The Cultural Poetics of Terence’s Literary Comedy


The paper discusses Terence’s interaction with the members of the contemporary political and cultural elite. Terence was among the early Latin authors who introduced the Callimachean poetics in Roman literature. Given the restrictions of the comic genre, he advertized his embrace of this new poetics through the construction of a defense against accusations for inappropriate playwriting, and by means of a language that would appeal specifically to the political experience and worldview of the aristocratic members of his audience. This ideology is inscribed in the use of key vocabulary that recurs systematically in all six Terentian prologues. Further, the accusations against Terence, real or inventive, may be attributed to his attempt to introduce a more disciplined staging of comic plays — an initiative that likely gained favor among the playwright’s aristocratic patrons, who saw in his scripts evidence of comic talent similar to that of Menander whom they admired and held second only to Homer.