The Donatus that emerges from these illuminating essays is a reader working from traditional frameworks that distinguish carefully the various literary genres and traditional stock types. Thus, Donatus carefully explains (away) the apparent intrusions of the tragic genre in Terence (215-216). And, as Demetriou shows, Donatus had "a certain conceptualisation of stock characters" not only with respect to language and traits, but even "nonverbal behavior and external appearance in general" (239). Thus, for instance, Donatus assigns to two different lovers on the verge of losing their beloveds a similar expression – gemitus (226). It may very well be that such vocalizations or gestures identified by Donatus were traditional, or perhaps with them he referred to contemporary performances (235). But Demetriou sensibly concludes that comments like the one on gemitus tell us most about Donatus, who conceived of a stock type partly in terms of a certain kind of performance felt to be appropriate to it.

Peter Brown's "Intepretations and Adaptations of Terence's Andria, from the Tenth to the Twentieth Century", concludes the volume and is the only essay to range beyond antiquity as he assesses translations, performances and adaptations of Andria from the period indicated in the title. The essay is richly documented and recommended to any one wanting to study the Nachleben of Terence's Andria.

My only quibble: the errata were noticeably frequent.8 More importantly, however, this is a volume that is very much at the forefront of trends in the criticism of Roman comedy. The essays in the first half are thought-provoking and demonstrate that there is still much work that awaits to be done on Terence as a "reader" and "interpreter" of the comic traditions that preceded him. The second half of the volume will be useful for those interested in how ancient (and modern) readers approach the texts of Roman republican drama.


1.   Manuwald (2011), for instance, devotes a section to intertextuality in Roman Republican Theatre at pp. 309-319.
2.   Sharrock (2009) 63-64; cf. 91-93. Compare Gruen (1992) Cultural and National Identity in Republican Rome, 213, on the prologue to Hecyra: "[p]erhaps the prologue to Hecyra did not describe a historical situation at all."
3.   Indeed, Papaioannou sides with Sharrock in seeing a literary debt in Terence's prologues to Callimachus' prologue for the Aetia; Sharrock (2009) 78-83 makes a case for this literary debt that is well worth considering.
4.   Or, in Papaioannou's wording, "[t]his clever and humorous over-interpretation [Papaioannou here refers to the fact that Phanium's marriage lacks standing and that Demipho seems unaware of his legal rights] of the Athenian law of the epiklêros, conditioned by a series of inconsistencies and problems meant to turn the popularity of family law and civilian life into a cause for laughter is precisely what makes Phormio a comedy that is particularly appealing for the informed Roman audience". I am not clear in what sense Terence "over-interprets" the law relating to the epiklêros.
5.   Pomeroy S. Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves 61.
6.   Scafuro, A. 1997. The Forensic Stage 446-447, with further references.
7.   As defined by Clubb (1986), "Theatergrams" in Comparative Critical Approaches to Renaissance Comedy, Ottawa, 15-31: theatergrams are "streamlined structures of high specific density, weighty with significance from previous incarnations" (p. 16); compare Traill's succinct definition: "a dramaturgic element that exists within a comic repertoire and is subject to permutation, combination, and gradual evolution" in Dutsch, James and Konstan, eds. (2015), Women in Roman Republican Drama, Madison WI, p. 214; the quote is drawn from an excellent essay (titled "Shakespeare and the Roman Comic Meretrix") which deftly examines Shakespeare's debts to New Comedy.
8.   I note some mistakes here. At 99 read Simo for Demea; the error appears three times in the same paragraph; at 151, Clitipho, not Clinia is Syrus' young master; Demea should be read instead of Micio at 163 ("Syrus had failed at the last moment to send Micio back to the country on a wild-goose chase"); at p. 171n.61 Cleostrata should be read for Myrrhina.

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