Plays by Terence

The Eunuch

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Phaedria has been thrown out of his lover Thais's house. And, to add insult to injury, he had paid for his right to be there. He doesn't know what he should do – he fears losing his place in the pecking order to his rival Thraso – and has only his trusted companion, and slave, Parmeno, for advice. Parmeno, who knows what freedoms can be bought with gold, suggests a gift: a slave girl, and a Eunuch.

But when Phaedria's brother Chaerea falls in love with another girl (a gift from Thraso hoping to woo Thais), he conspires to have himself substituted for the Eunuch, and placed inside Thais's house, causing untold complications for Thais, Phaedria and, not least, himself.

In his introduction, J. Michael Walton writes that 'the comedy in Terence is allowed to revolve around the discomfiture of those who lose their dignity from jealousy, greed, lust, envy, any or all, in fact, of the seven deadly sins. The initial transgressions are not condoned but where would comedy be without human frailty?'

Terence (Publius Terentius Afer; c. 190-159 BC) was a Roman playwright. He is believed to have been a Carthaginian slave educated and freed by his Roman master. Six of his plays, all based on works of the Greek new comedy, have survived: Andria (166 BC), Hecyra (165 BC), Heauton Timoroumenos (163 BC), Eunuchus (161 BC), Phormio (161 BC), and Adelphi (160 BC). They show Terence's comedy to be original and subtle with thoughtful characterization and a graceful style.

His plotting and characterization influenced many Renaissance playwrights, amongst them Molière and Shakespeare. In his own day Terence was always overshadowed by Plautus, who produced more topical and less refined comedies. Julius Caesar criticized Terence's plays for lacking the true comic spirit. The playwright's later prologues sharply answer these attacks and also complain of the fickleness of the public, which was developing a preference for circuses and gladiatorial combats.